BALTIMORE — Hemp is the wild salmon of the plant world, said Anne Thompson of Manitoba Harvest Hemp Foods, but the seed’s nutritional virtues remain largely underappreciated. Consumers already familiar with flax and chia seeds may think of hemp as rope or “dope,” Ms. Thompson said. “In the U.S. the regulatory environment has added to that confusion.”
That’s because industrial hemp remains subject to federal drug laws in the United States, where production is restricted due to a lack of legal distinction between industrial hemp and its cannabis cousin, marijuana. Advocacy groups like Vote Hemp are pushing to change state and federal laws to allow commercial hemp farming.
|Anne Thompson of Manitoba Harvest Hemp Foods
Canada approved cultivation of hemp in 1998, the year Manitoba Harvest was established. The Winnipeg, Man.-based company is the world’s largest hemp food manufacturer to grow, make and sell hemp food products, and offers a range of hemp oils, protein powders, seeds and snacks.
With a nutty taste, hemp seeds are rich in protein, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, with magnesium, fiber, iron, zinc and phosphorous. Hemp has all nine essential amino acids, twice as much protein and 70% more iron than a 30-gram serving of chia or flax seeds, according to Manitoba Harvest.
And contrary to common misconception, the company noted, eating hemp foods will not create psychoactive effects or produce a false-positive drug test.
At Natural Products Expo East, held Sept. 13-16 in Baltimore, Manitoba Harvest showcased new packaging for some of its flagship products to highlight the nutritional and environmental benefits of hemp, as well as the seed’s versatility.
“Our approach is going back to our original products and making sure we’re fully articulating what we are and why we are so proud of it,” said Ms. Thompson, a “hemp guru” and brand expert at Manitoba Harvest.
Recently, hemp has emerged as a popular plant-based ingredient in nutrition bars, beverages and breakfast cereal. It is becoming more recognized as consumers increasingly pursue better nutrition and product transparency, Ms. Thompson said.
However, she added, hemp foods in the United States have less than 1% household penetration. In Canada, it’s closer to 5%.
“I am a huge believer that this is the beginning of the tipping point for hemp foods,” she said. “The innovation pipeline is so rich and powerful.”
In 2016, U.S. retail sales of hemp-based foods grew to $129.3 million, according to estimates from Vote Hemp, which noted most hemp needed to supply the U.S. market is imported.
Hemp was featured in a broad scope of product innovation at Expo East, from plant-based burgers to non-dairy frozen desserts. Goodseed Burger, Austin, Texas, offers a range of vegan patties made from sprouted hemp seeds, pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, chia, millet, lentils, brown rice and vegetables. Varieties include Curried Sweet Potato, Wild Mushroom and Cauliflower, All American and Spicy Italian.
Hemp seeds add 20 grams of plant-based protein to each pint of Snow Monkey, which is marketed as a “superfood ice treat” and available in Cacao and Goji Berry varieties. The Los Angeles-based start-up explains the difference between hemp and marijuana on its web site, describing hemp as “the most complete plant-based protein that’s also earth-friendly.”
In Boulder, Colo., Hemp Health L.L.C. produces the Evo Hemp brand of snack bars and bites with locally grown hemp and advocates for U.S. hemp farming. The most recent additions to the product lineup are Hemp Crunch clusters, made with hemp and chia seeds in barbecue, cinnamon and garlic herb flavors. Each serving contains 10 grams of protein and 2.5 grams of omega-3 fatty acids. The company, which also offers hemp protein powder and hemp oil, champions the benefits of “nature’s most essential seed” on social media.
“By introducing farmers to industrial hemp, we’re helping them earn four times the income per acre, while decreasing their water consumption by 50%,” said Ari Sherman, co-founder and president.Interest in hemp foods has grown “exponentially” in recent years, said Anna Owen of Hemp Production Services, a bulk hemp ingredient supplier, at Expo East. Still, more education is needed to elevate the so-called “super plant” in product development.