Australian Bakers Are Using Hemp To Make ‘Healthy’ Breads

Photo Credit: Pure Life Sprouted Bakery

Should everything go to plan, in a few months time Andrew Bertalli’s hemp-lined food dream will come true.

The Victorian owner of Alpine Breads tells SBS he is in the midst of finalising plans for his brand of hemp bread and hemp rolls to be sold at select Woolworths and Coles supermarkets.

“We are selling hemp bread now, locally and in our retail shop online,” Bertalli says. “But they [should] be going into Coles and Woolworths [later] this year. I’ve been speaking to them about this product for years…Hemp is too good not to be used in bread.”

Bertalli, who makes and sells ‘healthy breads’ for a living, was one of the many Australians who campaigned to have hemp foods made available for consumption and sale on local soil. When hemp food products were legalised in Australia and New Zealand in November 2017, Bertalli wasted no time adding hemp loaves and rolls to his product list, and pushed for his FODMAP friendly certified hemp bread to be sold beyond Benalla.

“A loaf of my hemp bread is about the same size of my normal sourdough loaf, with about 18 or 19 slices of bread. I use sourdough techniques to give my bread a unique flavour. I don’t copy anyone else’s recipe. My product is mine. You’ll be surprised by how good the flavour is.”

Bertalli says those who have tasted his hemp breads – made with six per cent hemp seed and oil – have been fascinated by the concept. “People have really accepted it. When we’ve handed out bread samples to the public, no one has ever said ‘no I don’t want to taste that’. Everyone has been adventurous. But it’s probably the 50-60 years olds who are coming into the shop [in Victoria] to buy it. Sometimes, they are travelling a couple of hundred kilometres to get here.”

Bertalli explains that his passion for hemp seed and hemp bread stems from its health promises.

“Hemp seeds just make you feel better. I’ve had phone calls from customers who’ve bought the bread telling me how much better they feel now that they are eating hemp bread. Their arthritis is better and their anxiety is better. Of course, we can’t ‘officially’ talk about that because we have no scientific proof but there will come a day when it is more widely used and there are studies done on the health benefits of hemp.”

Although there is a limited body of evidence proving all of the health claims made by hemp seed lovers, Australian dietitians are generally in favour of the new food product.

Media spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia, Themis Chryssidis, says hemp seeds are high in protein and a rich source of omega 3 and 6.

“A 20 gram serve of hemp seeds provides 2100 mg of omega 3 fatty acids,” Chryssidis tells SBS.

He reminds consumers that if a 20 gram serve of hemp seeds is used to make one loaf of hemp-seed bread, the total quantity of omega 3 must be split across each slice of bread.

However, the Accredited Practising Dietitian for Sprout Cooking School suggests that, if hemp foods could still contain enough omega 3 that they could act as an alternative for people who don’t eat fish or need fish oil supplements.

Do you get high from eating hemp bread?

Despite the nutritious benefits of eating hemp seeds, the new food product has one key health problem.

“The biggest issue for most people is the perception they have of hemp – they relate it to the intoxicating effect of cannabis,” says Chryssidis.

“But hemp foods (and seeds) are so low in the THC chemical that it is not the same as marijuana.”

Hemp or industrial hemp is a cannabis plant species (Cannabis sativa). According to Food Standards Australia New Zealand, “hemp is different to other varieties of Cannabis sativa, which are commonly referred to as marijuana as it contains no, or very low levels of THC (delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol), the cannabinoid associated with the psychoactive properties of marijuana”.

Chryssidis adds that if the government has rubber-stamped hemp as a food product that is safe for consumption, then consumers can rest assured that it is safe to eat.

“The government/authorities have taken consideration of any ill effects that hemp food may have and have still given it the green light legally,” Chryssidis says. We need to give due consideration to that point.”

Marketing manager of Hemp Foods Australia, Jeff Clements, stands behind the safety of the hemp products his company sells, including hemp seeds and hemp flour which are both used to make breads.

He believes in the product so much, Clements says, he feeds it to his children. “I’ve got two little boys aged two and three who really love bread,” Clements tells SBS. “So I started making bread at home, putting hemp flour and seeds into the mix. Hemp foods are safe for kids because the government has said it’s safe for all ages.”

How about the taste? “It sort of tastes like a cross between a sunflower seed and a pistachio seed, and gives off a delicate creamy nutty flavour because of all the omega oils in there.”

Hemp flour is quite coarse and non-rising. Clements advises that bakers to alter their bread-making recipes slightly to accommodate for these points.

“You will want to use it sparingly, so I suggest just replacing some of the normal flour in your recipe with hemp flour. Start at about five per cent and increase that to a maximum of 30 per cent, depending on what you are baking. Just experiment with it.”

Hail hemp and its new bread varieties

Pure Life Sprouted Bakery – a biodynamic family-owned business, based in Yamba (NSW) selling sprouted wholegrain breads – is another retailer that has started selling bread with hemp seeds, since the legislation was passed last year.

On sale for three months now, is Pure Life’s new multiseed loaf made from a sprouted wheat germ base, pumpkin, sunflower, millet and hemp seeds.

“As we don’t use any rising agents, our loaf is small,” says Aidan Anderson, operations manager at Pure Life. “But it’s very dense. It weighs 1.1kg. It’s a crunchy textured loaf with a nutty flavour.”

Currently available for sale in the fridge section of health food stores in capital cities, the multiseed bread is also vacuum packaged. So far, Anderson says, the new bread variety has been well received by health-conscious consumers.

“We’ve been doing between 150 and 200 loaves of bread a week, so it will be interesting to see how sales go in the next few months when people start to increasingly recognise that the bread is there in health food shops,” he says.

Anderson has high hopes the loaf sells well but he is also realistic that sales will depend on whether hemp can shake its THC-related public image.

“It’d be great if people started eating hemp seeds and hemp bread,” he says.

“And then one day, hemp foods might become something that is not frowned upon. One day, it will just be regarded as another normal product like any other on the supermarket shelf.”