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The hemp seed, actually a tiny nut, is comprised of a hull and a meaty inner core. Whole hemp seeds have traditionally been used for birdfeed. In Canada, the U.S. and some Asian countries, toasted whole hemp seed is consumed as a snack food comparable to toasted sunflower seeds. However, most of the seed’s value is derived from either dehulling the whole seed and/or crushing it for oil, as the inner core is an excellent source of desirable fatty acids and proteins.

The Oilseed: Oil
Hemp oil’s primary value is its high content of the two essential fatty acids (EFA’s) Omega-3 and Omega-6. Essential to tissue growth and metabolism, these critical EFA’s cannot be produced by the body and must instead be present in the diet. Intake of both EFA’s in sufficient amounts and proper balance is essential for prevention or treatment of a wide range of conditions, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, menopause, osteoporosis, atopic eczema, psoriasis and acne. With an EFA content of about 75%, hemp oil not only contains one of the highest amounts of EFA’s of all plant oils, but it also contains a significant amount of the Omega-3 EFA which is often deficient in the human diet. Its balanced EFA ratio, which closely matches human nutritional requirements, makes hemp oil an ideal ingredient in a variety of food, supplement and personal care products. If larger production volumes and lower prices can be achieved, hemp oil may well find industrial uses similar to those of linseed (flax), sunflower and soybean oils, which are now used in paints, inks, solvents, binders and in polymer plastics.

Nutritional Supplements
Encapsulated hemp seed oil supplements are found in natural foods markets, usually next to increasingly popular flax supplements. Flax oil, with its very high content of the Omega-3 EFA, is usually taken short term to correct Omega-3 deficiencies. However, hemp oil is the better choice for long-term consumption because it contains a more desirable balance of the two EFA’s. The value of hemp oil as a broad-range oil supplement is further enhanced by the presence of a rare fatty acid, gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), and is the primary reason people buy borage and evening primrose oil, which helps to treat such ailments as neurodermatitis, arthritis and PMS.

Because it is more versatile, tastier and keeps better than other high EFA oils, hemp oil is also used as a culinary ingredient. Hemp oil may be used as one would use a fine olive oil- for sauces, flavorings, dressings, low-heat cooking and sautéing. The success of fine olive oils as well as the exotic nut and seed oils category (grapeseed, hazelnut, macadamia, etc.) provides a strong indication that pure, bottled hemp seed oil would have a moderate yet lucrative market. In addition to bottled oil, there are many fine food preparations on the market that utilize hemp seed oil as the key ingredient, such as salad dressings and other oil-based marinades, chutneys and sauces.

Cosmetics and Personal Care
Since the introduction of The Body Shop’s line of hemp based body lotion, hand cream, soap and lip conditioner to the global marketplace, demand for hemp oil has grown rapidly. Revlon plans to introduce a hemp oil based line at the end of this year. Alterna, Rachel Perry, Kiss My Face and Jason’s Natural Cosmetics have successful hair and skin care lines made with hemp seed oil. Based on function, Dr. Bronner’s Magic Soaps changed its formula to use hemp oil instead of jojoba oil and has seen sales increase dramatically as a result. Hemp oil cosmetic products may be found in many major retailers including Wild Oats, Whole Foods, Ralph’s, Kroger’s and Trader Joe’s markets across the U.S. Hemp oil’s versatility in the personal care market is enhanced by the introduction of advanced processes that allow the oil to blend with water or be turned into gels and even solids, enabling its benefits to be incorporated into even more cosmetic formulations.

Household Products and Industrial Uses
Like soybean or linseed oils, hemp oil could also find commercial uses in ecologically sound paints and varnishes, cleansers, inks and other applications. In Europe, for example, a vegetable oil based detergent which uses hemp, sunflower and canola oils as raw materials has demonstrated high cleaning performance and rapid biodegradation in the wastewater treatment plant. Since each vegetable oil has different properties, manufacturers must review the fatty acid profile, stability and surfactant activity of each to determine its appropriate use in a given application. The key for hemp oil to expand into this market includes a drop in the price of seeds and the establishment of oil crushing on a larger scale to make hemp oil more competitive with other oils.

The Oilseed: Meal
Hemp meal, the seedcake remaining from the crush, contains a large fraction of protein, with a composition similar to that of soy. This makes it an ideal animal feed, but further processing will also yield superior products for human consumption.

Animal Feed
Since the crushed seed is usually extruded into small pellets ideal for animal feed, this segment has been an obvious market for hemp meal. French and British hemp processors have marketed processed meal as fish bait. Animals such as horses, cows and chickens respond well to hemp meal as a dietary supplement as it is high in protein as well as the residual EFA’s. Recent trials in Kentucky reveal that hemp-fed cattle require less feed and digest it more efficiently. As most of the feed market operates on the basis of “protein per pound,” soymeal is the main competitor. Hemp meal marketers would do well positioning the meal as a supplement for diets that require EFA’s in addition to protein to command the higher price. As the benefits of hemp are promoted, this market will develop into a clear niche.

Protein Flours and Powders
The market for high protein powders and flours for use in shakes, energy bars, baking preparations, etc. is well established. Competitive products such as soy, egg and whey protein are well priced. However, these proteins require product development to mask bland or astringent flavor profiles. Hemp’s naturally nutty flavor complements the fruit, nut and chocolate ingredients normally used in these products. Hemp meal can be finely ground and sifted to increase the protein content close to that of soy. If the costs of seeds and crushing can be reduced, the availability of hemp flours and powders will grow large enough and their price will become low enough to compete directly with other protein sources in a large and rapidly expanding market. Research and development on the production and properties of hemp protein is already underway in Canada.

The Oilseed: Hulled Hemp Seed
The hulled hemp seed or hemp “nut” remains after the removal of its hull. It contains 30-35% protein and 35-40% EFA’s by weight. This superior nutritional profile makes it ideal for a wide range of food applications.

Hulled hemp seeds resemble sesame seeds in appearance and are comparable to sunflower seeds in taste. They may be incorporated in baking or simply added to foods such as soups or salads. Hulled hemp seed blended in shakes or drink mixes is an excellent way to meet daily protein and EFA needs. Hemp nuts may be ground and turned into nut butter for spreads and sandwiches. Lightly toasting the nuts will release the oil’s fragrance and enhance the flavor of the nutmeat.

Currently, hulled hemp seeds are sold in bulk and utilized in various food products ranging from snack bars to corn chips, nut butters and granolas. Nature’s Path, a well-known natural foods producer, has featured hulled hemp seeds in their Hemp Plus™ cereal, completing their line of other healthy grain based cereals such as Soy Plus™ and Flax Plus™. A large fraction of hulled hemp seeds are used in Germany by bakeries for specialty breads and pastries. In the U.S., research is being conducted to use hulled or whole hemp seeds in the production of “hemp milk” as an alternative to soy or rice based non-dairy milks, a category that is now the largest selling in the natural foods business.

The above is excerpted from the The Vote Hemp Treatise: "A Renewal of Common Sense: The Case for Hemp in 21st Century America." Download a copy here (PDF file 63k).

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