Food trend: why nut-free sunflower seeds deserve your attention

The ingredient is a healthy snacking option, and even tastes good over dessert

Sunflower seed crackers with avocado, beetroot and feta. Photo: Scott Price
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It was only a few months ago that videos of adventurous eaters chomping away on grilled sunflower heads were going viral on social media. True to fad form, those riffs on what is actually a classic Polish summertime dish have all but disappeared, yet they have left behind a rather nice legacy: an increased appreciation for the sunflower seed.

Immunity-boosting with anti-inflammatory properties and high levels of mood-calming magnesium, selenium and vitamin E, these protein-rich, tiny-but-mighty seeds have powered their way into the healthy eating arena, snagging themselves a much-coveted spot on the Whole Foods Market Top 10 Food Trends for 2022 list.

Try the trend

Mild and nutty-tasting with a firm yet tender texture, sunflower seeds come into their own when roasted; as the heat gently coaxes out their natural oils, they take on a deeper, altogether richer flavour.

While a sprinkling of salt and slick of oil is sufficient, coating the seeds in a flavouring or three will up your snacking game no end. A good place to start is by mixing about 150 grams of sunflower seeds with a tablespoon each of runny honey and balsamic vinegar (soy sauce would work well, too) and a generous sprinkling of smoked paprika.

Then pop them into an oven heated to 180°C for 10-12 minutes, and leave to cool before tucking in. Any seeds that aren’t devoured on the spot will add crunch to salads, give an otherwise unremarkable soup a boost or pep up a sandwich.

A delicious dupe

Speaking of sandwiches, the rise of the sunflower seed is good news for parents regularly tasked with preparing packed lunches. While peanut butter and other nut-based products are banned from most schools due to allergies, nut-free sunflower seeds can be quickly roasted and blitzed up to make a beaut of a peanut butter dupe (aka, the perfect quick-to-prepare, kid-friendly sandwich filler). If getting the blender out feels like too much effort, trans-fat free Biona Organic Sunflower Seed Butter is widely available in the UAE.

As well as tasting great slathered over sliced white bread, a spoonful or two of sunflower seed butter will sit happily atop a bowl of granola or yoghurt, and can be used as a peanut butter sub in all manner of dishes, from sauces to cakes and bakes.

Dairy queen

The sunflower goodness doesn’t end there, though. One the savoury side of things, sunflower crackers – both mixed-seed and pure – are all but dominating the crisps and cracker aisles at supermarkets, and you’ll find plenty of recipes for home-made versions online (we’re partial to serving ours topped with a generous flump of smashed avocado for the two-trends-in-one win).

While nut-free, gluten-free and oil-free sunflower seed cream cheese might not sound particularly inspiring, the austere description doesn’t do the rich and creamy taste justice. Looking to the future, we’re prepared to take a punt and say that come mid-2022, sunflower seed milk may well be the plant-based milk of choice for coffee-drinking hipsters. Whole Foods, meanwhile, is kick-starting its own trend bandwagon and planning to introduce a Sunbutter + Jelly sandwich to its range next year.

Matters of dessert

Ice-cream giant Ben & Jerry’s got in on the action ahead of its competitors with a selection of non-dairy frozen treats made with sunflower butter (eyes on you, Creme Brulee Cookie). While these aren’t currently available in the UAE, sunflower seeds lend themselves to all manner of sweet dishes, including the dark chocolate and sunflower seed caramel cups you see here.

To make yours, line a muffin tray with cupcake cases and use a pastry brush to lightly brush the cases with oil. Melt 200g dark chocolate in a bowl set over a pan of barely-simmering water. Blitz 250g roasted sunflower seeds in a blender with 3 tablespoons of maple syrup and half the melted chocolate.

Divide the remaining chocolate between the prepared cases, covering the base of each one. Chill in the fridge for 15 minutes, then press the chocolate-sunflower seed mix over the set chocolate. Return to the fridge to firm up and serve topped with a scattering of extra seeds, a little grated chocolate and some chopped raspberries.

Circling back to those sunflower heads…

If you do still want to try the seared sunflower head snack out for size, it’s rather easy to do so and would make a great talking point at a barbecue (`tis the season, after all). Source yourself a sunflower, slice off the head, remove the leaves and brush off the buds. Drizzle with olive oil, season with plenty of salt and pepper and cook facedown over hot coals for about 15 minutes. Brush with a herby-lemon mayo before serving.

Updated: December 02, 2021, 4:57 AM