By Virginia Wilkinson
The work of an innovative Saskatchewan company could soon have a major impact on the Saskatchewan flax industry.
Prairie Tide is the brain child of Dr. Martin Reaney, who started the organization after being asked a simple question by a company with which he was working. The seemingly innocuous question led to not only the creation of Prairie Tide, but also to the development of a line of flax based health food products. Now Prairie Tide is on the cusp of creating products that might be used in treating diseases such as Crohns, colitis and ileitis and even some forms of cancer tumours.
It all started 17 years ago, when Dr. Reaney, a University of Saskatchewan plant scientist, was asked by a nutritional solutions company why flaxseed oil develops a bitter taste over time. “They were trying to expand their flax oil sales but were struggling because the oil had a bitter flavour. They wanted to understand how to address it,” said Reaney.
He worked on the problem and quickly discovered that the bitter flavour was the result of peptides in the flax seed oil. He also found that extracting the peptides from the oil resulted in sweet-tasting flax seed oil. The company Dr. Reaney was working with had no interest in using the extracted peptides, and he began looking for commercial purposes for the extracted material. He filed a patent application and the university tried unsuccessfully to license it. It was at this point, in 2010, that Dr. Reaney decided to create Prairie Tide, and began work on commercializing the use of the process he’d developed.
All of the flax used in the development of the new technology and in Prairie Tide products comes from Saskatchewan. “Canada grows more flax than any other region in the world and Saskatchewan grows most of the flax in Canada, so there is an abundance of the material here. The other thing that’s important is that we have an excellent system that helps us to identify what varieties are grown, so the genetics of most of the crops we grow are genetically pure and their pedigrees are known,” he said. The company’s initial focus was on commercializing the flax oil peptides. The peptides are being purchased for use in high end cosmetics, as a health food ingredient in Asia, Europe and North America, and by organizations manufacturing flax oil, to measure flax oil quality.
“Because there is no other product like it, it is being purchased by a variety of organizations to use as a standard against which to test the quality of flax oil. We have also been selling it to organizations that study it as a treatment for disease,” said Dr. Reaney.
Another chance conversation—with a painter about the challenge with painter’s oil smelling badly and yellowing with age—led to the testing of the peptide-free flax-based oil with painters. Reaney teamed up with Hues Art Supply and engaged 50 artists to test the oil. THe peptide-free oil did not yellow over time and it dried quickly. Furthermore, it had a much-reduced odour. The product, Martin & Paul Premium Artist Linseed Oil, is now being sold through Hues Art Supply and the Prairie Tide website.
“The advantage of this new technology is that it adds value to flaxseed in two ways: the flaxseed oil is refined for use as a paint medium, and value-added compounds are recovered from the flaxseed,” said Reaney.
In 2017, with the company seeing significant growth, Prairie Tide hired a management team to focus on product marketing and growing the company, enabling Dr. Reaney to focus more directly on product development.
A variety of additional products have since been developed from flaxseed, including a roasted flax food product, a flax-based thick-ening agent that can replace flour and eggs and is used in gluten free products, and a healthy and effective laxative. Other products in development include a flax-based dietary supplement which helps to address the symptoms of menopause and premenstrual syndrome; an anti viral product that is targeted at inhibiting stomach viruses; and a product that has anti-inflammatory and anti-aging properties which offers the potential to address diseases such as Crohns, colitis, ileitis and potentially some forms of cancerous tumours.
“Canada grows more flax than any other region in the world and Saskatchewan grows most of the flax in Canada, so there is an abundance of the material here.”
According to Dr. Reaney, the opportunities for the products generated by flaxseed technology continue to grow. He believes that as the company and the opportunities grow, so will be the benefits to Saskatchewan flax producers.
“This new technology has benefits for both consumers and producers. It takes about 3000 kilos of flax to make 1 kilo of peptides. If this technology were to be developed for the health sector, it could take an entire flax crop to produce the treatment for diseases of the gut alone—so flaxseed oil, and this technology, could provide a real opportunity to make a difference for people dealing with diseases, and for Saskatchewan’s agricultural sector.”