Hemp seeds may add protein and fiber to foods and beverages.

ORLANDO, FLA. — Hemp ingredients may add protein, magnesium, phytosterols and fiber to products, said Tom Vierhile, innovation insights director for Datamonitor Consumer. Hemp is non-allergenic, and the plants are sustainably grown, he added.

Yet many people may associate hemp with marijuana, and that perception could put a buzz-kill on hemp’s entry into food and beverage product launches.

“Hemp is misunderstood,” Mr. Vierhile said in an April 9 presentation at Ingredient Marketplace in Orlando. “That is really one of the key problems with hemp going forward.”

Mr. Vierhile called hemp a cousin to marijuana as they are the same genus, Cannabis. Yet they differ in a crucial way. The tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) in marijuana produces the psychoactive event, or the “high.” Levels of THC in marijuana range from 5% all the way up to 30% while hemp’s THC levels are less than 0.3%, Mr. Vierhile said. For another difference, hemp seeds generally are used as ingredients in foods and beverages. Buds and leaves are used in recreational and medicinal marijuana.

The U.S. government made no clear distinction between hemp and marijuana when the Controlled Substances Act was signed into law in 1970, Mr. Vierhile said. Hemp may be cultivated legally in the United States for experimental purposes only. However, Representative Thomas Massie of Kentucky on Jan. 25 introduced H.R. 525, the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2015. The bill seeks to exclude industrial hemp from the definition of marijuana.

Canada approved hemp’s cultivation in 1998. Companies in the United States generally source hemp from Canada for use in their foods and beverages, Mr. Vierhile said.

Hemp remains a niche market in the United States, he said. The market for food and personal care products with hemp has reached about $200 million in annual revenues following two straight years of sales increases over 20%, he said.

Datamonitor Consumer tracked global food and personal care product launches with hemp from January 2013 to February 2015. Cereal bars led the way, accounting for 13.7% of all launches. Following the bars were lip make-up (8.4%) and soap (6.3%). Body care products, breakfast cereal, chocolate, and vitamins and minerals each accounted for 4.2% of launches.

Technically a nut, hemp seed typically contains over 30% oil and is about 25% protein, according to research from the University of Kuopio in Finland that was published in 2004. Hemp seed contains dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals, according to the research, and the ratio of omega-6 fatty acids to omega-3 fatty acids is optimal for human health.

Mr. Vierhile added hemp’s protein includes a broader array of amino acids than typical plant proteins. Many of the protein types in hemp are digested easily, too.

“And that is another trend you are seeing in protein supplementation these days,” Mr. Vierhile said. “More products are talking about how available the protein in it is and how easy (the protein) is to digest. Digestibility is really a trend you are seeing in the organic and natural food sector.”

Hemp has a light and nutty flavor, he said. The hemp plants put nutrients back into the oil, a sustainability benefit.

Still, consumers may relate hemp to medicinal and recreational marijuana.

“It’s up to the industry to make better distinctions going forward,” Mr. Vierhile said.