Let’s get this out of the way: hemp is not marijuana. You can’t smoke it. Sprinkling it on your salad won’t provide a high. Unless you count the buzz you’ll get from knowing you’ve had a good dose omega-3 fatty acids.
But by all accounts, hemp really is what some call a “superfood”. Rachel Burton of the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Cell Walls and professor of plant science at University of Adelaide recently told the Conversation that hemp seeds contain around 25 per cent protein, have a ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 polyunsaturated fats of around 3:1, and contribute positively to anti-inflammation.
But does it taste as good as it is for you? The mainstream is about to find out. Hemp-based foods have long been available in other parts of the world, but it was only from November 12, 2017 that Australia finally legalised the growth and sale of industrial hemp for food purposes. It means food manufacturers can now produce powders, flours and packaged seeds of hemp, and restaurants such as Grill’d – which has just added a Hemp Therapea burger, featuring a pea and hemp pattie, to its full-time menu – are introducing hemp-based dishes to the nation.
With this remarkable little green seed hitting the market, we spoke to Prana Arnold, health coach at hemp wholesale provider Hemp Foods Australia, about its myriad uses.
What is edible hemp?
The kind of hemp used for food production isn’t just plucked from the forest. “You can think of it like the cousin of the marijuana plant,” says Arnold. “It’s specially cultivated to have really low levels of THC [tetrahydrocannabinol, the chemical responsible for most of weed's psychological effects] and CBD [cannabidiol, a cannabinoid, which is a chemical compound that alters neurotransmitter release in the brain].
Hemp Foods Australia has long been processing hemp for foods, supplying markets such as Japan, South Korea, North America and Europe. Now that hemp foods have been made legal for consumption in Australia, they can support local businesses like Grill’d. “The kind of hemp products we sell are all food-grade. It’s sometimes confused with CBD oil, which is created from the leaves, flowers and the buds of the plant. But at Hemp Foods Australia, we use the seed of the plant.”
As well as being eaten, hemp can be used for textiles (clothing and rope), paper, fuel and even a building material called “hemp-crete”.
A new focus for farmers
Prior to it being legalised for food purposes in Australia it wasn’t a very attractive crop for local farmers to grow, says Arnold. “But since the change in legislation we’ve signed on hundreds and hundreds of farmers who want to convert their farms,” she says. “The plant has a very quick growth period. It’s an amazing plant for farmers to use in their crops, because it re-mineralises the soil and adds nutrients back.”
It looks like a coriander seed
Hemp Foods Australia takes its seeds to their manufacturing plant in the highlands of Bangalow, NSW. “It looks a bit like a coriander seed in size and shape,” says Arnold. “It has a husk and inside there’s this beautiful little nut that’s sometimes called a hemp heart. That’s what we sell in Australia. We can’t sell the whole seed, so we process it to remove the outside husk. It looks like a little sesame seed with a green tip on it, which is full of chlorophyll, which is really amazing for your body.”
Once the husks are removed, Hemp Foods separates out the oil, protein and fibre. “The oil is made by pressing the seed and squeezing it out,” says Arnold. “Once out, you’re left with a kind of cake. That’s milled and processed into a high-fibre flour and protein powder. You can use every part of the plant with very little processing.”
But what does it taste like?
Arnold says hemp has a naturally earthy flavour. “It’s quite nutty and creamy, somewhere between a seed and a nut,” she says. “It’s kind of like a cross between a pine-nut and a pistachio.”
Despite its legal status, hemp seeds have long been blended up in smoothies or sprinkled on salads in fringe-city cafes around the country. But now with the official lifting of the ban, bakers are experimenting with high-fibre hemp breads, and hemp burgers such as Grill’d’s Hemp Therapea burger are bringing it to the fore.
Arnold says the versatility of the seed means its good for multiple uses, and she’s excited for its future. “Hemp seeds are quite soft and can be used in both sweet and savoury applications,” says Arnold. “Porridge or salad, bread, or pesto – you can pretty much put whole hemp seeds into anything. I think the applications for hemp, especially in Australia, are only just starting to be explored.”
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Grill’d. Find out more about the Hemp Therapea burger, part of Grill’d’s new plant-based range, and download the Grill’d app for easy ordering, free stuff and nutritional-content information.