The Sunflower, a true native American
The sunflower is from America, and the sunflower seed is actually the fruit of the sunflower. The term “sunflower seed” is a misnomer. Botanically speaking, it is more properly referred to as an achene. According to Merriam-Webster, the achene is a small dry indehiscent one-seeded fruit (as of a sunflower) developing from a simple ovary and usually having a thin pericarp attached to the seed at only one point. Once the hull is removed the edible remainder is called the sunflower kernel. (Whew, its tough speaking botanically.) Culinarily speaking, the kernel is the part that we will use in salads and other dishes.
In-shell sunflower seeds are popular in Mediterranean countries, like Israel and Turkey. The seeds may be eaten fresh, but are most popular among the youth when roasted and sometimes salted. They are available freshly roasted in shops and markets and are a common stadium food at football (soccer) games. They may also be used in salads. Although the sunflower was introduced to Europe in the 16th century, it was not used as a food and oil source until large scale cultivation occurred in Russia in the 18th century.
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 expelled liquid. Sunflower oil is used for cooking and in salads. It is also an ingredient in margarine.
In the future, sunflower oil could become a renewable bio-source for hydrogen.