Can You Eat Sunflower Seed Shells?

Wondering if you can eat sunflower seed shells? It might seem easier just to eat them, but your digestive tract would disagree.

If you’ve ever been to a baseball game and watched a sunflower seed aficionado stuff a handful of unshelled seeds into their mouth, you know it’s an impressive trick to behold. Somehow, they can deftly separate 20 seeds from the shells using only their tongues and teeth, and easily spit those shells underneath the bleacher seats.

You’ve no doubt been left wondering, “can you eat sunflower seed shells?”—because there’s no way they aren’t swallowing at least some fragments of shells, right?

This question may also come up when preparing recipes like crisp sunflower cookies, sunflower seed and honey wheat bread and wild rice bread with sunflower seeds. While it would certainly be easier to start with a bag of sunflower seed kernels when baking, it’s not exactly difficult to shell them yourself with a rolling pin and a plastic bag (more on that below).

In fact, shelling them yourself is the way to go if you want to save a little money. And if you really want to make a recipe from scratch, consider grilling a whole sunflower head!

Can You Eat the Shell of a Sunflower Seed?

Even though the shells are primarily fiber, you do not want to eat them. Why? Sunflower seeds are a choking hazard and could cause a blockage or obstruction in your esophagus.

According to the National Sunflower Association: “If not chewed properly, the sharp pieces of shell could possibly puncture or attach to the linings of the esophagus or digestive tract. Medical literature confirms a number of cases in children where impaction has occurred due to eating sunflower shells.” The shell is there simply to protect the seed—not for eating.

Bottom line: Sunflower seed shells are not digestible, and there are far better ways to get fiber in your diet. While you’re at it, find out if you can eat pumpkin seed shells.

What Happens If You Eat Sunflower Seed Shells?

Sunflower seed shells aren’t toxic, so it’s OK if you accidentally eat a few. But it’s not something you should make a habit of in the interest of protecting the integrity of your digestive tract.

How to Quickly Shell Sunflower Seeds

Does your recipe call for a lot of sunflower seeds? Add half a cup or so of sunflower seeds to a plastic bag and seal the bag shut. Use a rolling pin to gently roll over the seeds, cracking each shell open. Then, pour the contents of the bag into a bowl of water—the shells will rise, while the kernels will sink. Skim the shells from the surface to discard and drain the kernels for use in your next recipe or to enjoy as a snack on their own.

Jill Schildhouse
Jill is an award-winning writer and editor with more than 20 years of experience. She covers a range of topics like health and wellness, food science, travel and healthcare for sites like Taste of Home, Reader’s Digest, Travel and Leisure, Fodor’s and USA Today. She loves tracking down the best sources possible to back up her writing, such as medical professionals, registered dietitians and scientists. An avid traveler, Jill has eaten her way through 38 countries—some of her favorite experiences include making gelato in Italy, catching and eating Dungeness crab in Alaska and pub-hopping in Ireland.