Canary seed sees human opportunities

From food to cosmetics, approval for human use is important for this crop

Canary seed isn’t just for the birds anymore.

It was approved for human consumption by Health Canada in 2016 and while few are feasting on it yet, it represents a market opportunity for Canadian growers, who produce 65 per cent of global canary seed.

Elsayed Abdelaal, of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC)’s Guelph Research and Development Centre (GRDC), played a critical role in evaluating hairless canary seed as a novel food. To conduct this research, Abdelaal worked in partnership with the Canaryseed Development Commission of Saskatchewan (CDCS), Pierre Hucl of the University of Saskatchewan and Carol Ann Patterson of The Pathfinders Research & Management Ltd.

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Until now, the seed’s hairy shell limited its use to bird feed and caused human skin and eye irritation during harvest and processing. The hairless variety was developed as an alternative cereal grain for whole grain foods and a renewable source of starch, protein, and oil.

“Canary seed is a real Canadian crop and true cereal. Its unique starch, protein, and oil components hold great potential for food and industrial applications,” Abdelaal said.

Possible human food and non-food applications include:

  • Using the small starch granules as “filler” in cosmetics, or fat replacement in foods;
  • Using the exceptionally high tryptophan protein as a supplement for other plant or animal protein sources, such as dairy products; and
  • Using the oil as a healthy alternative to saturated fats. The high composition of polyunsaturated oil also contains high levels of antioxidants.

Further AAFC research will evaluate the properties of the crop’s starch, protein and oil.

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