The sunflower seed is the fruit of the sunflower (Helianthus annuus). The term “sunflower seed” is actually not a misnomer when applied to the seed in its pericarp (hull), and is usually classified as a seed. Botanically speaking, it is a cypsela. When dehulled, the edible remainder is called the sunflower kernel or heart.
There are three types of commonly used sunflower seeds: linoleic (most common), high oleic, and NuSun developed for sunflower oil. Each variety has its own unique levels of monounsaturated, saturated, and polyunsaturated fats. The information in this article refers mainly to the linoleic variety.
For commercial purposes, sunflower seeds are usually classified by the pattern on their husks. If the husk is solid black, the seeds are called black oil sunflower seeds. The crops may be referred to as oilseed sunflower crops. These seeds are usually pressed to extract their oil. Striped sunflower seeds are primarily used for food; as a result, they may be called confectionery sunflower seeds.
Sunflower seeds are more commonly eaten as a snack than as part of a meal. They can also be used as garnishes or ingredients in various recipes. The seeds may be sold as in-shell seeds or dehulled kernels. The seeds can also be sprouted and eaten in salads.
When in-shell seeds are processed, they are first dried. Afterwards, they may also be roasted or dusted with salt or flour for preservation of flavor.