Armenia has to be one of the largest consuming nations of sunflower seeds in the world. I can’t speculate on the quantities since I don’t know who is responsible for controlling the import of them, and even if I found out it would be hard to obtain that information I suppose since businessmen are so secretive about their earnings. In any case, it would be safe to assume that tons of the stuff are sold here annually.
You can find several people selling sunflower seeds at places throughout the city that have the most foot traffic, such as along Mashdots Avenue, in front of the post office building on Republic Square, and around Freedom Square, where the Opera House is located. But these are only a few locations, and the vendors can easily transport their goods to other parts of the city since they use special carriages. Some of these vendors also sell peanuts, bite-sized unripe plums when in season, and other snacks but I have never seen anyone eating them in public. But more often than not you can notice an older woman sitting on a short stool selling them out of a large bowl. The price if I am not mistaken is about 100 dram, or about 35 cents more or less, for a small cupful, which is dumped into a funnel made of newspaper for easy handing. By far, sunflower seeds reign supreme in terms of snack consumption, and chomping on them can undoubtedly be considered a favorite pastime. You can even find chocolate-covered shelled sunflower seeds in some specialty grocery stores.
There are different sorts of seeds that are available. Some are fairly small, probably the same that are used ordinarily for bird food. I am guessing those seeds are made available for youngsters who are being weaned to become mature sunflower seed munchers. There are also some that are long and thin in shape, usually black and white, and others that are probably considered to be medium-sized to large judging by sight and what logic would determine as being a proper sunflower seed. It’s impossible to say where they are coming from—I would venture to guess from Turkey as well as Russia—apparently the country is the largest producer of sunflower seeds in the world. Last year Turkish sunflower seeds sealed in convenient snack packs were being advertised on TV.
I am not an authority on seeds but I know that I do not enjoy eating them. I remember when growing up my family would crack open heavily salted pumpkin seeds between their front teeth, which I always found unsatisfying on the few occasions I attempted to partake in the enjoyment. There are people I have seen—I can’t recall who to be honest—who had eaten so many seeds that they had worn a small groove between their two upper front teeth. You can sit back and contemplate on how may kilos of seeds they consumed in their lifetimes to achieve that feat.
At public events such as large, open-air concerts like the Al Di Meola performance the other night, streets are strewn with thousands of seed shells. They are everywhere, there is no mistaking them. A common site is also a distributed pile of shells at random spots on the sidewalk, where loiterers have been before moving off to another arbitrary place to perpetuate their loafing. Armenian men love to loiter, usually waiting for something unimportant to happen while chatting about subjects that exemplify vanity.
Now that I have thoroughly criticized the consumption of sunflower seeds, I can say that although I do not seek them out, when offered seeds that you have to pick out of the fresh-cut flower to munch on I do not refuse, especially when there is a cold beer to chug along with them. The seeds are succulent, exploding as soon as you bite down, and the shells are malleable so that you can actually extract the seed without shattering the thing in your mouth and fishing it out with your tongue, then holding it between your teeth and gum while simultaneously spitting out the mutilated shell (that has been my experience at least). In their raw state the seeds taste much better.
The one major plus about sunflower seeds is that they’re healthy. According to Wikipedia, the harvested seeds are actually the fruit of the sunflower. It also claims that:
In addition to linoleic acid (an essential fatty acid), sunflower seeds are also an excellent source of dietary fiber, protein, Vitamin E, B Vitamins, and minerals such as magnesium, iron, phosphorus, selenium and zinc. Additionally, they are rich in cholesterol-lowering phytosterols.
So at least Armenians are looking after themselves, even though they may not be cognizant of the fact.
Labels: Food and Drink, Personal Experiences, Social and Cultural, Thoughts and Musings