The Canada West Foundation has been doing a lot of research on plant ingredients lately (and writing about it, like with our report Sprouted: The plant ingredient opportunity taking root on the Prairies).

Plant ingredients come from all kinds of crops. These crops are processed into their constituent elements, like protein, fibre, and fat. They’re then used in all kinds of processed foods, beverages, cosmetics, pet food… the list goes on. For some of the crops that are used extensively for their ingredients, Canada is a world producer.

Canada is the No. 1 global producer of…


In 2014, Canada grew nearly two million tonnes of lentils, making it the world leader in lentils. Canada is followed by India, which grew 1.1 million tonnes and Turkey, which grew 345 000 tonnes in the same period.

Small but mighty, lentils are used in a wide variety of processed goods. For example, in many places where wheat flour is traditionally used in processed foods – such as, processed meat and canned foods – lentil flour is replacing it, because of the health benefits of lentils. Lentils are commonly used as an additive to soups and stews, nutrition bars, breakfast cereals, and muffin/bread products.

The use of lentils in processed food is growing, which is great news for the Prairies, but particularly Saskatchewan – it grows 99% of Canadian lentils. The global lentil market for protein alone is estimated to be worth US$76 million, and by 2025, will grow to more than US$120 million.


Canada is by far the biggest producer of flax in the world, producing close to 875,000 tonnes of flax a year, more than double the production of the second biggest producer in the world, Kazakhstan.

Flax is used in a, frankly, astounding number of products. This includes breads, cereals, crackers, energy bars, meal, oil, omega-3 eggs, pasta, waffles, pet food, tortilla chips, cookies, pancake mixes, and more.

Flax is only grown in Western Canada, mostly in Saskatchewan. In 2017[1], Saskatchewan produced nearly 16 million bushels of flaxseed; Alberta nearly 2.5 million bushels; Manitoba 1.3 million bushels.


In the 1970s, canola was invented in Western Canada [it’s even a Canadian name- ‘can’ for Canada and ‘ola’ for oil!]; it’s fitting, then, that Western Canada is the biggest grower of canola in the world. All three Prairie provinces have massive canola production: in 2017, Manitoba produced 132 million bushels, Alberta produced 300 million bushels, and Saskatchewan produced nearly 430 million bushels.[2]

Canola is used in many processed foods, including margarine, breads, fried foods, cake mixes, creamers, crackers, and mayonnaise. However, there are a lot of non-edible uses for canola as well. This includes industrial lubricants, toothpaste, pesticides, cosmetics, sunscreen, fertilizer and more. Canola is also used in a wide variety of animal food, including livestock feed, pet food, and fish feed.


Besides being put on hamburgers, mustard is a versatile crop used in a variety of products for food and industrial purposes. Mustard is used to thicken salad dressings and mayonnaise; as a spice; in processed meats; as cooking oil (primarily in Asia); and in industrial lubricants and biodiesel.

Canada has the world’s highest production of mustard with 154 thousand tonnes, and is closely followed by Nepal, which produces nearly 143 thousand tonnes, and Myanmar, which produces 91 thousand tonnes. While mustard currently is a relatively small crop, this won’t last: the market for mustard protein alone is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 9.7 per cent from now until 2025. Mustard in Canada is primarily grown in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

Honourable mentions

While Canada is not the world-leading producer of these crops, Canadian farmers still produce a lot of them.

• Soybeans: as the most popular vegetarian protein source with demand on the rise, soybeans are considered a “financial safe haven” for farmers. Canada is the seventh largest producer of soybeans worldwide, growing about six million metric tonnes. The provinces that produce the most soybeans are Ontario, Manitoba, and Quebec.[3]

• Oats: have grown in popularity largely because of their healthy properties, particularly high protein content and lack of gluten. Oats are used in many baked goods, in animal feed, and in brewing beer, among other uses. Canada is the second largest producer of oats in the world, following Russia (which produces more than four thousand metric tonnes). Canadian production of oats is more than two and a half thousand metric tonnes, and is spread across all ten provinces, although production is highest in the prairies.

Just off the podium

The biggest crop that Canada produces is wheat; in 2017, Canadian farmers grew nearly one billion bushels of wheat. I expected Canada to be one of the biggest producers of wheat in the world – however, it places in a distant sixth in worldwide production, with China, India, Russia, the US, and France all producing more. With all the myriad uses of wheat, and the backbone it forms for much of the world’s diet, perhaps it isn’t surprising that other countries grow it as much as we do. Wheat, and all of the other crops listed here, are going to be in high, and growing, demand for years to come.

[1] CANSIM 001-0017

[2] CANSIM 001-0017

[3] CANSIM 001-0017