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Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Safflower coated 25% Rye Bread

Safflower coated 25% Rye Bread

Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later.

This week I emailed the Safe Quality Food Practitioner of Canadian Birdseed Manufacturing Armstrong Milling Co., and got a gratifyingly speedy reply:

Easy Pickens Safflower Seed

Armstrong Milling Co. Ltd
1021 Haldimand Rd. 20, RR#2
Hagersville, ON Canada N0A 1H0

SQF Practitioner, 
Quality Control

Armstrong Milling

Dear SQF Practitioner:

I recently ground up about 1/2 a cup -- not a lot -- of your easy pickens safflower seed and put it on the exterior of some bread that I was baking, where it became part of the crust, before I read on the bag that it was 

Not for Human Consumption  
May Contain Nuts

I was mostly finished eating the first loaf before I read the warning on the bag of seed.  When baked, the ground seeds made the crust taste quite good.  But what I want to know is, why can't humans eat it?  Is it because it is petfood quality (i.e. perhaps its processed with nut fragments and stones and stuff that humans normally don't eat)?  Or is it treated with something?  Perhaps its genetically altered? Or maybe it is irradiated?  Why can't humans eat it?  I'm not going to get sick now, am I?  Should I throw away my second loaf?



The reply:

The comment ”Not for Human Consumption May Contain Nuts” is to inform the public that we are not making food grade products. 

The safflower will not hurt you. Armstrong Milling suggests that you do NOT consume the rest of the bread. 

I believe that bulk food or a health food store may carry the human grade safflower you are looking for. You will not get sick from eating the safflower. We do not make human grade products here. 

Thank you for the email. 

Have a nice day

As I said, this was a speedy reply.  Not particularly informative, though.  I wanted to know more than that.  So I did a bit of research on my own.

The Canadian Grain Commission regulates our grain, and sets the standards for grading it.  Bird seed companies cannot in any way suggest that you use their seed for human consumption, and I think I'm seeing this here, from Armstrong Milling's Safe Quality Food specialist.  While they wanted to set my mind at ease, and not alarm me that I had inadvertently poisoned myself, they did want to maintain that their seeds are not for human use.

The Canadian Grain Commision's rules for grading Safflower Seeds can be found online here.  I read this page, and the table it linked to, quite informative.

What I learned

I learned that contaminated seeds are those that may be adulterated in some way, and these will be condemned as unfit for both people and animals.  But there are other things, other than contamination, and adulteration, which will lower the grade of the safflower from "food grade":

Damage - from frost, or unripened conditions, from breakage, or heat or insect damage; some may be dehulled.

Foreign material -- there may be earth pellets: balls of dirt, or stones, mixed in with the seeds.  There may also be some fertilizer pellets (if  >1%, the sample may be considered contaminated).  There may be sclerotinia, the soil-born white fungus called 'stem rot'.  Ergot is another fungus that the regulators are constantly on the lookout for.  Other seeds (weeds or other grains) may have been harvested along with the safflower and serve to contaminate the mixture.  There is a term that is often used in grading grains, dockage, which refers to all this foreign material, including chaff, stems, hulls, and anything else that is not the grain itself.

Excreta - there may be poop on or among the seeds.  Maybe rodent poop, maybe other poop we don't know where it came from.  There are allowable limits of this, even in food grade seed.

Some seeds may have been heated and deteriorated while in storage.  Some seeds might just be smelly, with no obvious reason why.  Some seeds might simply have rotted.

Seeds that have been treated with an agricultural chemical are usually also dyed with a conspicuous colour: pesticides are pink, red, baby blue or green; inoculants are said to have a green colour.  There may also be a desiccant on it (to dry the seed), but the rules don't say that there is an obvious colour associated with it.

The table of the 3 Grades of Safflower regulated by Grains Canada is most informative.  It shows that what really lowers the quality of a grain sample is the amount of dehulled seeds, and how much foreign material is in the mix.  Excreta doesn't seem to be that much of a concern to the regulators.  If it gets to be more than 1% for any sample, it is rejected completely.  U.S. regulations look to me, at first glance, pretty similar.

All in all, it seems better to at least listen to the people who have been grading food safety for us.  If they say it isn't food grade, we probably shouldn't eat it.  There is probably no way for that SQF person at Armstrong Milling to know exactly what I ate.  It's probably okay -- the sample wasn't rejected for sale to bird seed repackagers.  But they have said we humans should not eat it, so guess what?  

We shouldn't eat it.


Today's Bread

This was a very tasty bread.  Too bad I shouldn't have eaten it.


  • 25% rye with 
  • 75% whole wheat, 
  • 5% wheat germ, 
  • 20% sourdough starter @ 100% hydration
  • dough at 70% hydration, 
  • 2% salt.

I used fresh-ground safflower seeds (to a cracked/floury state) for lining the proofing basket, in the hopes that it might lessen the amount of acrylamide formation  (see the second last bread for a long description of why fewer acrylamides are important, and how safflower might help -- you have to read the last 'note to myself' on that page though, to understand my reasoning as to why I thought of safflower).

On safflower
Safflower seed looks to me a bit like tiny sunflower seeds.  It is not a grain derived from grass, but is a high-oil flower seed.  Wiki says that it has recently been transgenetically modified by SemBioSys Genetics to grow insulin -- and (depending on your viewpoint, for pride or shame) this was done in Canada -- but I am assuming that most safflower seed does not have this quality, especially the stuff that one can buy for bird seed.  It has, however, also been genetically engineered to boost its oil output.  And I think it is pretty common, this genetically-enhanced oil seed.  It will be harder to find a non-GMO safflower seed, these days.

One of the reasons I was worried about irradiation of the seed, as I indicated in my letter to the company, is because I am aware that this is a fairly common practice of birdseed suppliers who import and export seeds.  The radiation of seeds is supposedly so weed seeds in the mixture won't grow.  And this is of particular concern to those who seek to enforce the introduction of odd varieties of plants across international border lines.  This seed was grown here, after all it is one of Canada's official oilseeds.  But was it also packaged for exportation, and therefore irradiated?  I don't know, and Armstrong Mills isn't saying.

The Canadian market for safflower is for the oil.  It is made into margarine.  The oleo-makers scoop up all the food grade seed, and that is why I am having trouble finding it except as bird seed.

Bottom of my loaf, with the ground up birdseed-grade Safflower seeds embedded in crust

The safflower birdseed I obtained, once crushed, had a scent not unlike sunflower seeds, but it had a somewhat bitter taste, which I would ascribe to the aleurone layer of the bran -- probably full of phytates.  A scraggly leaved plant with an edible flower that has long been used to dye fabric (and as a much cheaper saffron substitute), the seeds apparently attract a range of nice birds, and bird watchers like them because they are said to deter some bully birds and other pests like squirrels because of the bitterness.  In addition to the list given by Melissa Mayntz of, my bag of seed said they are especially favoured by Northern Red Cardinals, Mourning Doves, and White Throated Sparrows.

A nice comparison of the nutritional content of safflower seeds and almonds and other nuts has been tabled for us here and again, comparing it to flaxseed, here at skipthepie.  I found this fascinating -- I wanted to use Safflower seeds because they are supposedly a source of cystine, which would supposedly decrease the formation of acrylamides.  But almonds have more cystine, would they work?  I don't know, but not necessarily.  Almonds have sugars.

Also note, that although Safflower does have Omega-3 oils, they have more Omega-6 oils, so the seed alone, without further processing, will not benefit you much if you want to increase these Omega-3 levels in your diet (or to increase the ratio of 3's to 6's).

Using rat studies, Kim  found that safflower seeds have some ability to reduce bone loss, and conjecture that it is due to the seed's phytoestrogens and polyphenolic compounds which help osteoblasts.

Furthermore, using human studies, Katsuya found that it does inhibit plaque formation in arteries.

So this could be a very healthy seed for humans to eat, and pretty good as a 100% whole grain or seed addition to bread, too.  If only we could be sure that what we are eating is 'food grade'.

Bread Results
Although only a 25% rye, I was hopeful that this safflower-seed solution might make my rye crust somewhat lighter in colour -- and in that, I was quite disappointed.  If anything, the results were darker than ever.

It may be that I inadvertently left the bread in the oven a bit longer than I should have.  I was washing dishes, thinking I'd set the timer, turning it on only a short time later when I double checked it.  But the crust was already darkening faster than usual, when I turned the oven down to 425 degrees F at what is usually the midway point.

And the smell of the roasting crust was a lot like popcorn -- or more probably, popcorn makers probably coat their corn with safflower oil before putting it in a microwavable bag, and that is what I've been smelling when others make popcorn.

The safflower 'flour' -- which is really just a cracked safflower seed, in my case, since I just ran it through our hand coffee grinder -- looks a bit like sawdust on the top of the unbaked loaf.

The dough didn't rise well, and the knife dragged horribly through the safflower on its surface, when I transferred the dough from the basket to the peel.  The dough, although not that hydrated, didn't stand up to this manhandling, and it flattened out some more.

I was terribly worried that the safflower seeds -- which when eaten raw taste so bitter, and which ground up look like sawdust, and which baked turn the crust extra dark and smell like popcorn -- would lend a bitter, roasted, burnt popcorn or sawdust flavour to the loaf.  But I was wrong.  Was I ever wrong.

This ugly crust is actually quite tasty.  Sweet and crunchy.  I never would have believed it.  It certainly doesn't look like it would have so much flavour, at least, not this kind of flavour.

I didn't see any turds.

Despite its flat appearance, this is a very good loaf.  I was quite pleased with myself, before I learned that the seed I used wasn't food grade.  Then it was forehead-smackin' time.

Did fewer acrylamides form?  I have no idea.

Notes to Myself
  • As usual, I'm talking to myself.  The organic safflower seed supplying companies should realize that the use of safflower may result in a whole grain solution to lower acrylamides in bread crust.  This may be a selling feature for them.  I urge them to look into this.  If anybody is listening.
  • If I were going to be making this crust again -- and I probably will try it for other loaves, if I can find a seed source -- I would want to make sure that the safflower seeds I use are organic, and not genetically modified to produce more oil.   This is not as easy as it sounds.  I find that it is even difficult to find a supplier of ANY safflower seeds that are food-grade.  The Bulk Barn here in Canada, for example, sells processed Safflower Oil, but none of the whole or hulled seeds.  And that is typical.  There seems to be suppliers out of India and China who sell by the ton, or container loads, but it seems absurd to me that I should have to go to India or China to obtain a seed that is grown here in our country, maybe even within a few miles of me.  But that is the way we have organized our grain and seed distribution.  Most of our safflower is bought by oil manufacturers, it is only a few lower grade seeds that are purchased by bird seed companies.
  • There is one organic safflower seed distributor that I'm aware of -- Avafina, who started from a farm in Argentina, but now works with organic farmers worldwide and has a distribution center in Vancouver B.C.  But again, how does an ordinary small-scale bread-making consumer like me gain access to this product?
  • Looks like there is an organic grower of safflower in Wisconsin, Valley View Ranch, that might, at certain times of the year, have some safflower seed.  And it seems likely that the best way to obtain this seed these days is to find a reputable organic seed supplier, and grow your own.
  • In the not-too-distant past, there were no regulatory grain commissions, set up for our human welfare, protecting us against chaff and other debris.  If we wanted a seed or a grain, we went to the fields and got it.  We alone were responsible for the quality of what we milled.  If there were tares in it, we removed them.  If there were rodent droppings, we picked them out by hand.  That is what de did, as humans, before others began distancing us from the land, separating us from our immediate food, and protecting us.  Now there are layers of protection and other human interference that we have to be worried about (radiation, inoculation of seeds, inorganic fertilizers, genetic modification etc) -- and of course the FUD (fear, uncertainty and dread) that is built into the food distribution networks.  I am of a mind to advise other people not to eat bird seed -- like the SQF inspectors would -- but for myself, I might just eat that second loaf anyway.  But I would not give it away, nor would I advise others to eat it.
  • A simpler solution to the acrylamide problem, that involves adding cystine to the crust at baking: coat the dough with an egg-white wash.  Safflower just seems to be a nice whole grain alternative -- if one could but find it.


  1. This look so tasty! I've heard that CLA Safflower Oil diet is very used in weight loss diets.

  2. I'm suspicious of ads, you are on your own.