Discussion Topic

The food that requires the most amount of effort for the least amount of reward: The unshelled sunflower seed.

Agree? Disagree? If the latter, can you name an alternative?

Why yes, I am eating unshelled sunflower seeds at the moment. Why do you ask?

53 Comments on “Discussion Topic”

  1. Depends on how you eat them, I suppose. And they are laden with meat, so the food/effort ratio is better than with sunflower seeds, I suspect.

  2. I tend to think crabs; the social experience is great, but the amount of work is staggering for the amount of food you get.

  3. Macadamia nuts in their shell. At least you don’t need a solid hammer and even more solid concrete to shell sunflower seeds. And those big Chinese sunflower seeds even have more seed than shell!

  4. The real problem is your approach. If you’d just shove mouthfulls of unshelled seeds in your mouth, swallow and chase them with some water, I think you’d find thak you can really pack them in. Leave the shelling to your digestive enzymes.

    No don’t thank me, I take great pleasure in the betterment of others.

  5. The only time all that effort is worthwhile is if you’re on a long-distance drive–something about opening a sunflower seed in the shell helps me stay awake. When I told that to my brother, he said he’d heard the same thing from some long-distance truck drivers. So I agree, but I’ve found no better way to stay awake while driving, so I don’t mind the effort.

  6. Timmy: hahaha. Perhaps your digestive enzymes are more potent than mine, but when I do as you suggest (and I have) it literally tears me up on the way out…if ya catch my drift.

  7. Alaskan king crab legs, are mighty good eatin’, but also mighty slow eatin’. After a couple of incidents when I tried the patience of my dinner companions, I made a new rule: Either everybody eats Alaskan king crab legs, or nobody eats Alaskan king crab legs.

  8. Unshelled peanuts are just as bad, unless you like to eat the red underwear, which I don’t.But the real question is, why didn’t you just buy shelled sunflower seeds? The difference in price is well worth it.

  9. I think lobsters are pretty bad. And crabs, too. The latter is probably worse for me, because I like lobster more.

    As for sunflower seeds, I’m one of those who think unshelled seeds taste better than those that have been shelled for me. And sometimes I eat the shells, because I’m strange like that.

  10. Pistachios would be a close seoncd.

    This is a desparate post, kind one makes when one is depressed about their looming deadline, is it not? It’s the kind of thing I’d do instead of calling my accountant a few months back. Or am I commenting here and now because I don’t want to empty the catbox?

  11. “The food that requires the most amount of effort for the least amount of reward: The unshelled sunflower seed.”

    Only for humans.

  12. Unshelled sunflower seeds are one of my favorite snacks. I keep a bag on my desk at work at all times. It’s a great way to curb that nagging boredom-induced hunger without tons of caloric intake. The one problem for me is that since I shell them in my mouth and spit out the shell, most people find the spit cup this method requires just as disgusting as one from someone who chews tobacco.


  13. I have two
    all also nuts

    black walnuts
    1) removing the outer green turned to black
    staining husks
    2) getting inside the inbcrediblly hard shell
    3) removing the meat from the convoluted chambers

    1) is achieved easiest by putting the nuts on the ground and driving over them

    2) there is no easy way to do the second step
    hammer and anvil probably works best

    3) sharp pointed picks


    then there are hickory nuts

    no outer husks to deal with
    but hard sheels and convoluted meat chambes
    in a much smaller size than black walnuts


    both however absolulely
    worth the efforts

  14. Yeah, my immediate thought was crabs as well. Lobster is *much* easier, but I pretty much won’t eat crab because the payoff isn’t worth the work.

    On the other hand, I love to bring my wife to The Barking Crab in downtown Boston. She’ll order the crab special, which usually has a couple of different kinds of crab and proceed to demolish them in a very methodical fashion. It is an impressive thing to watch, while I “suffer” through a nice lobster.

  15. Woodcock, since they are un-purchase-able, tinier than quail, and you pretty much have to shoot it yourself with a ridiculous light shotgun. Rattlesnake works for much the same reason (and really does, in the parlance, taste “just like chicken”). For fresh abalone, you have to not only hunt your own (with a knife), but you actually have to dive to 50ft. to get ’em.

    For things that you don’t have to kill first, snow crab is hard to beat for effort-to-eating ratio.

    Durian fruit is in the running, but the effort involved is in mostly in getting yourself not to hurl when smelling it. Once it gets to the eating, it’s not so tough.

    The actual amount of effort that goes into a properly smoked Texas BBQ brisket is enormous, but you can outsource it for little more than the cost of a Wendy’s double, so it probably doesn’t fit your criterion. Same with a perfect Oaxacan mole’ sauce.

    Oh, what a gastronomic life I’ve lived.

  16. Sunflower seeds aren’t much effort if you have the correct technique. Take a handfull and tuck it in to your cheek. Use your tongue to place one between your front teeth, crack it open, extract tasty nut, spit out shells. Repeat.

  17. Unless they rattle when you shake them, brazil nuts rank among the most stubborn of nuts. When I was little, brazil nuts taught me what “ahhh…F#@&!” meant before I knew the word.

    …a cracking process measured in minutes, not seconds…scraping out little shards of nut meat with a pick, all over the table…[sigh]…I’ll be okay…

    Another food probably not worth it, just in the emotional stress involved in getting it to your mouth and willing yourself to chew, I suppose, would be fugu (i.e., blowfish).

  18. Unshelled prawns (the small ones) are right up there. You have to eat 40-50 for a meal, and after 8-10 the rest have gone cold. You need bandaids for the lacerations and puncture wounds, and you’ll probably get a nasty bug if you don’t discard the prawn’s digestive system.

  19. Well it does remind me of a brain teaser:

    You throw away the outside, cook the inside, eat the outside, and throw away the inside.

    What is it?

    Okay – to address your question, I’d say fresh Fish. First you have to catch them – and I’m not a vegetarian but still kinda a softy on cruelty to animals but thankfully fish are far from me on the evolutionary scale and when I go fishing it is very FAR from a slaughter, believe me.

    Then you must clean them, which means scales EVERYWHERE and the frickin’ dorsal fins puncture your hand and you’ve developed an allergy to fish slime so even though mosquitos no longer bother you the friggin’ hole in your palm itches like crazy.

    You are left with the tiniest of fillets and you realize your ancestors spent way too much time grubbing for food and thank you so much for our modern food supply.

  20. Barbecue-sauce slathered ribs with barely any meat on them. They’re just not worth the mess for the little bit you get. Some places actually have a lot of meat on them, but most don’t.

  21. Fresh coconut milk.

    First, you’ve gotta climb the palm tree. Then you have to get them out of that shell (usually requires a sharp stick of some sort). Then you’ve got to cut them open. Then you have to get that stringy stuff out of them & squeeze it until milk comes out.

    I saw it done during my honeymoon in Hawaii. Makes you realize – at least a cow has udders…

  22. Hubs and I ordered one of those steamed artichoke appetizers one time close to closing in a restaurant and 45 minute later we were still plucking, dunking and sucking for very little return. Verdict: liked the flavor, but decided to only make it at home after that, since the staff were eyeing us wearily toward the end of the night.

  23. I agree with Jeff Hentosz about brazil nuts. The only thing worse than spending ten minutes picking brazil nut out of brazil nut shell so that I can eat it, is spending ten minutes picking brazil nut out of brazil nut shell so that one of my kids can eat it.

    Small crabs done maryland style are also a heck of a lot of work, but at least when you get them out of their shell, you’ve got crabmeat to eat.

  24. They might be a pain in the ass, but they’re good writer-food.

    sunflower seeds and almonds. Yum.

    Also: I’m surprised it took nine whole comments before someone posted a deadline joke. Perhaps we’re all distracted by the smell of armpit.

  25. I was thinking along the same lines as Dave – except I’d have to pick ruffed grouse over woodcock. I hunt without a dog, and the last time I did the math, I averaged something like 8.5 miles of walking through dense brush for every one bird I took.

    If you want to stick with store-bought food, I’m with Mr. Scalzi – those sunflower seed are slow going…

  26. I’m gonna have to go with Brazil nuts. A close second is roasted chestnuts though, you can either have blisters on your fingers from trying to eat them while they are hot, or wait until they cool down and that defeats the point of roasting them. They just taste so good though.

  27. I seem to remember someone telling me that you burn more calories chewing celery than you get in return. Does that count ?

  28. My vote goes to crawfish. You can get a mighty sore thumb shelling out the tail meat one tiny bite at a time. (My aunt used to serve them as the accompaniment to televised football games, because they would take so long to eat.) But sunflower seeds are certainly high up in the rankings.

  29. Susan’s right. Boiled crawdads win this contest hands down over crabs or shrimp (“prawns”). Tougher shells which’re much harder on the hands, and less meat per critter.

    Love a real New Orleans crawfish boil, but you’ll get tired before you get full ;)

  30. Nah, unshelled pinon nuts (pignoli) are the real winners: every bit as much effort and awkwardness as sunflower seeds, but tiny, so the reward is even smaller.

  31. Not so much a food as a seasoning (although you can eat it by itself); my bid for “most required for the least return” would have to be Saffron:

    “The Saffron filaments, or threads, are actually the dried stigmas of the saffron flower, “Crocus Sativus Linneaus”. Each flower contains only three stigmas. These threads must be picked from each flower by hand, and more than 75,000 of these flowers are needed to produce just one pound of Saffron filaments…”

    Borrowed from:

    You want to see excruiating effort for minimal return, look no further then Saffron. The 75,000 flowers it takes to produce one pound of hand-picked saffron require 5 acres of land and the best climate.

    I think you can get one pound of sunflower seeds from one sunflower. Those require less than a square foot to grow to maturity….and can be shaken free by a machine…

    Now that gets into a whole other whole issue. Saffron once it is in your hand takes virtually no effort to use whereas sunflower seeds take a little finesse to consume efficiently.

  32. I’ve two nominees:

    The tiny shell-on shrimp that they used to serve “all-you-can-eat” at the buffet of Beefsteak Charlies in Alexandrea, VA.

    Artichokes. Maybe because I don’t think they taste all that great, and doing all the work for no payback is a waste of time.

  33. Do you swallow the shell?

    I do, and I chew that much more to prevent myself from shitting a cheese grater.

  34. Not so much not worth the effort as not likely to happen ever again: any kind of crab.

    There’s a real chance of me kicking the bucket if I ever happen to eat one or get some by mistake. Ain’t allergies wonderful???

  35. I go with “rhubarb.” The stuff needs to be soaked and/or boiled to be any use whatsoever, is well-nigh impervious to outside flavoring, and of itself has the taste and consistency of wet cardboard.

  36. I’ve always hated how the shells on sunflowers break up lengthwise into needle-sharp pieces that jam right in between tooth and gum when you chew ’em, so I munch on pumpkin seeds, which apparently have a different molecular structure of the shell.

    But I’ve just recently discovered Dry Roasted (shell-less) Pumpkin Seeds, so now I’m hopelessly addicted to those.

    But in terms of wasted effort, it’s a well-known fact that Celery has negative calories! It takes more calories to eat a piece of celery than the celery has in it.

  37. Celery.

    No flavor. Stringy. Uses more calories to chew than it gives when finally consumed. Nasty stuff.

    On the other hand, sunflower seeds come out of the shell with some ease and the kernel actually has some caloric value.

  38. I believe that this known fact is in fact an old, oft-repeated wives tales.

    “But in terms of wasted effort, it’s a well-known fact that Celery has negative calories! It takes more calories to eat a piece of celery than the celery has in it.”

  39. no offence but who would wanna read a whole page about whateva this is about???? is this about food huh i was lookin for something about sunflowers and what is there bestt climate

  40. The real winner is manioc, the tree that produces flour and tapioca. It is the principle starch of tribal South America, and such a hassle to render edible it is a curse of their civilization. Clear some jungle, plant a plug, cut it like bamboo and haul home. Boil for 2 days, skim off poisonous foam, drain and place fibrous matter in giant “Chinese finger torture” machine to squeeze out juice. Dry and grind fibers for poorly nutritious flour, and use liquid for puddings and thickener. Maybe I have a few details wrong, but that is the gist of it.

  41. Brazil nuts – soak them 12 hours in cold water first, then they’re easy to eat.

    Pomegranates – take a a pair of food scissors cut four arcs from top to bottom and quarter.