Many people may react cautiously to the notion of hemp as food, based on its connection to the harmful illegal drug, marijuana. Upon further exploration, however, one will discover that although hemp is family of marijuana, it is in fact a different plant – like broccoli and cauliflower are of the same family, but different plants. So, not only is the hemp seed completely THC free, it is also nutritionally superior to most other sources of protein and essential fatty acids.
So What Make The Hemp Seed A Super Food?
Hemp seeds contain complete protein. They are a highly digestible balance of all 20 known amino acids (both essential and non-essential) and in higher quantities than most other plant sources of protein. Hemp seeds are 33-35% protein. A mere 2 tablespoons of hemp seeds contain approximately 11g of protein!
Hemp seeds contain the globular plant proteins Edestin (65-67%) and Albumin (33-35%). Globular proteins are responsible for enzymatic functions in the blood plasma and for antibody formation, making them critical for strong immune function. Edestin is considered the most easily digestible protein and is very similar to protein in the human body. Albumin is another highly digestible and quality source of plant protein. Hemp contains the highest known levels of Edestin in the plant kingdom, making it a superior source of protein. Hemp seed is also free of trypsin inhibitors and oligosaccharides, two factors that affect the absorption and digestibility of other plant sources of protein i.e. soy.
Hemp seeds have a near perfect ratio of Omega-3 (Alpha-Linolenic) to Omega-6 (Linoleic) essential fatty acids (EFAs). The ideal ratio is considered to be 4:1 (Omega-6: Omega-3) ; hemp seeds have a ratio of 3.38:1.
These fatty acids are required by our body via our food; we cannot synthesize them ourselves, thus the term, “essential.” Most westerners consume far more Omega-6 and not nearly enough Omega-3; this imbalanced ratio seems to go hand in hand with the common degenerative diseases of today. EFAs have a critical role in growth and development, inflammation response, mood regulation, immune strength, cardiovascular and neurological health, cellular respiration and more. Hemp also contains the fatty acids Gamma-Linolenic Acid (Omega-9), Stearidonic Acid and Oleic Acid.
The fat in hemp seed oil is 75-80% polyunsaturated fat (also known as EFAs) and less than 10% saturated fat. Hemp seeds contain approximately 44% fat. This overall fat percentage is lower than most nuts and carries with it the extremely desirable abundance of EFAs.
Hemp seeds are a good source of iron and also contains significant levels of the antioxidant vitamin E.
Hemp seeds and Hemp Seed Oil contain chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is nearly identical in molecular structure to our blood and is thus extremely beneficial to building the blood, nourishing and detoxifying the body. While the quantity is not nearly as high as the chlorophyll content of other blatantly green foods, like wheatgrass or leafy greens, the more we can increase our intake of chlorophyll the better. Chlorophyll’s presence in the hemp seed is another testament to its amazingly balanced nature.
You are probably now wondering; “Does it taste good?” My conventionally trained culinary taste buds can honestly give you a resounding, “YES!”
Hemp seed is unique in its culinary compatibility and flavour. It has a deliciously nutty and rich, yet delicate nature. Unlike what most of us know as “nuts,” hemp is a tiny, cream-colored flat disk comparable to the size of a sesame seed. Its texture is soft and creamy, not hard and crunchy. In my opinion, the taste is akin to that of a peanut or sunflower seed, yet somewhat richer and more complex. I can taste the hint of chlorophyll that dots some of the seeds; it reminds me ever so slightly of the taste I perceive when chewing a mouthful of chlorella tablets. Hemp, however, melts in your mouth. This property lends itself extremely well to blending the seeds to create smooth and creamy sauces, shakes and soups.
Besides the hemp seed, other forms of hemp food are now more widely available. Powders, often marketed as protein powder, are quite popular, as are hemp seed oil, nut butter and milk forms. Hemp is even ground into flour and used in baked goods. The red flag gets thrown here, however and we need to apply our knowledge of the fragility of essential fatty acids and proteins before we dive head first into the hemp food market.
Essential fatty acids are very susceptible to the effects of light, heat and oxygen (as most plant foods are). This means that any hemp products (or any EFA rich food) should be stored in the refrigerator, in sealed. Light-impermeable containers and not heated in any way. Some products recommend refrigeration only after opening. And that is most likely fine; however shelf life is generally increased when these products are kept cooler. EFAs and proteins change drastically when they are heated. And can transform the fats and proteins from being extremely healthful. To extremely harmful. Any temperature over the enzyme threshold temperature of 115F will initiate these harmful changes. Here is the lowdown on the most popular forms of hemp available and how to use them:
This is the best form currently available to us and is the hemp seed in its most whole state. Hemp seed are widely available in health food stores, raw food product stores and on the Internet. Sprinkle them on your salads, eat a handful alone, or blend them into a creamy sauce, smoothie, or soup. Keep in mind that blending causes rapid nutrient destruction and oxidation, so you won’t get as much from them by blending them as you would eating them whole.
You can also make your own hemp milk by blending the seeds with three times as much water as nuts and then straining it (optional). Most people prefer to slightly sweeten their hemp milk by adding a few drops of stevia or honey. Without any sweetener, this milk makes a delicious base for a creamy dressing or soup. Because I’m a big believer in consuming the most whole form of a food in order to benefit from the synergistic nutritional effect it has to offer and to minimize nutritional losses and modifications caused by processing, this form is my favourite and comes most highly recommended.
Hemp Seed Butter
This is the finely ground form of the hemp seed, similar in consistency to almond or peanut butter. lt has a green tinge to it due to its chlorophyll content. While nut butters are delicious, with a consistency that makes them quite versatile and enjoyable, there is always a question that weighs on my mind: “How hot did the commercial grinder get?” Anyone who has attempted to make nut or seed butter in their own home, whether using a homogenizing juicer, food processor, or other equipment, knows what I mean when I say that homemade nut and seed butters are never as oily and smooth as commercially made ones, unless you process the butter for lengthy periods of time until it gets quite hot.
While I have no doubt that makers of “raw” nut and seed butters do not intentionally heat their product, the heavy and quick work of commercial grinders naturally generates a considerable amount of heat. That heat releases a lot of the oils causing a commercially ground nut or seed butter to seem much more creamy and oily than one made at home. What’s wrong with this deliciously creamy spread? Heat and oxidation can easily equal the damage of fats and proteins. There is no practical definitive way that we, as consumers, can tell how much damage was done in this process.
My suggestion has always been that if you aren’t going to make it yourself, look for the brand with the least amount of oily separation in the jar. This is not to say that all raw nut and seed butter are bad, just use caution and use whole hemp seed as more of a staple, saving the nut butters for more recreational use. They too can be used in smoothies or dressings/sauces and as a spread. Check ingredient labels; salt or other ingredients may be added.
Hemp Seed Oil
This is the oil which is obtained by pressing the hemp seed and it can be used in dressings / sauces, drizzled on your meal, in a smoothie, or ingested as a supplement. Again, the importance of cold-processing is extremely critical. This oil is should always be refrigerated. Like flax oil, it is highly perishable and should be purchased in small bottles so that it will not remain opened and unused in storage for a lengthy period of time. Never use hemp seed oil for cooking, as the healthy fats will be transformed into harmful fats. While this oil is certainly high quality, keep in mind that oils bring pure fat to the table and whether good or bad, too much causes distress in the body. Again, my first choice is always the whole hemp seed, because you get the whole balanced food and not just one aspect of it and in a less processed state. Use all oil sparingly and it can be a healthy addition to your daily intake.
Hemp Protein Powder
In a purely hemp form, this powder can be useful for boosting a blended mixture. Look for cold-milled brands, such as that from Hemptons, to ensure that processing has had minimal detrimental effect on the nutritional quality of the powder. My opinion is that the shelled hemp seed nuts blend in to a shake just as easily and are tastier, so unless you are looking for other ingredients that might be contained along with the hemp protein powder, it is better to just use the nuts.
Most of these products do not have a place in a raw food diet. Hemp flour is usually incorporated into baked goods using flour and other processed ingredients. While it is healthier than wheat flour, as it does not contain gluten, cannot be used as a substitute – as the baked goods won’t rise. It is good if you want to increase the protein percentage.