Turkish Food – Sunflower seeds (Ay Çekirdeği)

We know sunflower seeds are a part of the diets of many nationalities of the world, but never before have we witnessed sunflower seeds eaten so much – and so quickly – than in Turkey.

It’s not a rarity in Turkey (well, not in Fethiye anyway) to walk past any street or park bench first thing in the morning and see the shells of sunflower seeds scattered all around the immediate area. Hundreds of them crunching under your feet.

If you walk past these areas in the evening or at night, you will see the cause – it might be a couple of blokes having a chat, a family enjoying the surroundings, a young couple, a group of friends; just about anyone who sits down to have a minute.

It seems that people who sit on benches, for whatever reason, like to have a pack of sunflower seeds with them.

Turkish Sunflower Seeds

A source of wonder and amazement – sunflower seeds

If you want to buy sunflower seeds in the Northwest of England, you’ve got to head to the health food section of stores, pay a ‘health food amount of cash’ (too much) and well, they’re just not the norm.

In Turkey, they’re available in supermarkets and stacked with all the other nuts and nibbles (çerez), they’re available from the markets and then there are the kuru yemiş (dried food) shops which specialise in this type of snack. These places are everywhere. And sunflower seeds are cheap!

Let us tell you about the phenomenon that is the Turkish sunflower seed. They are usually coated in salt (the ones we buy, that you can see in the photo are ‘bol tuzlu’ – very covered in salt) and are eaten at a mind boggling rate of SPM (Seeds Per Minute). If you have never seen a Turkish person eating sunflower seeds, you will be amazed.

Eating sunflower seeds is obviously something that the Turks do from a very early age. For me, as an adult and a newcomer to this, it’s just not happening.

Your aim is to take the seed between your thumb and forefinger, turn it on its side, start at the thin end, nibble towards the fat end (in two or three gnashes), at which point, the idea is that the seed has opened, you have the salty flavour in your mouth, you take the smaller seed out with your tongue, eat it and discard the shell and delve straight in for the next one. All this happens in two or three seconds (we’re not exaggerating!). All well and good for those with a lifetime of practice.

Turkish Sunflower Seeds Snack

The seed inside – the reward for your efforts

Personally, I love the salty sunflower seeds but they’re just not worth the effort for me. Look at the size of the reward! I take the seed from the packet, nibble towards the end, all going well…and then I can’t get the seed. I end up sat with the seed between both hands, trying to take it apart to remove the seed with my fingers.

We’re up to about 30 seconds by then – all for the sake of getting to a little seed, when it’s the taste of the salty shell I prefer anyway. It almost becomes a battle of wills between me and the seed. I think to myself, ‘No, not bothering anymore. Not worth it…’

And then when Barry opens a pack (he’s got it sussed), the seeds look at me, challenging me. ‘Go on, you know you want to. Have another go!’ And I know I’ll keep trying till I succeed – I don’t want to be defeated – but that day is a long way off I think.

Anyone else got the same issues as I have – or is it just me?

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  1. When you to to Fethiye football ground the floors are covered with shells. The Turks sit muching them through the game. In the Uk it’s burger boxes, in Turkey sunflower seeds.

  2. I bet the snack’s really good for those nervous moments in the match – nibbling at seeds instead of your nails.

  3. by the time i was 8, i just gave up with the whole ‘picking out the actual seed’ and just started crunching the whole thing. that’s where all the flavour is!! (probably not that great for my digestive system, though!)

  4. Ha! I have those issues. Funny enough, I never developed a desire for them like my grannie did.
    Anytime I went over to her home I would see the same, medium sized bowl full of “spitz” as they market them here in Vancouver. I would hear her “cracking” happily as she read her mystery novels.
    I on the other hand, head over to the bulk section of our grocer and buy what I need for my salad or muffins.
    I admit it…I just don’t feel like wasting the energy.

  5. I’ve tried eating the whole thing too but it’s all just a bit too sharp – although it’s the flavour from the shells (when they’re coated in salt) that I really like. Like you Celeste, I feel like it’s a lot of energy wasted…but then there’s pistachio nuts. Mmmmmm.

  6. Ahh, now I will spend some time with a pistachio.

  7. ohh so cute!!! lol

  8. Donna Schwarz-Nielsen says

    I have to tell you it’s a big part of Romanian culture as well. (They have actually banned it at the football because of the mess) But once again, that whole area thinks it’s culture and cuisine is unique when it actually derives from the Ottoman empire.

  9. @ Donna: Thanks for your comment on the blog. 🙂 I think a lot of countries claim ownership of many different dishes and snacks as a matter of national pride. Sad that food can create divisions when there’s such a crossover between the cuisines of the world. It should be what brings us together! 🙂

  10. For the first few weeks in Turkey we didn’t know what to make of the local sunflower seeds, which are different from the ones we ate in the US as kids. The Turkish ones have long, splintery shells that, once in your mouth, dissolve into fiber (along with the skinny seed), whereas the smaller, harder American seeds used to crack neatly in half and have chubbier seeds. The US seeds were much easier to handle.

    In Turkey, we first had to use our fingers with the seeds, but now my husband and I can crack, extract & spit with our hands tied behind our backs. However we don’t come close to impressive Turkish SPM. I need about 10 or 15 seconds per seed, and sometimes I still lose the seed completely.

    OK, well, that was fascinating, I’m sure. Back to work…

  11. @ Renee: I’m just about getting up to speed with them now but we’ll never be as fast as the locals of Fethiye. I really need to concentrate on getting it right. 🙂

  12. Heba Hussein says

    i was searching why Turkish people love seeds and which type 🙂 even watching series lately makes you want to get seeds.still i have the same idea about struggle and small reward and challenge
    enjoy the article thanks

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