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Nutty hemp a hot food trend

TODAY food editor Phil Lempert shares information from a report about nutritious hemp, which should not be confused with its close kin marijuana
/ Source: TODAY

One of the hottest food trends for 2007 may well have its origins dating back thousands of years.

Take a look down the aisles … and it's all about hemp!

Hemp has been grown for at least the last 12,000 years for fiber and food. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson both grew hemp and in fact Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence on hemp paper.

First thing to understand is that "hemp" is NOT "marijuana."

Industrial hemp and marijuana are both classified as Cannabis sativa, a species with hundreds of different varieties, which is a member of the mulberry family. Industrial hemp is bred to maximize fiber, seed and/or oil, while marijuana varieties seek to maximize THC (delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, the primary psychoactive ingredient in marijuana).

Industrial hemp has a THC content of between 0.05 percent and 1 percent. Marijuana has a THC content of 3 percent to 20 percent. The hemp plant is tall and stalky and the marijuana plant is short, shrub-like, and has "buds". It's an annual plant that grows from a seed, and because of its quick growth (average of 4 months) it requires limited pesticides.

In Canada and the European Union, only varieties containing less than 0.3 percent THC in their flower portions are permitted as commercial crops. Hemp growing has been illegal in the United States since the early 1950s, but the importing of foods made from hemp seeds and oils is allowed. Before the seed is used as a food ingredient, the hull is usually removed, effectively removing all but the most microscopic amounts of THC. The shelled hempseeds used in food each typically contain less than 3 parts-per million (ppm) of THC. For example, if 20 percent of a food's ingredients are shelled hempseeds, and assuming a 2 ppm THC level, a human being would have to eat 50 pounds of the food in question to become intoxicated.

Thirty countries around the world permit the cultivation of industrial hemp and the subsequent use of hemp by-products in human food. Regulations governing acceptable thresholds for human ingestion vary quite considerably between these jurisdictions or are simply non-existent. For example, Canada's food safety regulator, Health Canada, currently permits foods to contain up to 10 parts per million THC but is expected to revise this level to 2 ppm. In Switzerland, government policy mandates below a 20 ppm limit. In contrast, U.S., regulators prohibit any level of THC in food—an assessment based in large part upon a 1937 U.S. tax act on marijuana.

Why foods from hemp?

Hempseeds are actually nuts (31 percent of the nut is fat) with a nutty flavor similar to pine nuts and while the nuts are very small, they are big on nutrition, with up to 35 percent of the hemp nut being protein. Most of this protein is edestin, a highly digestible storage protein. Unusual for plant protein, hempseed protein contains all nine essential amino acids in a favorable ratio for human needs.

There are twenty different types of fatty acids that our body needs for optimum health. We can manufacture all but two (2) of these twenty - known as the Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs); OMEGA-6 Linoleic Acid (LA) and OMEGA-3 Linolenic Acid (LNA) the source of these two come from our foods nutrients. To be most effective, these two EFA’s need to be consumed in a balanced ratio; the World Health Organization recommended ratio is 4:1.

The hempseed is one of the most balanced sources of omega-3 and omega-6 Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs). Studies link many common ailments to an imbalance and deficiency of EFAs in the typical Western diet: too much omega-6 and not enough omega-3. Fish and fish oils are typically recommended because they provide the omega-3 derivatives of SDA, DHA, and EPA, but for some consumers the concern over the contamination of fish by mercury and other environmental toxins (which has led the FDA to warn pregnant women and nursing mothers to restrict their fish intake) hemp’s omega profile is a good alternative to fish. The seeds also provide other phytonutrients, including phytosterols and carotenes as well as Vitamin E, calcium, magnesium, and potassium.

Hemp oil is the richest known source of polyunsaturated essential fatty acids (the "good" fats) and it is also rich in some essential amino acids, including gamma linoleic acid (GLA), a very rare nutrient also found in mother's milk.

Since the early 1990s, shelled hempseeds have been used as a food ingredient in a wide variety of foodstuffs, including baked goods, snacks, breakfast cereals, beverages, frozen desserts, tofu, and milk substitute.

Let’s taste some hemp!

Nutiva Organic Shelled Hemp Seeds - These shelled hempseeds are 33 percent protein and rich in vitamin E as well as Omega-3 and GLA. While some other firms heat their hempseeds, Nutiva simply removes the seeds' hard shells, yielding a 100 percent raw gourmet product that tastes like pine nuts. 1.1-ounce packet  $1.89:  10-ounce packet  $9.99.

Manitoba Harvest Organic Hemp Seed Oil has a nutty flavor and is one of the few vegetable oils that contains large quantities of the omega-3 essential fatty acid (EFA) called alpha-linolenic acid (20 percent).  Manitoba Harvest Organic Hemp Seed Oil is made by hemp seeds that are cold pressed to ensure that valuable enzymes are not destroyed and nutrients such as chlorophyll and vitamin E remain intact.  Unlike conventional oil refining, their "Fresh Pressed" process does not subject the oil to poisonous chemicals or destructive heat.  8-ounce bottle $10.99; 16-ounce bottle $19.99.

Manitoba Harvest Hemp Seed Butter  is a spread that contains more omega 3 & 6 essential fats than any other nut butter and is one of nature's richest sources of complete protein (35 percent).  Hemp Seed Butter contains no trans fats, no hydrogenated oils, no cholesterol, no added sugar, low saturated fat, no gluten, no preservatives, and no artificial colors or flavors.  To produce Manitoba Harvest Hemp Seed Butter, hemp seeds are cracked to expose the soft inner "nut."  This inner nut is then ground at a low temperature until a rich, creamy texture is achieved.  No other ingredients are used in this raw "living" food that is made in small batches.  Hemp seed butter has an attractive emerald green color due to its content of chlorophyll, a powerful antioxidant.  A 10-ounce jar sells for $9.99.

Living Harvest's Hempmilk™ is a nutty tasting non-dairy beverage that provides essential and balanced nutrition for the whole family. An alternative to soy milk or dairy, it has a naturally occurring well-balanced ratio of Omega-3 and Omega-6 Essential Fatty Acids that can help maintain a healthy heart, a sharp mind, a strong immune system, and glowing skin.  Available in three flavors: Original, Chocolate and Vanilla. Each serving contains: 0.9 grams Omega-3,  2.9 grams of Omega-6 with GLA, all 9 Essential Amino Acids, 4 grams of Protein , Essential Vitamins A, B12, D, E, Riboflavin and Folic Acid, Essential Minerals Magnesium, Potassium, Phosphorus, Iron and Zinc, 46 percent of RDA of Calcium. 32 oz. carton retails for $3.99.

Nutiva® HempShakes™  -  The powdered shakes contain nourishing superfoods, such as hemp, blueberries, pomegranates, açai and goji berries, maca root, and ramon nuts, that are rich not only in protein but in minerals, antioxidants, and healthful fatty acids. Hemp protein contains 66 percent edestin—easier to digest than soy—and, unlike most soy protein, isn’t processed with hexane solvents. 1.1-ounce packet $1.89;  16-ounce container $19.99. 

Nature's Path Hemp Plus Granola  -  Organic rolled oats, organic evaporated cane juice, organic expeller pressed soybean oil, organic brown rice flour, organic flax seeds, hemp seed, organic oat syrup solids, sea salt, organic molasses, rice bran extract. Sells for $3.99.

Healthy Hemp Brownie Bites  - Chewy dense chocolate brownie swirled with caramel and packed with hempseed. Hempseed are packed with Omegas 3 & 6 fatty acids.  A sweet and satisfying dessert!  Healthy Hemp Brownie Bites will be sold nationally in Natural Food Stores and conventional supermarkets beginning in 2007. $4.99-$5.99.

, bread and tortillas - contains the highest amount of protein and fiber of any bread available!  Packed with organic shelled hempseed, organic flaxseeds, and organic pumpkin seeds. A rich source of protein, dietary fiber, minerals, vitamin E, iron, all 9 amino acids, and a near perfect composition of the fatty acids Omega 3, 6 & 9.  Sold in the frozen section. $3.99-$5.99.

Nature's Path Hemp Plus Organic Waffles - Frozen waffles contain organic whole wheat flour, organic expeller pressed soybean oil, organic evaporated cane juice, organic flax seed, organic hemp seed, leavening, organic oat bran, non-GMO soy lecithin, organic pear juice, sea salt, organic rice bran. Net weight: 11 ounces (312g). Sells for $3.59.

Phil Lempert is food editor of the TODAY show. He welcomes questions and comments, which can be sent to or by using the mail box below. For more about the latest trends on the supermarket shelves, visit Phil’s Web site at .