When you buy sunflowers at the farmers market, you probably do little more than pop them into a vase for table decoration. If we think about sunflowers as food, most of us don’t go far beyond sunflower seeds, the classic snack. But, perhaps surprisingly, sunflowers actually have 8 different edible parts that can be used in a wide range of culinary applications.
Most obviously, sunflower seeds — which come from the center of the flower — make an excellent snack; their kernels can be used as a salad garnish or a substitute for pine nuts in pesto. Sunflower oil, the plant’s second-most-common culinary use, is pressed from the seeds. It makes a great oil for frying due to its mild flavor and high smoke point.
Sunflower petals have a bitter taste, so they’re best as a salad garnish blended with other produce. The young flower’s blossom or bud has a taste and texture similar to a tiny globe artichoke, its relative in the Asteracaegenus. And, much like its artichoke kin, the neck of the sunflower forms a tender heart. The plant’s stalk has a crunchy, watery texture reminiscent of celery.
Here is a breakdown of all of the edible parts of the sunflower with a brief description of their best use:
(click on the links for more information)
Sunflower Seeds/Kernels — Snack, garnish, salad, pesto
Sunflower Oil — Salad dressings/vinaigrettes, pesto, frying, sautéing fish
Sunflower Petal — Garnish, salad
Sunflower Leaves — Salad, pesto
Sunflower Stems/Stalks — Salad, stir-fry
Sunflower Sprouts — Salad, garnish
Sunflower Bud — Similar to Artichoke Heart, use as a vegetable side dish
Sunflower Heart — Similar to Artichoke Heart, use as a vegetable side dish, or in pasta or risotto