Canary seed, which has been used almost exclusively as birdseed has received novel food approval from Health Canada as well as GRAS (Generally Recognized as Safe) status from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
â€œWith the achievement of this milestone, weâ€™re hopeful that the food industry and consumers will begin to adopt this nutritious, high protein, gluten free grain,â€ says Canaryseed Development Commission of Saskatchewan chair, David Nobbs. â€œUp until now, production potential has been limited by the size of the market for birdseed.â€
Producer levies paid to the commission over the past decade supplemented by various government programs have made food approval possible. Extensive compositional, nutritional and toxicological work was required.
â€œCanary seed is the first novel cereal crop to be approved in Canada,â€ notes Dr. Carol Ann Patterson of The Pathfinders Research and Management. Patterson is the food scientist who piloted all the work necessary for food approval. â€œProjects are continuing to determine the best food applications.â€
Canary seed flour can be used to make bread, cookies, cereals and pastas. Whole seeds can be used in nutrition bars and sprinkled on hamburger buns in place of sesame seed.
The approval covers glabrous (hairless) canary seed varieties, with both brown and yellow-coloured seeds. The glabrous varieties currently grown by farmers are brown when the hull is removed.
Dr. Pierre Hucl, the canary seed breeder at the University of Saskatchewanâ€™s Crop Development Centre will be seeking approval for a yellow line at the variety registration meetings in February. Nutritionally, brown and yellow are very similar, but the yellow seeds are more aesthetically pleasing in many food products.
It was Dr. Huclâ€™s work to develop glabrous canary seed that started the effort for food approval. Beyond the breeding, it was Dr. Elsayed Abdelaal, a member of Dr. Huclâ€™s team, who did the initial compositional, nutritional and toxicological analysis on the first hairless variety, CDC Maria, to show its similarity to other cereal grains. His work provided the core safety data for the Health Canada submission.
While canary seed is gluten free, those individuals with a food allergy to wheat may also be allergic to a protein in canary seed. Canary seed and canary seed products for human consumption will have to be labelled with a statement such as, â€œThis product contains canary seed which may not be suitable for people with a wheat allergyâ€.
â€œWe hope that further work will lead to the removal of this labelling requirement at some future date,â€ says Patterson. â€œOn food products where wheat is a labelled ingredient, the cautionary statement will not be necessary.â€
The CDCS will establish a toll free number published atÂ www.canaryseed.caÂ where any adverse reactions to canary seed can be reported. These will be passed along to Health Canada annually.
Another area of ongoing commission activity involves the approval of crop protection products.
â€œThe herbicides and other crop protection products registered for use on canary seed for birdseed do not immediately have their registration extended to canary seed for food use,â€ explains Kevin Hursh, executive director for the CDCS. â€œThese products are registered on other food grains, and the commission is working to get expanded registrations for products that are important to canary seed production.â€
The food use approval is for dehulled canary seed. Commercial dehulling capacity may be required as food demand for the crop expands.
Saskatchewan is the worldâ€™s top exporter of canary seed. Nearly 2500 Saskatchewan farmers have marketed canary seed within the last three crop years. In 2015, an estimated 149,000 tonnes of canary seed with a farm gate value of roughly $90 million was harvested from over 300,000 acres.