Today I met a Canadian man who grows sunflowers, flax and other grains and vegetables on quite a large scale. He and his family also have a business that cleans the seeds and hulls them. Then they ship them off all around the world.
I never thought about how a sunflower might get hulled – I just know that sometimes I buy them salted with the shells on for nibbling, and sometimes with the shells off for bread-making. That turns out to be two different varieties of sunflower.
My new acquaintance described the hulling procedure this way: The seeds are fired against the side of a round ceramic receptacle – not too hard, because you don’t want to damage the kernel. The hull cracks and everything is sent on its merry way on a vibrating belt (to help seed separate from hull) to another part of the machine where the hull is blown away. Then there’s a weighing and color sorting part of the machine that the seeds pass through. Any seed retaining its hull is routed back to the ceramic chamber for another percussive meeting with the sides and another shuddering journey on the conveyor belt.
I don’t know if my friend’s hulling machine looks anything like the one above; it’s probably something similar. Who would ever have imagined when noshing on the humble sunflower that it had had such an adventure?