Thursday, May 28, 2009

Got hemp?

Yeah, you read that right. Hemp -- you know -- Cannabis sativa L. As a "foodie", I'm always looking for something new to try...a new food, recipe, or restaurant. Well, this time it's hemp food products. Why? Well, I'm always looking for non-dairy alternatives to milk and after doing some investigation on the nutritional value of hemp food products, I thought it was worth a try. Before you get too scared about this, you should know this: the hemp food products available on the market today contain virtually no THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol - the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana). While the typical THC content of marijuana is around 3-20%, that of the variety used to make hemp foods is around 0.5-1%.

The edible portion of the hemp plant is the seed, and this part of the plant packs a nutritional punch.
  • Hemp seed oil is a rich source of polyunsaturated fatty acids, especially the essential omega-3 (alpha-linolenic acid) and omega-6 (linoleic) fatty acids, which cannot be made in the body and must be supplied by food. Alpha-linolenic fatty acid serves as the parent compound for the formation of two other important fatty acids in the body, EPA and DHA, and these serve as precursors to anti-inflammatory and anti-atherogenic (anti-plaque forming) compounds that may be important in preventing heart disease and other inflammatory-related disorders. While fish and fish oils offer the most direct and abundant sources of EPA and DHA, plant-based products offer an alternative source of omega-3 fatty acids, especially for those who are vegetarian or otherwise concerned about fish consumption. Consumption of omega-6 fatty acids also have beneficial effects on heart health, especially when used in place of saturated fats.
  • Hemp seeds also offer a healthful source of easily digested plant-based protein. Another plus for vegetarians!
  • Hemp seeds are also a source of other important nutrients, including dietary fiber, iron, magnesium, vitamin E, thiamin, and riboflavin.
  • For those who are lactose intolerant or allergic to dairy products, hemp "milk" fortified with calcium and vitamin D offers an alternative to cow's milk (though it doesn't contain as much protein as cow's milk cup for cup). The "milks" are also often times fortified with Vitamin B12. A plus for vegans looking for fortified sources of B12.
  • If you have celiac disease, gluten sensitivity, or are otherwise avoiding gluten-containing foods, hemp seeds are gluten-free. However, read labels carefully as some hemp food products (i.e., hemp flour, cereal, etc.) may include gluten-containing ingredients.
So, what types of hemp foods are available? You'd be surprised. I already mentioned hemp "milk", which I'd compare to rice or almond milk in terms of taste and consistency. You can also purchase hulled hemp seeds that can be tossed in cereal, yogurt, or salads. They can also be toasted and eaten plain like you would regular nuts/seeds. (Be careful not to overdo it on the heat as the fat is not as stable at high heat.) Personally, I tried oatmeal cookies made with hemp seed (recipe courtesy of Bob's Red Mill). Hemp seed oil can be used to make your own salad dressing (again, due to the instability at high heat, not good for cooking). Hemp flour and protein powder is also available for those looking for alternatives.

Happy Tasting!

Hemp Dream hemp "milk" and Hemp Oatmeal Cookies


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