By Jody Paglia Tanzman, RD,LDN,CLC
I’ve been seeing Hemp Hearts everywhere these days, from my local juice bar to Whole Foods. So I figured it might be a good time to give an overview of hemp food products.
You may already know about hemp seeds. The non-marijuana variety of the Cannabis sativa L. plant, the hemp seed is technically a nut. It has been used as a source of nutrition for thousands of years in Old World cultures. In Chinese medicine, the hemp seed is thought to impart a calming effect, as well as make the imbiber strong and fertile. Hemp seeds contain about 25% protein, 35% insoluble and soluble fibers and are chock full of vitamins and minerals such as potassium, phosphorus, magnesium and vitamins A and E. They can be eaten raw, cooked or roasted, much like a sunflower seed. Add them to your morning granola or savory items such as veggie burgers and fish cakes.
The hemp heart, as you might have guessed, is the center of the hemp seed, or what remains after the seed is shelled. The heart might be the most nutritious part of the hemp seed. The removal of the hull increases the digestibility of the proteins, of which all essential amino acids are present. Less than 1 oz/28g of hemp hearts will get you 8g of protein and 20% of your daily value of iron and 15% of zinc, good news especially for vegans and vegetarians, who are often lacking in those nutrients. The taste of the little hearts is slightly nutty, with a texture reminiscent of pine nuts. You can toss them with salads or sprinkle them over your morning cereal or yogurt. You can also blend them in smoothies and dips, and add them to batters in pretty much any baked product. They are completely gluten free and shelf stable, though I prefer to keep them in the refrigerator or freezer to prevent rancidity.
Hemp protein powder has been gaining in popularity as an alternative to dairy, soy and gluten-containing protein powders.
Comprised of the globular proteins edestin and albumin, they are similar to that in human blood plasma, and thus are easily absorbed by the body. Hemp protein also contains sufficient amounts of all of the essential amino acids. Naturally high levels of branched-chain amino acids that aid in the growth and repair of lean muscle make it a good choice post-workout. Besides mixing into smoothies and juices, hemp protein powder can be used as a replacement for 25% of flour in baked goods.
Hempseed oil is created through the pressing or extraction of hemp seeds. Like olive oil, it can come in several different colors, from light to dark yellow or green due to the presence of chlorophyll. It is extremely high in polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) and rich in both omega-6 and omega-3 essential fatty acids. Hempseed oil contains these two fatty acids with a ratio of about 3:1 of omega 6 to 3, considered to be optimum for human health. Ratios higher than 3:1 (current Western diets are thought to be 20:1 or more) have been closely associated with cardiovascular disease, cancer and other chronic diseases. Hempseed oil also contains gamma linolenic acid (GLA) and stearidonic acid (SDA), which promote an anti-inflammatory response within the body.
You can find the oil in health food stores (usually in the refrigerated section). Its delicate nutty flavoring is a good alternative to olive or nut oils, and can be used the same way. Both highly unsaturated and unrefined, hemp seed oil has a low smoke point that does not lend itself to heated cooking. It is best used in salad dressings, marinades, smoothies, sauces, or drizzled over cooked vegetables as a finishing oil.
Not only is hemp a versatile product in the kitchen, but it is also valuable in topical applications, promoting softer skin and stronger hair and nails. Just remember when shopping for hemp, be sure to check the sell by date for freshness; the precious oils are prone to rancidity. Hemp should be stored in a cool, dry place and once opened, refrigeration is recommended. Freezing hemp seeds and hearts will extend their shelf life.