Sunflower Seeds: The Allergy-Friendly Ingredient With a Gazillion Uses
Brighten up your dishes with sunflower seeds. This versatile ingredient works great in both savory and sweet recipes, as a crunchy topping on soup and salad, a snack on its own, and ground up into a spreadable nut-free butter.
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We get it. Your kids would happily live on PB&J, but nuts are a no-no at school. As if lunch-packing tedium wasn’t already a struggle. And yes, it may seem baffling to ban peanuts and tree nuts when there are several other major food allergens that can cause serious reactions.
Still, there’s logic to nut-free schools. Statistically, peanuts and tree nuts are among the most common allergic triggers for the 1 in 13 kids (and 1 in 10 adults) with food allergies, and those allergies appear to be on the rise.
And here’s the thing about peanut butter (and other nut butters): When it makes contact with little (and not-so-little) hands, it gets everywhere. It’s sticky, spready stuff that isn’t so easy to clean off surfaces. That makes accidental ingestion — and the possibility of life-threatening anaphylactic reactions — a very real risk.
For families living with food allergies (I’m raising my hand here), pretty much any situation involving food is like a minefield. When other folks help keep school lunches and snacks safer, we breathe a little easier. So let us return the favor and shed some light on deliciously versatile, super-nutritious sunflower seeds, which happen to make a fabulous PB stand-in. Whether you love them for their allergy-friendliness or general tastiness, they deserve plenty of culinary shine, and we’ve got the recipes to prove it.
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Sunflower seed and sunflower butter FAQs
Learn about the health benefits of sunflower seeds and even how to harvest them from your own sunflower garden, all in the commonly asked questions below.
What are the health benefits of sunflower seeds?
Just a one-ounce serving of unsalted sunflower kernels (the little seeds) provides 5.5 grams of protein, 6 grams of carbohydrate, 3 grams of fiber, and lots of nutrients. They’re an excellent source of Vitamin E (1 ounce meets 37% of the recommended daily intake) and selenium (32% RDI). They’re also a good source of folate, magnesium, and calcium, along with antioxidant compounds and heart-healthy fats that may help promote wellness and reduce inflammation.
Is all sunflower butter safe for folks with nut allergies?
No, not all. Many people with nut allergies can safely eat various seeds, but for those who can't tolerate even the tiniest amount of nut exposure, it’s critical to source sunflower butter that is not cross-contaminated with nuts. Many nut and seed butters are made on shared equipment, or in facilities that process multiple allergens, so it’s always important to contact companies to check about safety.
Where can I buy allergy-friendly sunflower butter?
SunButter is a popular, easy-to-find option with smooth, crunchy, and flavored options. The company sources nut-free seeds, and SunButter is processed in a facility that’s free of major allergens.
88Acres is another great source for plain and flavored seed butters, including several sunflower varieties. Their facility is free of major allergens.
Where can I buy nut-free sunflower seeds?
Gerbs sells a variety of in-shell and shelled, roasted and raw sunflower seeds, and their products are free of the top 14 major allergens, including sesame seeds.
ZeeZees sells plain, honey roasted, and spicy sunflower kernels that are nut- and sesame-free.
(Remember "nut-free" doesn’t always mean a product is totally allergy-friendly. For example, some big brand flavored sunflower seeds contain milk, another major allergen.)
What’s the deal with sunflower seeds and baseball?
I’d always heard ballplayers adopted sunflower seeds as a more wholesome alternative to chewing tobacco. Turns out the story is much more interesting, and involves Reggie Jackson dishing some sound nutrition information.
Can I eat sunflower shells?
Take a cue from MLB players and spit out those sunflower shells. They’re indigestible and the fragments can be sharp, so they can hurt your gastrointestinal tract if you swallow them.
I have sunflowers in my garden. Can I harvest the seeds?
Big, beautiful sunflower heads can harbor up to 2,000 seeds, and you can harvest them, roast them on a baking sheet, and eat them! Here’s how.
DIY sunflower butter recipes
Making homemade sunflower seed butter is a fun and satisfying project, especially when you play with customization. These recipes will help you nail the technique and provide plenty of flavor inspiration.
Tori Avey has perfected the basic sunflower butter recipe, made with honey and a touch of sea salt. Her step-by-step photos and informative recipe notes will help sunbutter-making newbies get fantastic results.
Warming cinnamon infuses this maple-sweetened sunflower butter with delicious fall flavor. Try it on toast with banana slices for a nourishing back-to-school breakfast.
Nutella’s not the only chocolate spread game in town. This recipe swaps out hazelnuts for a sunflower seed butter that’s less cloying and more nutritious, with a double dose of rich chocolate flavor from both cocoa powder and melted chocolate.
Sunflower bread recipes
Sunflower seeds lend satisfying texture and nutty flavor to breads. We’ve got recipes for fledgling and experienced bakers alike. (You’re gonna need something to put that homemade sunflower butter on … )
This hearty, yeast-free, no-knead bread straddles the line between quick bread and sandwich loaf. Try it toasted with your favorite spread.
If you’re new to bread baking, this simple recipe — with helpful step-by-step photos and easy-to-find ingredients — is a great place to start.
When an expat pastry chef/writer living in Paris sings the praises of a German-style bread recipe, we put it on our must try list (especially when that chef/writer is David Lebovitz). The dough needs to rise 3 times, but the recipe is easy to prepare and fantastically tasty.
How’d “seedy” come to mean sketchy or shabby? No clue, but we say that’s for the birds! After all, what could be more wholesome than snacking on a handful of deliciously nutritious seeds?
When you need breakfast on the run (or an emergency afternoon snack to cure a case of the hangries) these sunflower-packed cereal bars fill the bill. Use your favorite dried berries as a sweet-tart accent.
Like sunflower seeds, pepitas (pumpkin seeds) are a great source of protein and other nutrients. Eat this sweet and salty brittle-like seed mix out of hand, or sprinkle it over yogurt or a salad.
This Baltimore girl will vouch for a little Old Bay magic in obvious (grilled fish, Bloody Marys) and not-so-obvious places (white chocolate pretzel clusters.) Adding the spice blend to in-shell roasted seeds is a guaranteed win. Store the cooled seeds in an airtight container at room temperature.
These homemade, no-bake granola bars are gluten-, nut-, and dairy-free. They come together in just 10 minutes in a food processor or high-speed blender, though you’ll want to give them a little time to firm up in the fridge before slicing.
Sunflower seed salads
Crunchy toppings make salads more fun, and sunflower seeds arguably outdo croutons with their nutrient-richness and savory nuttiness.
This colorful salad bridges summer and fall flavors brilliantly with accents including dried cranberries, sunflower seeds, chickpeas, and fresh herbs. Cabbage, broccoli, and kale are sturdy enough to hold up in the fridge — and hold onto a delicious, Thai cuisine-inspired SunButter dressing.
Acclaimed chef and James Beard Award-Winning cookbook author Gregory Gourdet’s video-guided recipe is like a master class on layering flavors and texture into this restaurant-worthy salad. (One piece of advice: if you value your fingers, don’t try bare-handed mandoline garlic slicing at home! A garlic slicer like this one makes thin slices safely.)
So simple to prepare, this salad features peppery arugula, sweet, juicy grapes, and the satisfying crunch of sunflower seeds. A mustard-maple vinaigrette pulls it all together. Tip: Add some quinoa to make it a meal.
No, this isn’t a salad recipe — yet. But pour this garlicky, sunflower seed-based vegan dressing over your favorite greens, add some chopped veggies if you’re feeling fancy, and voilà! Now it’s a salad.
Sunflower sandwich recipes
If you’re ready to graduate from good old sunflower butter and jelly sandwiches, these between-the-bread combos will give you plenty of options to sink your teeth into.
Smoked paprika punches up the flavor of the vegan sunflower seed “cream” that perfectly complements the sweet earthiness of roasted carrots. Avocado and greens round out this creative vegetarian sandwich.
There are lots of satisfying textures at play in this savory mix of mashed chickpeas, roasted sunflower seeds, and chopped red onion. A creamy, vegan, mustard-dill dressing binds the filling; you can also add over-the-top flavor with the optional garlic-herb sauce.
It’s the rare homemade veggie burger that can handle a stint on the grill, but these black bean-sunflower seed burgers can take the heat. Better yet, they’ve got lots of 5-star reviews thanks to their fantastic flavor.
Sunflower soup recipes
Sunflower seeds may seem like an unconventional addition to soup, but whether you’re stirring in smooth sunflower butter, or garnishing with a shower of crunchy seeds, they add unexpected nuance to your bowl.
This easy pureed carrot soup is enriched with sunflower butter. The recipe uses ready-made vegetable or chicken broth to cut down on prep time, so it comes together in about 20 minutes.
If you’re feeling ambitious, check out Chef Stephanie Izard’s video-guided recipe for roasted delicata squash soup, topped with spiced sunflower and pumpkin seeds.
This vibrant green soup sings of summer. Swirled with a vegan sunflower “cream” and garnished with toasted sunflower seeds, its restaurant-worthy looks belie the simple prep. Tip: Keep an eye on your asparagus; if you’re working with thin spears, they’ll usually take less time to roast.
Sunflower main dish recipes
Small but mighty sunflower seeds pack a protein, fiber, and nutrient punch into both vegetarian and meat-based entrees. But it’s their snappy crunch and subtly sweet nuttiness that makes us want to build meals around them.
This creative take on classic chicken salad is colorful and fresh. Start with a rotisserie chicken to streamline the prep time.
Soba noodles (plus lots of raw julienned veggie “noodles”) are the perfect vehicle for an umami-rich spicy sunflower butter sauce brightened by lime and ginger. Look for 100% buckwheat soba if you need to keep it gluten-free.
If soy-free tofu sounds like an oxymoron, let us introduce you to chickpea-based Burmese (aka Shan) tofu. Here, it’s served with veggies in a nut-free, Sunbutter-infused take on peanut sauce. You’ll find a link to a quick and easy DIY chickpea tofu recipe in the ingredient list.
Need a little incentive to eat your veggies? Wrap ‘em in corn tortillas and drizzle them with an Asian-fusion sunflower butter sauce. Sambal oelek and honey add a little sweet heat to both the roasted fall veggies and the sauce in this sheet pan meal.
In the minimal cook time it takes to boil some pasta, you can make this delicious nut-free pesto for a speedy weeknight supper. Or slather it on store-bought flatbread or pizza dough, top with cheese and veggies, and bake.
Sunflower seeds boast a mellow sweetness that makes them a natural fit for all sorts of treats. You can use sunflower butter to give peanut butter desserts a nut-free makeover (think cookies, buckeyes, etc.). But if you want to highlight sunflower seeds’ unique flavor, here’s some inspiration.
These vegan cookies are naturally allergy-friendly. Sweetened with maple syrup, they’re egg-, dairy-, and nut-free. If you want to make them gluten-free, use oat flour or a GF 1:1. Tip: Be sure to use a parchment paper-lined baking sheet to keep the cookies from sticking.
Growing up with this sunflower seed pie, blogger Lauren Schmidt didn’t realize it wasn’t on everyone’s Thanksgiving table. She says it’s “just like pecan pie, but made with sunflower seeds instead.”
This recipe uses freeze-dried strawberries to add a sunbutter-and-jelly vibe to these chocolate confections.
These dairy-free frozen treats are rich and creamy — and surprisingly nutritious, thanks to their date-sweetened, sunflower-enhanced ingredient list. The recipe suggests using coconut milk, but you can substitute soy or even dairy milk if you’d like.
More healthful options
Read on for great alternative ingredient suggestions.