Grilled sunflowers heads are a viral TikTok sensation for the second year in a row, and why shouldn’t they be? Sunflowers are a hell of a lot more than a pretty face, especially when you peel off that face and roast their sweet, succulent innards. Indigenous Americans discovered this about 3,500 years ago, so while the hungry people of TikTok are a little late to the game, better late than never.
Before they took off on TikTok, Delish reports that sunflowers had their first brush with viral fame in 2018, when Chef Tomasz Skowronski put them on the menu at Apteka in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Andrew Zimmern posted an Instagram ode to the “insanely good” dish. Skowronski told Delish that in his native Poland, whole sunflower heads are a common summertime snack.
Sunflower fever came to Facebook in the summer of 2020, when Chef Jenna Asher of Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds posted her experiments with whole sunflower heads while researching Indigenous foodways. A video of Asher preparing a whole roasted sunflower with sun-dried tomatoes eventually migrated over to TikTok, and the flowery floodgates flew open.
In a recently posted video, Brian Brigantti of Redleaf Ranch in Tennessee explains how to harvest, clean, and cook the “new” edible phenomenon. “For a grilled sunflower head, you want to use a head that isn’t fully developed,” he explains. “So, the seeds are still going to be on the lighter side and much softer.”
After removing the sunflower’s petals and giving it a thorough washing, Brigantti rubs the head with with a bit of oil and some simple spices before tossing it face-down on a grill, popping on the lid, and letting it cook undisturbed for five minutes. To finish, he sprinkles it with scallions and Tajín seasoning. The video has inspired other popular TikTok gardeners like Tara Ratcliffe to experiment; Ratcliffe makes her sunflower heads elotes-style, smearing them with spiced mayonnaise, cilantro, cheese, and lots of fresh lime juice before devouring it with her bare hands. Ratcliffe says you can also eat it with a fork, but where’s the fun in that?