If a team of scientists held a press conference and announced a new superfood–one that is more nutritious than its alternatives, packed full of much needed essential fatty acids, high yielding and easy to grow–it would send the stock and money markets into a feeding frenzy. Media of all kinds would pounce on the story. The superfood would enlist a supporting cast of nutritionists and dieticians and quickly pick up celebrity endorsements.
In an effort to make the new industry grow, governments would develop clear policies and give support on all levels. Farmers would embrace the superfood, as it would promise a new cash crop and promote diversification. The medical community, astounded by this new food’s ability to enhance and promote health, would stumble over themselves to line up clinical trials. It would be the discovery of this new century.
So why isn’t it happening with hemp?
After a half century of prohibition, hemp is now being grown in Canada, but it still has an image problem despite all its advantages. It’s a good fibre crop. End uses for hemp fibre include clothing and household textiles, paper pulp, building materials from fibreboard to roof shingles to concrete, biodegradable automotive components, cordage, highly absorbent animal bedding and garden mulch. Because of the marketing efforts of a few national chains, hemp seed is also known to be a good ingredient in bodycare products, such as shampoos, soaps, skin creams, sunscreen, lipbalm and massage oil.
Hemp’s Many Sides
Hemp is a resource that has many sides. But hemp foods are still a bit of a secret in North America. You’ll have to go to a natural products or organics retailer to find them. All hemp foods are derived from the seed (the plant’s fibre isn’t edible). They come packaged and ready-to-eat, as well as in the form of freshly pressed oils.
A smorgasbord of finished hemp foods now available includes energy/nutrition bars, waffles, granola, cheese substitutes, salad oil–whole and blended with other good oils–premixed salad dressings, peanut-like butters, toasted and salted whole seeds, flour, pasta, tortilla chips, wrap and flat breads, pat?protein powder concentrate (non isolate). There’s even ice cream!
Healthy hemp-based pet foods are appearing. Researchers in Alberta have recently confirmed that hemp meal or seed cake make for great animal feed and hemp seeds have long been used as birdseed.
Bursting With Goodness
A whole hemp seed contains about 22 percent protein, 36 percent carbohydrate and 30 percent fat, as well as calcium, phosphorus, iron, thiamine, niacin and riboflavin. It’s a good source of fibre with 35 percent dietary fibre (three per cent soluble). Hemp seed is also a powerful source of amino acids. Note that 100 grams (one half cup) of hemp seed have about 500 calories and hemp seed is never irradiated.
The main protein found in hemp seed is edestin. Hemp doesn’t have to be cooked or fermented to be digestible. Some people don’t like eating the shell and so there’s hulled seed available. Dehulling collects all the high protein "meat" found in the hempseed. Hulled seed has up to 31 per cent protein. It’s very versatile and lends itself to all sorts of recipes on the fly: stirfrys, pastas, sauces and spreads. A smoothie fortified with hulled seeds is an excellent meal replacement for athletes and people on the go.
Hemp seed is also pressed to make a marvellous vegetable oil. Hemp oil contains 80 percent polyunsaturated fats–the good fats that we need for energy. It has one of the highest counts of all vegetable oils. Hemp oil is also quite low in monounsaturated (12 percent) and saturated fats (typically eight per cent or lower). With this profile, hemp oil is very heart smart.
It gets better. It’s a rich source of essential fatty acids (EFAs)–namely omega-6 (linoleic) and omega-3 (alpha linolenic). Hemp has a balance of three parts omega-6 to omega-3, very close to the body’s nutritional requirements.
EFAs are called essential because our bodies can’t make them and they are needed for the healthy functioning of cells. As regulators, the omega-3 and -6 fatty acids provide stability and control the movement of all substances in and out of the building blocks of our bodies. Very key and basic stuff.
Hemp is also a good source of gamma linoleic acid, which stimulates the production of eiconsanoids, hormone-type substances. For this reason, many women find that hemp oil in their diets helps relieve premenstrual syndrome and extreme symptoms of menopause.
Some of the other benefits of having all these EFAs in our diets include an increased metabolism, lower harmful cholesterol, better digestion, general vigour, improved skin and hair condition and a boosted immune system.
Finally, the best for last: hemp tastes great. Many people compare it to walnuts. Hemp’s nutty taste makes it easy for people to keep using it once they start.
Hemp Farming in Canada
Hemp is classified taxonomically as Cannabis sativa, so Canada’s three year old hemp industry is tightly regulated by Health Canada. Producers and manufacturers who want to work with hemp must obtain a license.
In 2000, Health Canada licensed about 12,000 acres of hemp production in Canada. While there has been activity in all parts of the country, hemp production has been concentrated in Manitoba, Ontario and Saskatchewan.
Farmers are only allowed to plant certified seed. Health Canada is very concerned about THC–the psychoactive ingredient found in cannabis–so all hemp planted must be an approved variety, all of which have less than 0.3 percent THC in them. Finished food products must have less than 10 parts per million of THC. This is a safe and generally undetectable amount.
Most seeds that Canadian farmers work with are of European origin. Canadian-bred cultivars, adapted to local growing conditions and having the most desirable qualities, are bred in Ontario and Saskatchewan and of course all hemp everywhere is GMO- and pesticide free.