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Canary Seed – Not Just "For the Birds" Anymore

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Media Relations
Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

Canary seed, a cereal grain crop previously used as feed for caged and wild birds, was recently approved for human consumption by Health Canada.

The approval of this unique cereal grain, in January 2016, offers exciting possibilities for potential food and non-food applications. This is good news for Canadian farmers, who produce up to 65% of the world's canary seed.

Dr. Elsayed Abdelaal, Associate Director and former research scientist at 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, Dr. Abelaal worked in partnership with the Canaryseed Development Commission of Saskatchewan (CDCS), Dr. Pierre Hucl of the University of Saskatchewan (a cereal crops breeder and the developer of hairless canary seed varieties) and Dr. Carol Ann Patterson of The Pathfinders Research & Management Ltd.

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."

- Dr. Elsayed Abdelaal, Research Scientist, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada

The seed's nutritional components – starch, protein, and oil – can be used in many food and industrial applications. Dr. Abdelaal notes that its uses could include:

Dr. Lamia L'Hocine, research scientist at AAFC's St. Hyacinthe Research and Development Centre will be further evaluating the properties of hairless canary seed starch, protein and oil that distinguish it from other grains in collaboration with the CDCS and University of Saskatchewan. For instance, the exceptional gelling abilities of the starch could be beneficial as a fat substitute in food products and other related applications. The CDCS is actively working to assist canary seed producers in creating new market opportunities. New markets will provide crop diversification opportunities for the grain industry and provide food manufacturers with a new whole gluten-free grain ingredient for consumers.

Hairless canary seed earned the designations of Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and novel food by Health Canada, which recognizes that the substance can be lawfully used in food products. The CDCS played a significant role in securing the funding and managing the research necessary to obtain the regulatory approvals.

One of the key goals of AAFC research is to improve attributes of agricultural commodities for food and non-food uses. This focus helps provide consumers with a variety of beneficial choices and opens up new marketing opportunities for Canada's farmers and food processors.

Key discoveries (benefits)

Photo gallery

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Brown and yellow hairless canary seed
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AAFC research scientist Dr. Elsayed Abdelaal,  AAFC, Guelph Research and Development Centre

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