Semechki – Sunflower seeds

July 12th, 2016 Sections: Food and Drink, Life In Kyrgyzstan
Semechki - Sunflower seeds

Semechki – Sunflower seeds

When I first came to Kyrgyzstan, one of the things I noticed was the number of people eating ‘birdseed’.

I admit … it seemed very strange.

They would take a seed in their fingers … put it between their teeth … crack the husk and eat the kernel, spitting the husk out.  Some people took care to collect the husks, for example, in a dish or a bag … but others jsut cast them on the ground.

It seemed an awful lot of work to get a very small morsel of food …

The seed was sold in the markets and by vendors on the street … these days, however, they are also sold in supermarkets in brightliy coloured plastic packets.  It was (is) called semichki – and I came to learn that this referred to sunflower seeds.


The seeds are from the Helianthus plant – which is the scientific name for sunflowers, (from the Greek: Hēlios, “sun”, and anthos, “flower”).

The name sunflower, is a play on words … the stems of the plant are topped with a single, large flower with bright yellow petals surrounding a darker disc of florets … resemblig the bright yellow disc of the sun.  Also, during the day the flowers tilt towards the sun, tracing its path across the sky – although mature plants cease this practice and usually face East.

There are about 70 different species of sunflower and they originate in the Americas – the vast majority of them from the North American continent.

Many of them are perenniel plants, but the most common variety, the one that are cultivated for decorative purposes or to harvest it’s seeds, are annuals … Helianus annus.   The perenials have a tendency to spread rapidly and become invasive.

For the record: Some of the perenniel species are actually listed as endangered.


Sunflowers are beloved by mathematicians because if their symmetry based on Fibonacci numbers and the Golden angle – but more of that, perhaps, in another postcard.


Semichki, sunflower seeds, are the fruit of the annual sunflower.

There are actually three types of commonly used sunflower seeds grown for commercial purposes … often classified by the pattern on their husks.  For example:

  • Those with a solid black husk are called black oil sunflower seeds and they are usually pressed to extract their oil.
  • Striped sunflower seeds are primarily used for food; as a result, they may be called confectionery sunflower seeds.


In 2013, world production of sunflower seeds was 44.5 million tonnes, with Ukraine and Russia accounting for half of the total.  Kyrgyzstan is a monor producer with just over 30,ooo hectares (putting it in 34th place globally – based on 2014 figures), producing just over 34,000 metric tonnes (putting it in 36th place – again, based on 2014 figures) – making a yield yield of 11,374 tonnes per hectare (putting the country in 50th place).


Sunflower seeds are mostly consumed as a  snack. although they can also be used as a garnish or as an ingredient in various recipes, for example, in salads.

There are many claims made for their health giving properties, which include:

  • playing a role in controlling damage to body cells, and hence in combatting cancer …
  • providing minerals such as calcium, magnesium and coppr which are needed for the development of bones structures;
  • being rich in antioxidants which makes them useful as an antiinflammatory when treating joint pain, gastric ulcers, skin eruptions, asthma and other similar conditions …
  • … as well as being a source of Vitamin E which is beneficial in the treatment of arthritic pain and in skin care;
  • preventing cholesterol from attaching itself to artery walls, and thus helping to prevent heart disease
  • helping to relieve stress and migraines


As well as being sold and consumed in their natural state, they are sometimes processed: dried, roasted or dusted with salt or flour in order to preseve their flavour.

In the West, different flavourings, (barbecue, pickle, hot sauce, bacon, ranch, and nacho cheese). can also be added … .

Dehulled, or shelled, kernels are sometimes added to bread and other baked goods for their flavor. In addition, sunflower butter, (similar to peanut butter),  can also be produced.

The husks, or shells, are mostly composed of cellulose, and can be used as a biomass fuel.

Apart from the seeds, the seeds can also used to produce sunflower oil, used for cooking or as the basis for polyunsaturated margerines.

Once the oil has been extracted, the kernals can still be used as an animal feed.



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