Roasted In-Shell Sunflower Seeds

Looking out my living room window one afternoon I saw the strangest sight, a squirrel, about 8 feet off the ground, upside down, with his tail sticking straight up in the air. Quietly walking closer to investigate, I found that the squirrel had climbed up one of my tall sunflower plants, the top of which was bending over due to the weight of the squirrel, who, clutching the plant stalk with his hind legs, now greedily was digging into the sunflower flower to eat the ripening seeds. Oh, where is the camera when you need it? By the time I had retrieved mine, the squirrel was already heading down the plant.

Squirrel on Sunflower Plant

But that did get me thinking, why leave all the sunflower seeds to the squirrels? The sunflower variety the squirrel was enjoying produces small seeds, too small for me to bother with. But I had other sunflowers, the mammoth variety, which produces big seeds, the kind that can easily be roasted.

Mammoth Sunflower Reveals Its Seeds on Simply Recipes

By the time I got around to it, the squirrels and birds had already eaten all the seeds from every flower except one. The seeds were clearly visible, I pulled one out to check to make sure the size was big enough, cracked it open and ate the raw seed inside. Perfect! I then placed the flower head on a table (outside, it’s rather messy) and rubbed out as many of the big seeds as I could. This would be a fun activity to do with kids if you grow big sunflowers in your garden. I then boiled the seeds in salted water, drained them, laid them out in a roasting pan, and roasted them.

The question that you may have, and I certainly did, is, is there any way to easily shell the seeds, so you don’t have to go through the painstaking process yourself for each nibble? There is, but it requires expensive commercial machinery. Oh well. The good news is that in-shell, these seeds are hard to overeat! You have to work for it.

Roasted In-Shell Sunflower Seeds Recipe

  • Prep time: 5 minutes
  • Cook time: 45 minutes
  • Yield: Makes one cup of roasted sunflower seeds.

If you grow your own sunflowers, the flowers will tell you when they are ready. They'll be droopy, and the petals around the center will be dried. The seeds should be clearly visible. The best seeds for eating come from the larger varieties of sunflowers. Just cut away the flower head from the stalk, place the flower head on a flat surface, and rub the center to dislodge the seeds from the flower. If squirrels and birds can get to these seeds, so can you!

These directions are for salted, roasted sunflower seeds. If you don't want them salted, just rinse them off and roast them. Because they aren't soaked through with water, they'll roast much more quickly, perhaps only a few minutes at 400°F.


  • 1 cup raw in-shell sunflower seeds
  • 2 1/2 Tbsp kosher salt, or 2 Tbsp table salt*
  • 1 quart water

* Add more or less salt to taste, up to 1/4 cup Kosher salt for 1 quart of water.


roasted-in-shell-sunflower-seeds-1 roasted-in-shell-sunflower-seeds-2

1 Place sunflower seeds, salt, and water into a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes.

2 Drain the water from the seeds and spread the seeds out in a single layer in a sheet pan. Place in a 400°F oven on the top rack and roast for 10 to 15 minutes.  Starting at about 10 minutes, I recommend taking a few out of the oven to test. If they are not roasted yet to your satisfaction, return them to the oven for another 2 to 5 minutes.  Keep checking every few minutes until they are dry enough and roasted to your satisfaction. The seeds can quickly go from done (dry and easy to bite to open) to charred (browned on outside and black on the inside). So as the time gets closer, keep an eye on it.


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    • Elise

      That’s how you get the salt to infuse to the seeds. If you don’t want them salted, you can skip the boiling. Just roast them for a few minutes (less than if you are starting with seeds that are soaked through from the boiling.)

  1. Sarah

    The tiny birds eat everything from my feeder except the too-big-for-them sunflower seeds, so I have random sunflowers from the cast-offs growing all over my yard. I’m excited to have something to try with them, besides just enjoying the view. Thanks!

  2. Tina

    Oh Elise….thank-you. The sunflower seed post reminded me of a wonderful childhood memory. Had a wonderful Aunt that grew them, I had spent the night at her home and we had fun harvesting and roasting the sunflower seeds growing in her garden. The memory left me with a big smile on my face and in my heart. Many blessings to you and yours!

  3. shaylee

    well im 13 years old and I planted sunflower seeds and they turne white seeds in steade can I still roast or cook the plzzz anwers need help!!!!!

    • Bear

      They’re not ripe yet, give them a little while longer til they start to turn black like the sunflower seeds you see on the ground or in the store.

  4. Louisa Sargent

    I have roasted my sunflower seeds but they are quite chewy & I end up with a mouthful of chewy pulpy stuff which seems inedible- what did I do wrong? I roasted them for about 25 mins at 180°.

  5. Chris

    When I was a child, my older cousin gave me a book called The Kid’s Kitchen Take Over. One of the activities was growing sunflowers. I didn’t have a backyard until 25 years later. I started growing sunflowers immediately, but never harvested. Today, at age 44, I finally harvested them, and roasted them! They needed a lot more salt, I think, but they are quite pleasant. Thanks!

  6. paul

    I bought some Sunflower seeds for feeding parrots in my back garden. Didn’t realise they were salted and the birds wouldn’t touch them. Says something?

  7. Kit

    I cut my sunflower heads last fall and left them to dry. The seeds are quite edible. Do you have any experience with roasting them after they’ve been drying all winter?

  8. Angela

    My Kindergarten class is growing Mammoth Sunflower Plants and I had no idea how to cook them! Thank you so much for this! Do I have to let them dry out before I boil them??

  9. Jake

    I want to plant a sun flower as a project and eat the seeds what seed do I get? Can I use the ones u eat? And is it to late now to plant it? Plz reply thx!

    • Elise

      Hi Jake, great questions. When to plant sort of depends on where you live. Here in Sacramento, California, now is the time to plant sunflower seeds (raw, in the shell). You want to plant a “mammoth” variety, so you get a big sunflower with lots of seeds. You might want to go to a nursery and buy a small mammoth sunflower that has already started to grow, and then just transplant it into the garden. My best advice is to ask someone who works at a local nursery what will work best for where you live!

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