Sara's father, Tim Redmond (far left), and his team outside of the American Soy Products plant in Michigan.
Recently, I made a delicious salad of organic greens, hearts of palm, diced avocado, cucumbers and quartered tomatoes. I was wishing I had some beets to steam and toss in as well, but I didn't. For dressing, I whisked together rice wine vinegar, tamari, a little sugar, salt and pepper, some crushed garlic, and grated ginger. But I left out typical oils, such as olive, canola, or even flax-seed. Instead, I went with hemp.
What comes to mind when you hear the word hemp? Smoke-filled rooms? Pipes and papers? Brownies? Maybe you're a little more broad-minded, and you also think of rope and textiles or even paper when you think of products made from hemp. But what about food? Do you think of oil and milk and butter and powder? If not, you should. I recently got a package of products from Manitoba Harvest, a Canadian company that produces hemp food products ranging from oil to butter to milk. I'm already a fan of the milk, so I decided to give the other products a try.
Environmental and health benefits of hemp
Before I tell you about the color and consistency of hemp-seed butter, let me first tell you why anyone would eat or drink something from the hemp plant, which is a low-THC, non-psychoactive hemp plant. Hemp, as a plant, grows quickly and easily with very few or no pesticides necessary. Because of this, it can be grown organically with very little extra effort. Growing hemp actually benefits soil by increasing soil strength and stability and replenishing it with nutrients and nitrogen while it grows. After the crop is harvested and turned into food, the benefits get even better: As a food product, hemp is also highly nutritious; its oils are balanced sources of protein, carbohydrates, and essential fatty acids.
Let's take a look at hemp seed oil. It's an excellent source of the good Omega-6 fat GLA (gamma-linolenic acid). Though lesser known than their cousins Omega-3 fatty acids—powerful substances that help the body battle against heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and depression—Omega-6 fatty acids also have powerful health benefits that are becoming more and more apparent in the fight against inflammatory diseases such as arthritis, heart disease, and Alzheimer's. Hemp has an Omega-6 to Omega-3 ratio of 3.75 to 1. Flax-seed oil, by comparison, touts a ratio of just 1 to 4.
Processing hemp into foodThe hemp seed is the part of the planet that has real benefit to human health. To extract and process them, seeds are first cracked open. Shells are discarded, but the "nut" inside goes on to become a superstar. To make oil the seed is pressed. (Cold-pressing, just as with olive oil, assures that enzymes and nutrients stay intact.) What's left of the seed after the oil has been pressed out can then be turned into protein powder. Hemp seeds can also be ground into a creamy butter like peanut butter. And because hemp seeds are not one of the nine top food allergens (which includes peanuts, tree nuts, soy, and sesame seeds) hemp foods are safe for most people with food allergies.
In a nutshell, hemp products are good for you and good for the planet. But do they taste good? The answer is yes. I've spent a lifetime tasting strange foods in the name of health and exploration. After all, as one of the creators of EdenSoy soy milk, my dad was working to produce a soy milk well before Americans were plucking it off of grocery store shelves. That meant that I was tasting and drinking the soy milk long before Costco and Wal-Mart shoppers were. Maybe that's why I'm willing to try hemp milk and hemp oils and why I think it tastes fantastic.
Though I've never thought of hemp foods as strange, I realize a lot of people do, so they might never associate hemp with milk. For those of you who fit that description, here's my take on how hemp tastes in its various forms. Hemp milk, in its unsweetened plain version, is smooth and pleasant. Hemp chocolate is like liquid dessert, and Manitoba Harvests' version comes in an environmentally friendly, aseptic package. The oil, though it's a green color due to the chlorophyll that's present, is delicious—my recent salad tasted delicious. Hemp seed butter is, admittedly, a bit different than what you're probably used to. It's nice and creamy, and as long as you can get past the fact that it's green—not greenish or slightly green, but completely green!—then you'll probably love it, especially if you're looking for an alternative to peanut butter.
Here's what it comes down to for me: Food is medicine. On some level, every individual food we eat affects the way we feel, look, function, and process other foods. I eat only so many times each day and only so many foods. So I want the foods I eat to have benefits to my body, to heal my body, and to help it ward off illness. I need those foods to keep me strong when I'm running ragged, to give me energy and nutrients that will last throughout the marathon that is my day. This is precisely why I eat foods such as hemp, sea vegetables, algae, and grains that are sometimes harder to come by or a little harder to prepare. I'm willing to make a little extra effort for the sake of my health.
Okay, I'll come off my soapbox now and say this: Thank heavens for the health food stores that are taking over entire city blocks and popping up on corners everywhere! Finally, these healthy foods are no longer hard to find, and there are now dozens of resources for helping you to prepare them. So go on, get a little adventurous. Whether you're off hugging trees or ollying off half pipes, have some fun and bring a little hemp into the kitchen. And please, think beyond the brownies!
Learn more about the benefits of hemp in other TreeHugger posts. See also::
Ruth's Hemp Chia Goodness Cereal
Timbuk2 "Grows" Hemp, PET Bags
Converse Classics Now Available in Hemp
Luxurious Hemp and Silk Lingerie from Enamore
Sara Snow is Planet Green's lifestyle expert, and a regular contributor to TreeHugger via her Green Eyes On columns. She can also be seen on CNN.com on Thursdays from 7 to 8 p.m.