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Got munchies? Try hemp

Posted on March 3, 2004

Don’t worry, you won’t get a buzz if you eat hemp seed. But you will get one of the most nutritious food sources.

When Ruth Shamai began promoting her commercial line of hemp food products, she found it a hard sell. “People would ask, ‘Can I smoke this, is this marijuana?’ ” she says with a chuckle.

But that was then (the late 1990s) and this is now, and Shamai’s products are garnering a following‚ albeit slowly.

Hemp belongs to the same plant family as marijuana but most hemp plants are nearly devoid of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the ingredient that produces pot’s high.

Hemp seed is one of the most nutritionally powerful and complete food sources, jam-packed with essential fatty acids and amino acids including omega-3 and omega-6.

Essential fatty acids are not made by the human body and must be acquired through diet.

And their presence helps regulate such common conditions as cardiac function, insulin balance, mood stability, skin and joint health.

“The value of hemp is in the seed, which also is high in protein,” she says. “In fact it has more protein than any other food except for whole soybean.”

The seed can be eaten in many forms. Sometimes the seed cake produced when hemp is crushed for hemp seed oil is processed into flour. The whole seed can be toasted, or, for other uses, processors remove the seed shell to create hulled seed.

Shamai has a line of shelled soft hemp seed in different packages‚ one for adding to foods or snacking on, another in a shaker so the nutritious seeds can be sprinkled on cereals, salads or fruit and yogurt.

Her products‚ including hemp and flax bars, salad dressings, hemp oil, salsa and, more recently, Ruth’s Omega Burgers‚ can be found mainly in natural food stores or in the organic and natural food sections in supermarkets.

They are gluten-free, vegan, high in protein, soy-free, kosher, contain flax lignans, have no cholesterol or trans fat and are 70 per cent certified organic, she says.

Hemp seeds can also be added to soups and stews while the oil‚ which should not be heated, as it loses its nutritive value‚ can be used in dips, marinades and vinaigrettes for salad dressings.

Shamai says hemp is a lot like flax as “it is very nutritious and it uses the seed.”

Most of the hemp and flax she uses in her products is grown on farms in Saskatchewan and Manitoba where it is “relatively pollution-free.” Once harvested, the seed is cleaned and sent to a primary processing plant where some of it is turned into oil.

“After it is processed it goes to co-packers who will turn it into my specific products,” she says. “So there is one company with the equipment to make the flax and hemp bars, another that specializes in salad dressings and have the specific machinery to do the job.”

Her Balsamic Hemp Dressing won first prize at the Canadian Fine Food Show two years ago.

Shamai also produced hemp tortilla chips but temporarily stopped production because they didn’t sell as well as she had expected.

“But I want to redo the packaging and make them in smaller sizes so they can fit well into kids’ snacking‚ I mean hemp is so good for them.”

Shamai is self-financed and has no investors. She works from home with the help of her husband, a retail store designer.

Hemp Recipes

Hemp Pesto

  • 2 cups (500 ml) fresh basil, tough stems removed
  • ½ cup (125 ml) shelled hemp seeds
  • ½ cup (125 ml) grated Parmesan cheese
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 3 tbsp (45 ml) hemp oil
  • 2 tbsp (30 ml) fruity olive oil
  • Salt and fresh-ground pepper to taste
  1. Clean and dry basil. Chop basil in food processor. Add shelled hemp seeds, cheese, garlic, hemp oil and 1 tbsp (15 ml) olive oil. Process in short bursts until you like the consistency. Add the rest of the olive oil optionally, depending on preferred taste.
  2. Add salt and pepper. Makes about 1 ½ c (375 ml). Serve over hot pasta.

Some of the virtues of hemp as a food ingredient:

  • Unlike other grain proteins, hemp is a complete protein which is easily digested.
  • It is rich in essential fatty acids‚ linoleic (omega-6) and linolenic (omega-3) acids.
  • It’s one of the few foods containing gamma-linolenic acid, which may be helpful in treating rheumatoid arthritis, cancer and diabetes.
  • Hemp oil contains a significant amount of vitamin E and essential minerals such as calcium and iron.

Source: Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance

Ruth’s Hemp Burger

(Makes about 12 patties)

  • ½ c (125 ml) ground flax (buy it ground or put in coffee grinder)
  • ½ c (125 ml) water at room temperature
  • 2 ½ c (625 ml) cooked rice
  • 1 c (250 ml) shelled hemp seed
  • 2 c (500 ml) mixed frozen mixed vegetables
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • ½ c (125 ml) flour, buckwheat or chick pea
  • ¼ c (50 ml) sunflower oil
  • 3 tbsp (45 ml) chopped garlic
  • 2 tbsp (30 ml) tomato paste
  • 1 tbsp (15 ml) Dijon mustard
  • 1 tbsp (15 ml) salt
  • 1 tsp (5 ml) pepper
  1. Cook rice in advance so it has time to cool. Mix flax and water in small bowl‚ set aside while mixing everything else.
  2. Mix all other ingredients. Mix in flax and blend well. Chill for at least 15 minutes. Form into patties. Cook in skillet or on the barbecue.

Note: The burgers are vegan, soy-free and can be gluten-free, depending on the flour used.

Copyright © 2004, The London Free Press. All rights reserved.