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Canary seed taking time to get to human food market

Industry official says commercial de-hullers are needed before food manufacturers can try the product

A popular food for pet birds is having a challenging time getting a foothold in the more lucrative human food market.

It was announced one year ago that de-hulled glabrous (hairless) canary seed had been given the green light for human consumption in both Canada and the United States.

It took a long time and substantial funding from growers and government to obtain that approval, but it will be some time before the investment benefits are realized.

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.

But Kevin Hursh, executive director of the Canaryseed Development Commission of Saskatchewan, says they don't have commercial de-hullers set up yet.

"InfraReady Products has done a pilot run. We have a couple of other companies looking at setting up some de-hulling capacity, but until we have that there isn't a lot of product for various food manufacturers to try.''

Hursh says additional studies are being done on the shelf life of de-hulled canary seed flour. The canary seed hulls are also being examined for use as a livestock feed.

"Technically, they are not registered as a livestock feed unless you get approval from the CFIA (Canadian Food Inspection Agency). We have to prove equivalency to things like oat hulls that they make fine cattle feed.''

Even though the market is developing very slowly, Hursh is hoping for better results in the long term.

"Consumers have an appetite for different seed products in their diet. I think there is a lot of intermediate-sized food ingredient companies that will be interested—at least that is our hope. But we have also been cautioned from others that have been down this path that it won't be a quick fix.''

A new hairless canary seed variety developed by Pierre Hucl at the University of Saskatchewan's Crop Development Centre is promising.

"When you take the hull off of this variety, it is a yellow colour rather than a brown colour,'' says Hursh.

Canterra Seeds holds the rights to the unnamed variety, which is expected to become generally available next year. Hursh thinks the food industry will be more interested in the yellow variety for esthetic reasons.

Saskatchewan is the world's top exporter of canary seed. Nearly 2,500 Saskatchewan farmers have marketed canary seed between 2012-2015.

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