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Naturally hemp

Posted on November 1, 2003

In an upcoming film documentary actor Woody Harrelson goes on a West Coast journey in a hemp-powered bus to sell the joys of environmental purity with the Simple Organic Living Tour. This is just one example of the many uses of hemp. However, none of those uses include getting high. In short, hemp is not marijuana.

Hemp, even though grown from the same plant as marijuana (Cannabis sativa), contains none of the mind-altering THC traits found in marijuana plants.

“Smoking hemp leaves is an invitation for a headache — not a high,” said John Roulac, president, Nutiva, a Sebastapol, California company offering organic hemp and flax seed products, and author of three books on hemp, including Industrial Hemp.

The hemp plant, with its notorious connotations, has been banned from being grown in the United States — unfairly, hemp supporters say.

“What’s wrong with hemp?” joked Dennis Wagner, buyer, Rainbow Grocery CoOp, San Francisco. “We sell it. There’s nothing evil about it. There are a lot of good qualities about hemp.”

The Source For Hemp

Canada has become the main North American source for hemp seeds. The Canadian government, through the Health Canada protocol, requires producers and processors of hemp oil and hemp nut run THC tests on every lot, performed by a properly accredited laboratory, according to the TestPledge Website.

Through TestPledge, companies voluntarily commit to implement quality control measures, which limits the amount of trace residual THC in the hemp nut and oil, thus eliminating the risk of a false positive drug test. As signatories to TestPledge, manufacturers are agreeing to insure that hempseed oil is tested under five parts per million (ppm) and seed products under 1.5 ppm. An industry sponsored clinical trial established these limits as more than safe for the consumer.

Even with voluntary testing, the hemp industry has come under fire by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (see sidebar). And although controversy looms, hempseed products have emerged as reputable dietary supplements and health foods, bath and body products as well as hemp fibers used to produce a range of textiles and more.

Wagner said Rainbow CoOp carries the traditional hemp supplements and food products but also stocks hemp shower curtains, towels, body care and more. “We have no qualms about selling these products. Obviously there is a population who responds to this type of product,” he said.

Companies like Manitoba Harvest, which sells various hempseed products, says education and sampling are key to explaining the benefits to retailers and ultimately consumers. “By explaining the difference between hemp and marijuana and having a customer try one of the hemp food products, it helps to overcome the stigma,” said Mike Fata, North American sales manager, Manitoba Harvest and Food Co., Manitoba, Canada.

Nutritional Value

Hempseed foods, oils and supplements are valued because of their higher percentage of essential fatty acids than traditional fish or flax seed oil supplements. Supporters say it also tastes better.

Author Earl Mindell, R.Ph., Ph.D., in his book, Earl Mindell’s Supplement Bible, says, “Hemp oil is a rich source of essential fatty acids [EFAs], the kind of fat that is missing from the modern diet,” specifically omega-3 and 6, with a higher emphasis placed on omega-3. Mindell goes on to say, “Essential fatty acids are important because they are instrumental in many body functions: the production of hormones and the regulation of blood pressure, cholesterol, and body temperature.”

In addition, Donald P. Goldberg, R. Ph., Arnold Gitomer, R. Ph., and Robert Abel, Jr., M.D., in their book, The Best Supplements for Your Health, summarize, “Hempseed oil, because it is rich in ALA and GLA fatty acids, may serve as an alternative to flax seed oil.”

“Hempseed oil may be nature’s most perfectly balanced oil. It contains an ideal 3:1 ratio of omega-6’s [linoleic acid] to omega-3’s [alpha-linolenic acid] for long-term use, and provides the omega-6 derivative gamma-linolenic acid (GLA),” wrote Udo Erasmus, Ph.D. in his book, Fats That Heal, Fats that Kill.

The use of cold-processing technology helps maintain the nutrients at optimum levels, manufacturers say.

Manitoba Harvest’s Fata said hemp has the added bonus of being a vegetarian source of EFAs. Also, “Fish oils do not have an appeasing flavor as does hemp seed oil,” said Fata.

Other purported reasons for hemp’s usage over fish oils include no trace mercury orother environmental toxin contamination issues, said David Bronner, president, Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps. In September, Bronner introduced an organic snack bar under the name Alpsnack, made from certified organic hemp nuts, almonds and fruits.

“In addition, hemp has a superior well-balanced protein content that is second only to soy in the vegetable kingdom and in a more easily digestible form,” said Bronner.

Added Nutiva’s Roulac, “While hemp is best known for its outstanding EFA profile, its protein qualities are outstanding. In fact many see the fastest growing category for hemp will be protein powders, and in the future hemp burgers and dogs.” Roulac’s new organic Hemp protein powder won an award for best new supplement product at the Natural Products Expo East trade show in Washington, DC.

Hoping to spread awareness, this year hemp industry members formed The Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance, a non-profit national group of hemp processors, marketers, farmers and information specialists. Among the goals of the alliance, the group plans to develop and execute marketing and export promotion programs, and facilitate research needed to advance the sector. The newly formed alliance will be working closely with other hemp organizations, like the Hemp Industry Association.

Significant, organized hempseed production has been ongoing for the last five years or so; however, the message about safety and health is still not as clear as industry members would like it to be. With that in mind, retailer outreach takes priority.

“We believe the best way to dispel myths and educate consumers on the benefits of hemp, as well as our product line, is to talk to them one-on-one at the grassroots level [in stores]. Once the consumer is given the straight facts, it’s not a hard sell,” said Les Szabo, president, Living Harvest Conscious Nutrition USA. According to Szabo, sales of Living Harvest products have been on a steady increase. “We just launched our product line two months ago and we’ve received an overwhelming response from the health food store community,” he said. “Very few retailers have said no to the product line.”

A New Twist On Hempseeds

Hempseed manufacturers have parlayed hemp’s nutritional benefits into functional food forms like bars and nut butter spreads. Other whole ingredients, like seeds or powders, can be sprinkled on or baked into dishes and mixed into shakes. Retailers can offer recipes introducing new takes on everyday meals with the use of hemp.

“We sell our oil to many five star restaurants and hotels that use the oil to make gourmet salad dressing and sauces. You cannot do that with cod liver oil or even with flax seed oil,” said Fata.

Dr. Bronner’s is tying 200,000 samples of the organic AlpSnack hemp nut snack bar to its new quart soaps made with organic oils (certified under the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s organic food regulations), which contain hemp.

“The samples will introduce many consumers, who care about health and making the world a better place, to hemp foods. Hopefully many people will be turned on to hemp foods through this effort,” said Bronner, adding that all profits from Alpsnack sales are allocated to advocating for the full reintroduction of industrial hemp in the U.S.

“The development of markets for hemp food products/ingredients is being achieved by marketing and promoting the products through a variety of channels (in-store demo’s, marketing/information pieces, print media, tradeshows, third party value-added food manufacturers) and targeting food brokers, distributors and retailers,” said Quebec-based Hempoil Canada’s president Shaun Crew. Hemp Oil Canada’s Hemp Nuggets (hulled hemp seeds) are said to have a flavorful “nutty” taste; a compliment to pasta, salads, cereals and more.

Hemp seed pretzels — or Hempzels as they are sold by Shawn House, owner Hempzel Pretzel — have become a mainstay in more than local Lancaster, PA natural food stores. “For the restaurants, pubs and breweries they are a gourmet pretzel for premium beverages; the stix are used with pasta dishes, the nuggets and twists for snacks,” House said.

The Hempzels, offered in soft and crunchy varieties, are made with a blend of unbleached white flour, Canadian hulled hempseed, gluten-free hemp flour and hemp oil. “For the natural foods industry Hempzels highlight the omega-3 content, protein, vitamins, and great taste,” said House.

New Business

Manufacturer Ruth Shamai of Ruth’s Hemp Foods in Toronto added that her company is also taking the “one store at a time” approach to educating retailers. “Eventually the message gets through. I am seeing much more interest in hemp foods now,” said Shamai, who recently introduced a meatless Omega Burger using shelled hempseed.

Getting someone to try a hemp product, Shamai said, may result from a general curiosity of hemp seed foods after hearing about the nutritional values or it may be from an aversion or allergy to something else, like wheat.

Companies like Living Harvest Conscious Nutrition and Ruth’s Hemp Foods point toward recent increased distribution in the states to help their business. In September, Living Harvest announced the opening of a new U.S. office in Portland, OR and a partnership with MegaFood (Derry, NH), whereby MegaFood would sell and distribute the Living Harvest hemp food line of seed oils, seeds, whole food bars and protein powders.

“There is a real congruency,” said Living Harvest’s Les Szabo of the partnership. “Both companies share a product philosophy based on whole food understanding.”

Tortilla chips and Omega Burgers and more are included in the family from Ruth’s Hemp Foods.

Industry members say they expect to see the food category expand to include more mixes like brownies, pancake, and waffle, as well as other uses like cosmetics, paper, fuel, paints, and resins, where small fractions of these latter categories are already on the market.

“It’s a wonder crop. We are educating about the nutritional value, but also about hemp as a sustainable crop for our world,” said Lyn Gordon, president French Meadow Bakery, Minneapolis. The company offers Healthy Hemp Sprouted Bread that is in high protein, low carb, high in fiber and high in Omega content, Gordon said.

Hemp Personal Care

The range of body care products continues to expand in general with hemp products expected to take flight. National companies like The Body Shop have already introduced hemp bodycare products into the mainstream. Natural companies like Canolio, Hemp Oil Canada, Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps and more have seen success with their lines.

“People are attracted to these alternative medicinal products, because they do not wish to use (or use as little as possible) cortisone or other chemical products which are prescribed by physicians,” said Lucie E. Letourneau, president, Canolio (Quebec).

Letourneau said a March 2003 cosmecueticals report from Freedonia Insitute, Freedonia Focus on Cosmeceuticals, stated, “U.S. demand for cosmeceutical products is expected to increase 8.5 percent per year to $5.1 billion in 2007, propelled by a stream of new and advanced product introductions offering age-defying and appearance-enhancing benefits for an aging population.”

Letourneau said Canolio experienced “strong growth” in 2002-2003 in all sectors of personal care (mass market, drugstores, food chains, lingerie, etc.) worldwide. “We are making major inroads in targeting new consumer bases with innovative hemp by-products, in addition to increased emphasis on “burgeoning” niches such as intimate care products,” said Letourneau.

Canolio products, like the SexyGanja personal lubricant jelly made with hemp oil, are said to prevent dryness and regulate the water loss of the skin (due to detergents, wind, cold and sun) in many cases. Canolio’s other hemp cosmecueticals include body milk, bath oil, body oil and more.

Hemp oil can also help for acne problems since it is rich in vitamin F. Hemp Oil Canada offers a line of hemp body care products (lotion, shampoo, conditioner, cream and lip balm).

Copyright © 2003, Vitamin Retailer Magazine. All rights reserved.