The healthy properties of hemp seeds
THEY’RE A SPECIES OF CANNABIS PLANT, BUT HEMP SEEDS – NOT TO BE CONFUSED WITH MARIJUANA – PACK A NUTRIENT PUNCH
Europe, Canada and the US have long recognised the nutritional value of hemp seeds. In supermarkets and health food stores across those continents, the seeds have been used in everything from protein powders, home-baked muffins, breakfast cereals to salads, soups and breads.
In the US and Canada alone, the hemp food market is worth an eyepopping $742 million.
Late last year Australia and New Zealand fell into step with the rest of the world when Food Standards Australia New Zealand − the government food regulatory body − finally approved the sale of hemp seeds and foods containing hemp. Until then, hemp products sold in our health food stores had to be labelled ‘not for human consumption’ and were confined to products like skin creams, toiletries and cosmetics.
So, what is hemp exactly?
Hemp is a member of the cannabis plant species, Cannabis sativa. But the kinds of hemp seeds used in foods aren’t to be confused with other forms of cannabis or marijuana known for their medicinal and hallucinogenic effects.
The potency and psychoactive effects of the cannabis drug are due to an active component called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), while hemp seeds contain none or extremely minimal levels of THC. So hemp seeds don’t have the same mind-altering effects and munching on a hemp muffin won’t leave you feeling foggy!
And initial government concerns that people who gorge on hemp seed snacks or smoothies will produce a positive result if they’re tested for drugs have also been allayed. Researchers at Swinburne University in Melbourne found it highly unlikely drivers who’d eaten hemp foods would return a positive test if pulled over by police.
For generations, good old-fashioned hemp has been cultivated for its oil and strong fibres, with the fibres used in building materials and clothing and the oil used in foods and cosmetics.
But now, with the sale of hemp seeds approved in Australia and New Zealand, we can expect to see a growing number of hemp foods on supermarket shelves and café menus.
The evidence supporting the health benefits of hemp seeds has been building and the Australian Medical Association has given them a five star health rating.
The tiny seeds have a crisp shell, a soft centre and a mild nutty taste. With around 25 per cent protein, they contain more protein than chia seeds. Hemp seeds also contain gamma linolenic acid, or GLA, which helps our body fight inflammation. There are very few natural food sources that give us GLA − others include spirulina, evening primrose oil and borage oil.
The seeds also contain several minerals such as calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc, which are important for general health and wellbeing, as well as the antioxidant vitamin E. These tiny nutrient bombs also contain fibre, B vitamins and vitamin D, which is needed for healthy bones. Hemp seeds also contain significant amounts of healthy omega 6 and omega 3 fats − good for heart and brain health and for lowering bad cholesterol levels. Walnuts are regarded as one of the richest sources of omega 6 and omega 3 fats and, gram for gram, hemp seeds match them.
Adding it in
Hemp oil pressed from the seeds is often a vibrant green colour. But it oxidises or goes off quite quickly so needs to be stored away from direct sunlight and preferably in a dark brown bottle to keep it fresh. You can drizzle it on salads instead of olive oil or use it for sauces or to dip bread in to. Because it has a low smoke point, it’s not ideal for heating and cooking with.
Hemp Foods Australia recommends using hemp seeds as an ingredient in hummus and ice cream or sprinkled on breakfast cereals or salads. You can also eat them as a snack on their own − a handful for morning or afternoon tea is filling and good for you.
Hemp protein powder can be used in smoothies or as an extra ingredient in breads and baked goods to increase nutritional value.
Some innovative Australian foodies are also turning their mind to how to harness the health benefits of hemp. Hemp ale is already being brewed in some boutique beer companies − East 9th Brewing in Melbourne were first off the mark, brewing up to 50,000 litres of Doss Blockos Hempire Hemp Ale early this year. There are already a range of hemp beers in bars in the US, while hemp kombucha is on the menu at some of the country’s most healthconscious cafes. Hemp milk is also in the pipeline.
Skinny hemp latte anyone?
use hemp seeds in hummus or sprinkled on cereals or salads