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Alberta’s 7 Signature Foods 

 From our 60th parallel northern border down to the 49th parallel and our border with the US, Alberta covers a lot of land – around 158 million acres of it, almost the same as Texas and slightly larger than France.  


Almost 10 percent of our province is covered in water, with over 600 lakes as well as rivers and wetlands, so that leaves a vast area - much of which is farmland - almost 50 million acres is home to just over 41,500 farms. Figures vary, but it’s safe to say we get nearly double the national average of sunshine at around 2,300-2,400 hours a year, and combined with our nutrient-rich soil, we can, and do, produce a lot of our nation’s (and many other nations’) food.  


So what are we known for (besides our hospitality and being one of the friendliest places in the world)? We’re certainly a leading producer of wheat, barley, and pulses, and we can proudly claim seven signature foods that our province is famous for. Let’s take a closer look at each of these foods: 


In 2023, Alberta accounted for just over 40 percent of the country’s cattle at around 4.75 million - almost the same as the number of people! It’s hardly surprising beef is the first thing you think of as an Alberta staple, it’s been part of our agricultural landscape since the 1870s, but why is it so good? There are many reasons, not least the commitment of more than 18,000 beef cattle producers to high production and animal welfare standards, but the choice of breeds, along with our expansive, rich grasslands and availability of quality barley and rye, produce nutrient-dense beef with rich marbling and intense flavour. 


And it’s the versatility that we love; so many different cultures include beef in their cuisine, whether that’s lasagne, shepherd’s pie, tacos, or vindaloo. And you don’t have to be a Michelin-star chef to create a great beef meal for all the family – it’s as delicious as a burger at your backyard BBQ as it is a Sunday roast, in stews and baked casseroles, smoked, braised, or fried – and as many of us will be eating in the summer – on a bun! 



Is it bison or buffalo? The bison industry is encouraging us to use ‘bison’ for our North American Buffalo and its meat, to avoid confusion with water buffalos that are known for their milk – think Italian mozzarella!  


Incredibly important to our First Nations, Statistics Canada reports that a couple of hundred years ago, 30 to 60 million buffalo roamed the Prairies. That number is much smaller now, and while we still have the largest herds and over 470 buffalo farms (nearly 50 percent of the buffalo farms in the country), it amounts to just under 65,500 buffalo – around 44 percent of national total. 


Alberta bison are raised naturally, without the use of steroids or growth hormones, and you’ll find familiar cuts at your market or butcher for roasting, stewing, or grilling, and most likely as ground bison for burgers, meatballs, and chili. However, it is a very lean meat, so with no marbling and less fat, you’d generally cook it at a lower temperature and slower than other meats, so it doesn’t get overcooked. 


Canada’s other oil - those fields of yellow flowers in the summer will be familiar to all of us! The statistics are impressive – Canada produces around a third of the world’s canola and Alberta produces around a third of Canada’s canola, with our 14,000 canola farmers accounting for well over 6.5 million acres. 


So how can we use canola? After blooming, the plant produces up to 14 seeds, which are 45 percent oil, ready to be crushed and pressed to produce an oil that is not only healthy – high in omega-3 fatty acids and the lowest cooking oil for saturated fats – but doesn’t have a strong taste so it doesn’t overpower other ingredients. And it has a very high smoke point so it can handle a lot of heat - perfect for cooking! 


Patently canola makes a great oil for deep frying, but with that lighter taste it has many more uses in our kitchens: for cakes and other baked products, marinades, sauces, for grilling and stir-frying, and when cold-pressed for salad dressings and mayo – and we’re happy to tell you that seven of our Chefs Tips recipes this month include it! 

Alberta’s other liquid gold! According to Stats Can, the number of beekeepers in Alberta has been steadily growing at around 5-7 percent every year, totalling 1,950 apiarists looking after just short of 303,000 colonies last year. Membership of Alberta Beekeepers Commission (ABC) is only for those with 100 or more colonies in Alberta, currently 169 beekeepers – so we know that less than 9 percent of all beekeepers in Alberta manage over 96 percent of Alberta’s colonies - and that’s 25 billion bees! We had to read that twice too! 


We can truthfully claim to be the Number One honey producer in Canada producing almost 37 million pounds of the sweet sticky stuff. So what do we do with all this honey?  

It’s one of nature’s super-foods with a lower Glycemic Index than sugar, and one-and-a-half times sweeter than sugar (that sounds pretty sweet to us!), and as well as having powerful antibacterial properties, it really can help soothe sore throats, which is our excuse for hot whisky toddies in winter…  


Honey doesn’t expire so there’s no rush to use it up, and there’s no end to its culinary uses: in any baked good, as a glaze, in salad dressings and sauces, in granola, tea, on pancakes – and don’t forget about making mead! 


There are several versions of the history of Red Fife, but historians agree that in the mid-1800s, David Fife, a farmer in Peterborough, Ontario, was looking for a variety of wheat that would grow well in Canada, and was sent some wheat seed from a cargo ship in Glasgow unloading wheat from Poland. One plant came up in the spring and the seeds from that plant were the origin for what we know as Red Fife (from the colour when ripe, and his surname), a wheat that, when milled, has a full flavour and excellent for baking. 


In the late 1800s, a Manitoba farmer imported the grain, and it won first prize in the Winnipeg Fair, resulting in the federal government allowing imports free of duty, and the Canadian Pacific Railway transporting it at no charge. It was later discovered to have originated in the Ukraine, and was so suited to the Prairie climate it became the wheat that saved pioneering farmers from starvation. What can we make with Red Fife? Yeasty bread is the obvious answer, but try our risotto recipe from River Café! 


Veggies that can tolerate our cooler climate are ideal for growing in Alberta; even better if they can be planted early and harvested in the autumn to give them more time to grow. While it may be a short growing season, the bonus is that we have fewer pests and diseases than warmer climes, so root vegetables, such as beets, carrots, potatoes, parsnips, turnips, and radishes, are readily available and store well! 


Used when dried to make pemmican and in medicines, Saskatoon berries were important to the Indigenous population of the Prairies, and were possibly the only fruit available to many families during the depression, as the shrubs grow vigorously and can withstand cold winters and dry summers.  


Saskatoons have a thick skin and contain small seeds, so they don’t break down like other berries or release their juices during baking, so you’ll need to add a little liquid when cooking. They’re ideal for pies, jams, and sauces, and even better with a little lemon juice or almond extract (try amaretto!). 




To celebrate our farmers and the quality food they produce, this month we asked seven Alberta chefs to let us have one of their favourite recipes for us to make at home, each focusing on one of our signature products. The recipes are linked in the images above.


Let’s support our farmers and chefs, and eat more of these local products - and let’s raise a glass of a locally made drink to thank them! 



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