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Sunflower seed is the seed of the sunflower. The term "sunflower seed" is actually a misnomer when applied to the "seed" in its pericarp (hull). Botanically speaking, it is more properly referred to as an achene. When dehulled, the edible remainder is called the sunflower 'kernel'.
For commercial purposes, sunflower seeds are usually classified by the pattern on their husks. If the husk is solidly black, the seeds are called 'black oil sunflower seeds'. The crops may be referred to as 'oilseed sunflower' crops. These seeds are usually pressed into sunflower oil. Additionally, these seeds are generally considered the seed of choice for bird feeders.
If the husks are striped, the seeds are called 'striped sunflower seeds' or 'stripers'. Due to their lower oil content, the crops are called 'non-oilseed sunflower' crops. Striped sunflower seeds are primarily used for food; as a result, they may also be called 'confectionery' sunflower seed.
Apart from black and striped, there are also white sunflower seeds.
Nowadays, sunflower oil is one of the most popular oils in the world. The oil is typically extracted by applying great pressure to the sunflower seeds and collecting the oil. After extraction, the pressed sunflower seed cake can be used as a valuable livestock feed, which is rich in proteins.
The original sunflower oil (linoleic sunflower oil) is high in polyunsaturated fatty acids (about 66% linoleic acid) and low in saturated fats, such as palmitic acid and stearic acid. However, various hybrids have been developed to alter the fatty acid profile of the crop for various purposes.
The oil may be used as is, or may be processed into polyunsaturated margarines.
In the future, sunflower oil could become a renewable, eco-friendly energy source by using it as a bio-source for hydrogen. A team for the University of Leeds has developed a workable method for the extraction of hydrogen from sunflower oil, through a chain of chemical reactions with nickel and carbon-based catalysts.
World exports of sunflowerseeds in 2003/4 was forecast at 3.38 million metric tons, up sharply by 48% from 2.28 million in 2002/3. Exports account for 13% of world production. The world’s largest exporters in 2002/3 were Argentina (with 21% of world exports), Hungary (15.2%), the former Soviet Union (15.1%), and the US (10%). The world’s largest importers were the Netherlands (with 17.4% of world imports), Turkey (17.4%), Spain (10.2%), and Germany (9.5%).