Our beloved grandfather, Poppy Sol, started this business in an open-air market. Three generations later, we’re still bringing smiles to our customers' faces.
— Rita, Atlant, GA March 25, 2009
“Finally, shelled sunflowers seeds that taste wonderful! I've bought many from stores and threw them away, always going back to seeds in shells. Now I know where to order the freshest and best seeds around! Now the challenge will be, not eating too many! Thanks so much, Rita”
Sunflower seeds come from the common sunflower, an annual plant that grows to a height of three to twelve feet, and has a either a single unbranched or a branched stem, fibrous in structure and covered with rough hair. The plant bears heart shaped, serrated leaves, often covered with soft hairs. Anchoring the plant in the soil is a root system made up of a deeply penetrating taproot up to nine feet long and a network of shallow lateral roots extending in all directions. In the unbranched forms, a massive single flower head is produced which may measure up to thirty inches in diameter, although heads one foot across are more common. If the plant is branched, a smaller flower head will develop at the end of each branch.
The sunflower head is usually composed of a hundred or more small flowers, closely packed together somewhat like the honeycomb of the bee. The conspicuous outer fringe of yellow ray flowers apparently functions only to attract insects, since these ray flowers themselves are infertile.
Facing east at sunrise, the sunflower's head follows the sun across the sky to face west at sunset. This heliotropic movement, called nutation, results from a bending of the stem toward the sunlight; there is asymmetric growth on the shaded side, causing the flowers to be in a position facing toward the sun. Growth is equalized during the night, the stem slowly straightens out and by dawn is facing east again. On a cloudy overcast day, the sunflower remains facing eastward, awaiting the next clear sunrise. The leaves of the sunflower are also heliotropic. If they are removed, the sunflower head would be unable to follow the sun. The sunflower usually reaches maturity three to four months after the emergence of the seedling. As the sunflower seeds develop, the heads begin to droop with the added weight and at maturity face nearly downward.
The sunflower is native to North American. It probably originated somewhere in the southwestern part of the land now occupied by the continental United States, in a region including Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and southern California. Archaeological explorations have come upon wild sunflower remains in Colorado and New Mexico. The American Indian was the first to utilize the sunflower, which was unknown to Europeans until the sixteenth century. Evidence of its cultivation dates from as early as 900 B.C.
Today sunflower seeds are cultivated throughout the world. The main producers are the United States, Russia, and Argentina. Sunflower seeds are also harvested not just for their seeds but for the valuable oil that is made from the seeds. Major advances have been made in plant breeding of sunflowers to develop high yielding, disease-resistant varieties. In 1940, the average oil content of most commercial oilseeds was about thirty three percent. In recent years with the advancement of technology the average oil content can be as high as fifty percent.
Sunflower seeds face many hurdles during growing in the United States. The seeds are considered a delicacy to many birds. Birds act as natural predators to the growing sunflower and often destroy the crops. To make matters worse, major bird feeding takes place around harvest time. To combat this problem, many farmers must use scarecrows, loud noise making devices, or metal strips that glisten in the sun to scare the birds away. Farmers also tend to not plow the fields of earlier crops until after sunflower harvest so the old crop can be used as an alternative feed for the birds.
When sunflower plants reach maturity, most flower heads permanently face east while their backs change color from green to yellow. The head is severed from the stalk and the seeds are removed. Although seed size is largely immaterial for oilseeds, it is an important factor in the non-oil or confectionary sunflower crop. After harvesting and drying, the seeds are cleaned and graded into threw sizes: large, medium, and small. The seeds are then either packed raw, roasted and salted in the shell, or hulled. The medium sized seeds or hulling seeds account for forty to sixty percent of the annual crop. Like the large seeds, the smaller seeds are usually not hulled. They are in turn usually used as bird feed.
High in protein content and in concentrated sources of many nutrients, edible nuts including sunflower kernels may be recommended as meat substitutes. When compared to other popular nuts, sunflower kernels rate high in nutritional aspects but low in sodium content, calories and fats. The increased interest in natural health foods bodes well for future sunflower seed usage. Most snack foods contribute little to diet except calories. Raw or roasted sunflower kernels are nutritious and relatively inexpensive.