Hemp as a food source
Hemp seeds are, thanks to their nutritious oil and high levels of protein, an extremely valuable product of industrial hemp cultivation.
Once harvested, hemp seeds are cleaned and can then be processed in a number of ways. Whole hemp seeds may be hulled, where the seed-casing is separated from the oil-rich kernel. Both the shells and the hulled hemp seeds can be used to make a wide variety of nutritional products. The shells can be used for animal feed or as dietary fibre supplement for humans.
Hemp seeds as an ingredient
The hulled kernels are used to make highly nutritious foods, including non-dairy milk and cheese, breads, dips, spreads or as an ingredient in countless recipes, from biscuits to lasagne. Hempseed kernels are also a healthy, non-allergenic alternative to nuts, as they can be eaten raw or made into hemp-nut butter.
Whole hemp seeds can be used for food in the same ways as hulled seeds and offer the added benefit of fibre. Whole seeds are sometimes roasted as a snack and can even be made into a coffee substitute.
Hemp seed (photo Sebastián Marincolo)
Hemp seed oil
Both hulled and whole seeds can be used for oil pressing. Hempseed oil retains most of the nutritional qualities of the seeds. During pressing, about 25-35% of the seeds’ weight is extracted in the form of unrefined hempseed oil.
Cold-pressed, unrefined hempseed oil is an outstanding source of essential fatty acids (EFAs) and is mainly used as a food oil. It is rich in all the EFAs required by the body and, more importantly, contains them in proportions that are ideal for humans.
Hempseed oil is similar to olive oil in its consistency and subtle flavour, and can be used in place of other cooking or food oils for most culinary purposes. However, to avoid destroying the beneficial EFAs, hempseed oil should not be heated above 20 degrees centigrade, or for longer than ten minutes.
Hemp seed meal
Oil pressing also yields seed meal, which consists of the pulverised kernels and (when pressing whole seeds) crushed seed casings left over after the oil has been extracted.
Even after the oil has been thoroughly pressed from hemp seeds, the remaining seed meal is still highly nutritious, containing 25% protein by weight. Seed meal can be used as animal feed, ground into flour or protein powder, and is used in the brewing of hemp beer.