Hemp Takes Root


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Every now and then we run across a food product that summons the reaction: "I didn't know you could eat that."

Hello, hemp.

In the natural foods aisles, hemp is making headway in breads, oil, nut butters, granola, nutritional shakes and protein powders. The tiny white-shelled seeds – which can also be used in cooking – have been hailed by Supermarket Guru newsletter editor Phil Lempert as "one of the hottest food trends of 2007."

Nutritionists hail hemp as a high protein source (its makeup is about 33 percent) and a solid booster of vitamin E and trace minerals. But hemp's most impressive nutritional note is its essential fatty acids profile, which includes omega-3s and omega-6s in an optimal ratio. (Studies link an overabundance of omega-6 fatty acids and a shortfall of omega-3 fatty acids as a trigger to a multitude of health woes, including heart disease).

Cannabis sativa in the grocery store?

Before you assume we've been smoking something funny, let's take care of some botanical clarification.

Industrial hemp, from which edible hemp nuts and oil come, is but a distant relative of marijuana. Eating it – no matter what the quantity or frequency – won't make you high. That's because properly shelled hemp seeds contain only microscopic amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the stuff that gives that other Cannabis variety its mind-altering capacity. The difference could be compared to the two varieties of poppy plants. One plant makes seeds for your muffins, the other makes heroin.

To assure consumers that eating hemp won't trigger positive results on drug testing, many companies participate in the Hemp Industries Association's voluntary TestPledge program, which sets conservative limits on THC content in hemp foods. Still, hemp cultivation has been banned in the United States since the 1950s, even though just a decade earlier, hemp production was considered patriotic – rope and other textiles made from hemp were needed for the war effort.

So where is all this edible hemp coming from? Canada, mostly, where 48,000 acres of hemp flourish. Canada is one of 30 countries where hemp production is legal.

Hemp food sales in the United States were $7.46 million from mid 2005 to mid 2006, a 35 percent jump from the same period the year before, says Tom Murphy, outreach coordinator for the advocacy group Vote Hemp.

The food industry is only one of multiple outlets for hemp, which also has applications in body care products, textiles, paper and biofuel. Many U.S. farmers want to cash in on this eco-friendly crop, and have convinced lawmakers to draft the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2007, introduced to Congress last week.

Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-Saugerties, Ulster County, co-sponsored the bill, which would shift hemp regulation from the federal Drug Enforcement Administration to the state level. North Dakota recently launched a program that issues licenses to would-be hemp growers.

Locally, hemp food and body care products are available at Wegmans Food Markets Inc. (in the Nature's Marketplace Department), Lori's Natural Foods in Henrietta, Abundance Cooperative Market on Marshall Street and other health food stores.

"I like (shelled hemp seeds) the way I like sesame seeds. They are very mild. In the tastes spectrum, it's a food you can't really not like. Nutritionally, they are definitely a standout," says Cyndi Weis, a registered dietitian and owner of Breathe Yoga & Juice Bar in Pittsford. Weis sells hemp granola bars at Breathe.

Jessica Rodriguez, grocery manager at Abundance, says hemp products are "getting more popular as time goes by and health benefits are known."

Source: The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
Author: Karen Miltner
Contact: KMILTNER@DemocratandChronicle.com
Copyright: 2007, The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
Website: Democrat & Chronicle: Home
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