For a long time, the only way to get at a sunflower seed's nutty, chewy kernel was to painstakingly crack or pry open the seed to pluck out its precious bit of meat.
But now, thanks to a specially-processed sunflower butter that Agricultural Research Service food technologists helped develop five years ago, more and more consumers, including those allergic to peanuts, are able to spread sunflower seeds onto breads, crackers, apples and any other food base once reserved for pairing with peanut butter.
The spread was developed through a cooperative research and development agreement between ARS and Red River Commodities, a sunflower seed processor in Fargo, N.D. Known as SunButter, the sunflower seed product now comes in creamy, natural, natural crunch, honey crunch--and even a low-carb version.
The availability of a peanut-free spread is great news for the roughly 3 million American adults and children who suffer from peanut allergies.
Because of concerns about students with peanut allergies, 12 states now include SunButter in their school lunch programs, according to Red River Commodities. And some airlines now provide SunButter, or snacks made with SunButter, to their passengers as an alternative to peanuts.
Isabel Lima and Harmeet Guraya, food technologists at ARS' Southern Regional Research Center in New Orleans, La., developed the ideal processing conditions that ultimately led to the recipe for a natural, good-tasting sunflower butter that was more palatable than previous sunflower seed spreads.
They have helped Red River Commodities find the optimal sunflower spread formulation with just the right amounts of sugar, salt and stabilizer. According to Lima, even though these ingredients are added in only small amounts, too much or too little of any of the three can impair the butter's taste and quality.
Lima and Guraya's research on finding the ideal sunflower butter formulation will be published in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Food Science.
ARS is the U.S. Department of Agriculture's chief scientific research agency.