« Quick Change | Main | Agent to the Stars on "Unshelved" »

July 16, 2006

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?

Posted by john at July 16, 2006 08:23 PM

Trackback Pings

TrackBack URL for this entry:


james | July 16, 2006 08:30 PM

buffalo wings, they are messier

John Scalzi | July 16, 2006 08:35 PM

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.

Emily | July 16, 2006 08:43 PM

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

Gillian Polack | July 16, 2006 08:49 PM

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!

Timmy | July 16, 2006 08:54 PM

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.

Jude | July 16, 2006 08:58 PM

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.

Ben Gray | July 16, 2006 09:13 PM

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.

Mitch Wagner | July 16, 2006 09:17 PM

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.

Jon | July 16, 2006 09:25 PM

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.

Audrey Estock | July 16, 2006 09:29 PM

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.

Chang | July 16, 2006 09:29 PM

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?

Jon H | July 16, 2006 09:31 PM

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

Only for humans.

warren | July 16, 2006 09:47 PM

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.


suzanne | July 16, 2006 09:48 PM

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

Jonathan Arnold | July 16, 2006 10:01 PM

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.

Mary | July 16, 2006 10:05 PM

I'd have to say pistachios would rank #1 with me. At least w/unshelled sunflower seeds, there's little change of breaking teeth.

On a different note: Have you seen this?

John Scalzi | July 16, 2006 10:28 PM

Yup, saw it. Putting a link to it in the next entry.

Dave | July 16, 2006 10:31 PM

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.

Tim | July 16, 2006 10:37 PM

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.

John Scalzi | July 16, 2006 10:44 PM

Sure. If the shells cooperate.

Jeff Hentosz | July 16, 2006 11:12 PM

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).

dgm | July 16, 2006 11:45 PM

my vote goes to pumpkin seeds.

Simon Haynes | July 16, 2006 11:47 PM

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.

Tripp | July 16, 2006 11:58 PM

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.

Simon Owens | July 17, 2006 12:24 AM

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.

Brian | July 17, 2006 12:38 AM

Tripp, are you referring to corn on the cob in your riddle?

Brian Greenberg | July 17, 2006 12:54 AM

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...

Soni Pitts | July 17, 2006 01:06 AM

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.

Anonymous | July 17, 2006 01:26 AM

Ever had a custard apple?

Naomi | July 17, 2006 01:28 AM

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.

Therese Norén | July 17, 2006 01:52 AM

You know that shellfish you had in your background a while back? Those require the most work of all shellfish. The most work, and silly party hats.

Annalee Flower Horne | July 17, 2006 02:13 AM

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.

ronbailey | July 17, 2006 05:02 AM

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...

rhiannon_s | July 17, 2006 07:20 AM

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.

Bill Marcy | July 17, 2006 08:20 AM


Hands down.

Robert Rogers | July 17, 2006 09:11 AM

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

Susan Loyal | July 17, 2006 09:44 AM

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.

David Huff | July 17, 2006 10:56 AM

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 ;)

David | July 17, 2006 11:02 AM

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.

Stan | July 17, 2006 01:41 PM

Another vote for artichokes here.

DIplomachismo | July 17, 2006 01:50 PM

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.

Rance Frayger | July 17, 2006 04:33 PM

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.

rayyy | July 17, 2006 04:58 PM


Wickedpinto | July 17, 2006 06:46 PM

Do you swallow the shell?

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

Dave Sorgen | July 17, 2006 08:31 PM

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???

gerrymander | July 18, 2006 11:39 AM

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.

Chris Johnston | July 18, 2006 06:51 PM

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.

Scorpio | July 19, 2006 03:24 AM


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.

Kristen | July 19, 2006 10:37 PM

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."

zoe | August 5, 2006 08:54 AM

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

Dr. Bukk | March 8, 2007 10:20 PM

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.

Post a comment.

Comments are moderated to stop spam; if your comment goes into moderation, it may take a couple of hours to be released. Please read this for my comment moderation policies.
Preview will not show paragraph breaks. Trust me, they're there.
The proprietor generally responds to commenters in kind. If you're polite, he'll be polite. If you're a jackass, he'll be a jackass. If you are ignorant, he may correct you.
When in doubt, read the comment thread rules.

Remember Me?

(you may use HTML tags for style)