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Hemp: An offbeat food product

Posted on November 8, 2000

Hemp recipes in this story:
Sweet Potato Corn Soup
Chocolate Chip Cookies
Apricot Bread

Los Angeles, California — Many people don’t realize that hempseed is edible, that hemp foods are very nutritious and that they are really delicious. In many ways, hemp is where soy was 15 years ago, an offbeat product with a funky reputation and overlooked nutritional value.

Hemp has been cultivated as food for more than 5,000 years and, like soy, is a staple in Asian diets. Hemp oil and fiber are also found in beauty and household products and in a few surprising items such as clothes from Armani and cars by BMW. Touted by many for its diverse uses, the nutrition found in hempseed is hard to beat.

Dr. Udo Erasmus, an authority on fat and nutrition, calls hempseed oil “nature’s most perfectly balanced oil” for its high omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids (EFAs) content. EFAs are the “good fats” that help regulate eye and neurological function, hypertension, hormonal balance, wound healing and cell growth. They are essential because the human body cannot make them, so they must come from food or supplements.

A 100-gram serving of hempseed oil contains more than 36 grams of EFAs, one of the highest amounts found in any food, beating out even flaxseed oil. Studies also show that 85 percent of the U.S. population is deficient in omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s have recently been praised in medical journals for their essential role in preventing or treating many conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, cancer, arthritis, migraines, asthma and depression as well as being critical for fetal brain development. While fish oils are a good source of omega-3s, hempseed oil contains an optimal balance of omega-3 and omega-6 EFAs, which promotes good health.

Hempseed is also 31 percent protein, making it second only to the soybean as a plant protein source. Hempseed contains edestin protein, a superior protein to that found in soy, which is a trypsin-inhibitor that can impair protein absorption.

Vegetarians can also cheer since edestin protein is a complete protein, meaning it contains all eight essential amino acids. At almost 31 grams in a 100-gram serving, hempseed is higher in protein than even beef, fish or poultry. While soy is chock-full of isoflavones, hempseed oil is the only common oil that contains gamma linoleic acid (GLA), the same stuff people pay big money for in supplement form. The hoopla on GLA has reached new heights with a recent study published in the “International Journal of Cancer,” which states that GLA can kill brain and prostate cancer cells and inhibits the spread of malignant tumors by restricting blood vessel growth.

GLA also helps lower LDL cholesterol, the bad cholesterol that is a significant contributor of cardiovascular disease. To top it all off nutritionally, hempseed oil can also be thought of as diet oil. Since it is 80 percent EFAs, only 20 percent of the oil is available to be used as energy or converted to body fat.

With soy consumption at an all-time high, soy allergies are also on the rise. Hemp has the upper hand in that it is rarely allergenic; meaning it is rarely the culprit of allergies. Many people also have trouble digesting soy due to the oligosaccharides, which cause gas and stomach upsets. Hempseed by contrast is highly digestible because it contains a superior type of protein called globulin, which is similar to that found in the human body.

Finally, a recent concern about soy stems from the now more than 50 percent of the crop that is grown from genetically modified seed, while hemp remains untouched.

But wait a minute, is hemp legal? Widely stigmatized as the ugly stepsister to the notorious cannabis or marijuana plant, hemp is legal under United States federal law and is used in the production of many foods and products, although it is illegal for U.S. farmers to grow without a permit.

Interestingly, hemp is freely grown in every other industrialized country, including Canada, Germany and Japan.

Botanically speaking, hempseed is the tiny fruit formed in the tops of the female cannabis flowers in late summer. It is free of any psychoactive properties, meaning you can’t get high from it, since there is no THC, which is found only in the leaves of the flowering tops. A thin, hard shell encases the hempseed, which is edible but indigestible, consisting mostly of fiber.

Concern about hempseed stems from the extremely minute amount of THC in the resin that may cling to the outside of the hempseed shell. To remove any possibility of THC residue, shelling processes have been developed to remove the tough outer shell and render the seed safe for food production.

Today, you can find hemp as shelled hempseed, in nut butters, cooking oils, cereals, pretzels, cookies, chocolate, even cheese and burger alternatives. Hempseed oil is widely used in beauty and health-care products such as soap, shampoo, lip balm and skin conditioner, while hemp fiber is and has been used for thousands of years for cloth, ropes and paper.

Today, eating raw or roasted hemp seed in China is as common as eating sunflower seeds or peanuts in the United States. In Japan, hempseed has long been used for seasoning and pressed into a tofu burger called asanomi. Before the introduction of the potato and maize from the New World, hempseed was a food staple in areas of the world where it was cultivated. Tradition still lingers in Eastern Europe where a soup made from hempseed, called semientiatka, is eaten ritually on Christmas Eve in Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Ukraine.

OK, so it’s highly nutritious, versatile and has a long history of use, but how does it taste? To most people, hemp tastes like a cross between a sunflower seed and pine nut, to some it tastes similar to a macadamia nut. To this author, it has a nutty and earthy taste that really comes through in baking and cooking. Toasted hempseed is also sprinkled on cereal, salad, soups and pasta.

We tested the Sweet Potato Corn Soup and the Chocolate Chip Cookies and loved the texture and heartiness of the soup and of the cookies. The recipes were adapted from HempNut, Inc.’s “The HempNut Health and Cookbook” by Richard Rose and Brigitte Mars, which gives a history of hemp as well as some recipes.


Sweet Potato Corn Soup

Makes 4 servings.

  • 1 cup finely chopped onions
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons curry or chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon vegetable oil
  • 1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cubed
  • 2 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels
  • 3 cups water
  • 1 cup HempNut (Shelled Hempseed)
  • Chopped cilantro or basil
  • Slices of lime

In soup pot, saute onions, garlic, salt and curry powder in heated oil 7 minutes until onions are soft.

Add sweet potato, corn and water and simmer 20 minutes. Puree half of mixture with HempNut in blender and return to pot to heat through.

Serve garnished with cilantro and slices of lime.


Chocolate Chip Cookies

Makes 2 to 3 dozen cookies.

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 ¼ cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 egg
  • 2 cups unbleached white flour
  • ¾ cup HempNut (Shelled Hempseed)
  • 1 (6-ounce) package chocolate chips
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder

Cream together butter, sugar, vanilla and egg. Add flour, HempNut, chocolate chips and baking powder, mixing until well combined.

Drop by spoonfuls onto lightly oiled baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees 10 minutes.


Apricot Bread


  • 1 ½ cups dried apricots (pitted)
  • 1 ½ cups water
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable or HempNut hemp seed oil
  • ½ cup honey
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 ½ cups unbleached white flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 cup HempNut
  • ½ teaspoon grated organic or lemon peel

Combine apricots and water in saucepan. Cover and simmer 10 minutes. Cool completely. Drain and discard water.

Add oil, honey, salt and vanilla.

Sift flour and baking powder. Combine apricots, oil mixture, HempNut and lemon peel and mix well. Transfer to 2 greased 5×9 inch loaf pans.

Bake at 350 degrees 1 1/4 hours. After baking, let stand 10 minutes, then remove from pans to cool completely.

Maria Jekic is a communications consultant and freelance food and travel writer living in Boulder, Colorado

Copyright © 2000, Maria Jekic. All rights reserved.

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