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Canary seed

Canary seed: no longer just for the birds

A grain that was cultivated exclusively for feeding birds may soon find its way as a healthy and tasty ingredient in bread, cookies and pasta for consumers.

The US FDA and Health Canada have approved canary seed for use in human food, the Canaryseed Development Commission of Saskatchewan has announced.

Canada is the world’s largest exporter. Traditional canary seed has microscopic hairs on the hulls, with a texture similar to fibreglass. About 20 years ago, a Saskatoon researcher, Pierre Hucl, naturally bred a new variety that is hairless and thus safe for humans.

Whole seeds can be used in nutrition bars and sprinkled on hamburger buns in place of sesame seed, while the flour can be used to make bread, cookies, cereals and pasta.

“We’re hopeful that the food industry and consumers will begin to adopt this nutritious, high-protein (20%), gluten-free grain,” David Nobbs, the commission’s chairman said. “Up until now, production potential has been limited by the size of the market for birdseed.”

The agencies have approved both yellow and brown hairless canary seeds, but the only ones commercially available right now are brown seeds. More attractive yellow seeds may take a couple years to grow, but they will more likely be included in recipes for baked goods.

Canada produced 148,600 metric tons of canary seed in 2015, up from 124,900 tons a year earlier, Statistics Canada said in a Dec. 4 report.

While farmers will probably boost canary seed acreage as food manufacturers include it in their products, the increase will probably be slow, said Kevin Hursh, executive director of the Canaryseed Development Commission of Saskatchewan.

The seed’s price is hovering at about 25 cents a pound, lower than returns for other crops such as lentils and mustard, he said.

“It will take a while for food manufacturers to develop their ingredient lists and figure out uses,” Hursh said. “I really believe in time, we’ll have a significant amount going into the food industry.”

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