Creating Dry Roasted Sunflower Seeds and their Journey to the Dinner Table
As people become increasingly conscious of healthy, convenient snack choices in the United States (and around the world), dry roasted sunflower seeds are becoming a popular choice. For the health-conscious, sunflower seeds provide essential nutrients like protein, fiber, and essential fatty acids while providing a satisfyingly crunchy and savory snack. For the environmentally conscious, sunflower seeds require fewer resources to produce than popular snack alternatives like potato chips. Everywhere you turn, it seems that dry roasted sunflower seeds are popping up at convenience stores and in vending machines; in order to understand how these delicious, nutritious snacks are created and delivered to their ultimate destination, the dinner table, it is important to explore the process.
Sunflower Seeds: Exploring their Origins and Characteristics
Before they meet any kind of roasting process or make it onto a dinner plate, sunflower seeds must first be grown. The plant from which the seeds are harvested is Helianthus annuus, commonly referred to as the common sunflower. Sunflowers are a part of the composite family Asteraceae and grow in temperate climates mainly found in the United States. When the sunflowers reach their peak maturity and the petals fall off the bright yellow flower, the head of the flower is simply cut off and stored for processing.
Beneath the outer husk of the sunflower's head, there are many seeds that may vary in color from black and gray to striped shades of white and brown. Sunflower seeds are also often categorized by size and grade. Commonly, the kernels are divided by grade/size into specimens such as ‘Extra Large’, ‘Large’, ‘Medium’, ‘Small’, and ‘Tiny’. Moreover, sunflower seeds are known to be much richer in essential fatty acids than other food sources. Compared to other sources of fat, sunflower seeds contain higher amounts of linoleic acid, oleic acid, and alpha linoleic acid – fatty acids that are important for cardiovascular health as well as proper brain and immune system functioning. This makes them a great source of protein, fiber, and fatty acids - all valuable nutrition for humane health.
The Process of Creating a Crispy, Crunchy Dry Roasted Sunflower Seed
Once the sunflower seeds are gathered, inspected, and graded as necessary, they are sent off to manufacturers that specialize in roasting nuts and seeds. Sunflower kernels that are ready to be processed have an average moisture content of 6%, and the ‘roasting’ process begins with a ‘tempering’ phase. During this phase, the moisture content is increased to about 12% via steeping in water for about 24 hours. This process helps the flavor and the texture of the nut and is the foundation for the roasting process.
After tempering, the moisture content is reduced via drying and the sunflower seeds are roasted. Roasting can be done in a number of ways. Most often, roasting will consist of hot oil processing, stovetop roasting, or machine-based roasting. Hot oil processing involves the sunflower seeds being gently stirred and heated in hot-oil for about a minute. Stovetop roasting begins with the tempering phase, after which the sunflower seeds are placed in a dry skillet and heated until they reach a golden-brown color. Machine-based roasting sees the kernels moving through a roaster and being heated at temperatures between 158°F and 437°F (70°C and 225°C).
During the roasting process, different coatings can be added to the sunflower seed depending on the desired flavor profile and effect desired. These coatings can include coconut oil, vegetable oil, salt, sugar, and other spices. Once the desired flavor and color has been achieved, cooling and packaging follows. Depending on the type of packaging, sunflower seeds can be found in single-serve bags and can become part of a snack mix, combining several different kinds of snacks.
Getting from the Roaster to the Dinner Table
Once the sunflower seeds are roasted and packaged, it’s time to get them to their destination: the kitchen cupboard or the dinner table. This process involves the roles of manufacturers, growers, transporters, and retailers among others.
After the sunflower seeds are roasted and packaged, they're ready to hit the shelves. But in order to get to the grocery store and local convenience store, manufacturers are responsible for the safe transporting of the product. As the sunflower seeds are packed in single-serve packages, they must be transported in either road or rail freight and then loaded onto a retail outlet's shelves. The retailers, in turn, are responsible for the stocking and selling of the product. Once the customer makes their purchase, they bring it home where the sunflower seeds will most often find themselves being added to salads and other dishes.
From the Helianthus annuus plant field to the dinner plate, the journey of dry roasted sunflower seeds is an interesting process woven through a variety of steps. From farmers harvesting the sunflower seeds and sending them to the roaster to the retailers responsible for stocking and selling product, the roles of all participants must be involved for the final product to reach its desired destination. In the end, the journey of the dry roasted sunflower seed is one that is incredibly thought-provoking and beneficial for human health.