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This Seed Is No Longer Just for the Birds

Updated on
  • Canary seed approved for human use by Canada, U.S. regulators
  • Used for wheat-free pasta and to replace sesame seeds on buns

A grain that was cultivated exclusively for feeding birds may soon find its way into bread, cookies and pasta for gluten-free consumers.

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration and Health Canada have approved canary seed for use in human food, the Canaryseed Development Commission of Saskatchewan said today in a statement. Canada is the world’s largest exporter. 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, gluten-free grain,” David Nobbs, the commission’s chairman said in the statement. “Up until now, production potential has been limited by the size of the market for birdseed.”

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, who planted 500 acres of the seed on his farm in 2015. 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 in a telephone interview from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. “I really believe in time, we’ll have a significant amount going into the food industry.”

(Updates with comment from Canaryseed commission starting in fifth paragraph.)
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