Sunflower seeds are lovely things to have in your recipes. However, that doesn’t take away from the fact that they can be a bit tricky to work with.
Finding something with the same flavor and texture as sunflower seeds is difficult. So, if you can’t find them around, it could be challenging to get something to work in their stead. But, every food ingredient has substitutes, regardless of what it is.
So, what is the best substitute for sunflower seeds? Pine nuts have emerged as the foremost substitute for sunflower seeds, thanks to their slightly similar taste and flavor profiles. As long as you don’t have any nut allergies, you’ll find that using pine nuts as a sunflower seed substitute will be more than fine.
An Overview of Sunflower Seeds
Technically, sunflower seeds are the fruits of the sunflower plant – also known as Helianthus annuus. The seeds are harvested from the plant’s flower heads, which measure up to 12 inches in diameter. In a single sunflower head, you can find tens of thousands of seeds.
The sunflower seeds we see are usually placed in striped shells – known as hulls. They have mild, nutty flavors and a tender texture, and they’re usually roasted and added to recipes to enhance their taste.
Besides their nutty flavor, sunflower seeds are also popular for their health benefits. They help to reduce issues such as inflammation and diabetes, and they even help to address high blood pressure.
Why Replace Sunflower Seeds?
- Allergies: Allergies to sunflower seeds aren’t common, but they exist. If you have such an allergy, you’ll need something to stand in for the seeds in your recipe.
- Non-availability: While they’re great to have in your recipe, sunflower seeds aren’t available everywhere. If you can’t find sunflower seeds around, you’ll need to get a substitute instead.
- Taste issues: Some people might not like the sunflower seed taste, or it might not be so ideal in their recipes. For these people, substitutes will come in handy.
Options for Sunflower Seed Substitutes
Best Overall Substitute for Sunflower Seeds: Pine Nuts
They’re definitely not perfect, but pine nuts make for the best substitute you can get if you want something different from sunflower seeds. They have a very similar flavor to sunflower seeds, and they work for almost every recipe you can use sunflower seeds for.
Pine nuts are small and elongated seeds that are about half an inch long. Their seeds have a soft texture and sweet taste when raw, and they add a buttery flavor that makes them especially great for baked foods. In some cases, the nuts can also be toasted lightly to add a little crunch and really bring out the flavor.
Pine nuts are eaten almost across the world. However, they work especially well as crunchy salad toppings. They can also work in desserts – such as cookies, shortbread, and hummus.
With their similar shape and flavor, it’s easy to see why many people would prefer to substitute pine nuts for sunflower seeds. But, you want to be careful with allergies. People with peanut allergies will definitely be uncomfortable when they take pine nuts, so make sure you’re not dealing with any allergies before using them in your recipe.
Best Available Substitute: Sesame Seeds
Most people who would like to replace sunflower seeds will use sesame seeds instead. They have a similar nutty flavor to sunflower seeds, although the latter is richer and come with a more buttery flavor. You should also note that sesame seeds have a bitter aftertaste. Some like this, while others don’t; if you’re the type to experiment with your meals, you could give this a try.
We also love the fact that sesame seeds are readily available. You can find them at any grocery store around you, and the seeds themselves will help if you’re in a time crunch and need to get something in your recipe as quickly as possible.
Besides their flavor and availability, sesame seeds are also pretty healthy. They’re a good source of healthy fibers and proteins, and they give off minerals like magnesium, copper, and manganese. The seeds themselves can help to reduce inflammation and oxidative stress, meaning that they are especially ideal for people with issues like arthritis.
In terms of proportions, sesame seeds are great one-for-one substitutes for sunflower seeds. Apply them as you wish.
Best Flavor-Based Substitute: Pumpkin Seeds
If you’re looking to change your flavor entirely, then pumpkin seeds could be the perfect substitute for sunflower seeds that you need. These seeds have a completely different flavor from sunflower seeds, but as we all know, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
In fact, pumpkin seeds are especially great because of their adaptability. They take on whatever flavor you season them with, although they originally have a slightly salty taste. The seeds also make up for the salty taste with a crunchy texture.
Pumpkin seeds come with green, larger bodies that will definitely help your dish presentation. But, you should note that their larger bodies also mean that they aren’t one-for-one substitutes for sunflower seeds. Just put enough to go around in your recipe and you’ll be good to go.
If you’d like something healthy, pumpkin seeds are also ideal for you. They’re a great source of proteins and fiber, and they only contain little amounts of calories. Pumpkin seeds are also a good source of phytosterols – plant compounds that have been shown to help reduce cholesterol in the blood. With their wide range of nutrients, the seeds are definitely healthy for everyone.