Could it be true? There’s a new ultra healthy leaf ready to hedge out kale? Hemp may be set to become 2018’s superfood, and it’s easy to see why. Packed full of soluble and non-soluble fibre, high in vitamin E, and with a natural ‘perfect’ ratio of 3:1 omega-3 to omega-6 essential fatty acids, hemp boasts plenty of health benefits. Added to that is the fact that hemp contains one of the most complete proteins of all plants, putting it in a desirable position as more people move away from meat in their diets. “Expect to see a lot more headlines about new plant-based products intended to replace meat, dairy and seafood,” Sonalie Figueiras told readers in a post about this year’s eco trends on her site GreenQueen.com.
For anyone with an eye on conscious eating, hemp is as similarly alluring. Naturally resistant to pests, growing the plant requires little in the way of pesticides. Even better, the way hemp sucks up carbon dioxide as it grows makes it carbon negative from the minute its roots take hold, which they do thick and fast.
A variety of the Cannabis sativa plant, related to and overshadowed by its more widely known cousin marijuana, hemp contains much lower levels of the psychoactive compound THC, yet grows with just as much velocity. Its fibres are used to make fabric; its oil is used for fuel. And now, as hemp hearts, seeds, and leaves begin to appear on plates, this type of cannabis is more frequently recognised as a natural, safe, and feel-good food source.
So why aren’t we all spiking our salads with hemp leaves, as chef Andrew Whitcomb did with diners at New York eatery Norman last year? Surprisingly, Hong Kong beats the US to the punch when it comes to other hemp consumption. Raw food creator Angie Lam remembers sipping on pungent traditional medicine drinks bought freely from street stalls in Hong Kong as a child. A main ingredient in one drink known for its cooling properties was hemp.
Way beyond that, China, now a huge centre for (government-controlled) hemp growing, has long valued the plant’s capabilities for natural healing. Its medicinal benefits said to have been discovered through self-trial by a pharmacologist, Shen Nong, back in 2700 BC. By AD 145–208 another well-regarded physician, Hua Tuo, had begun to administer cannabis to patients requiring surgery as an anaesthetic. Indeed, cannabis is still used today in some traditional Chinese medicine preparations.
But while Angie Lam admits feeling fleeting childhood nostalgia for the medicinal drinks, she says anyone seeking a healthy lifestyle would do well to look beyond the pedlars who pour the drinks from silver urns by the cup. Refined sugar levels in the brews are high so she, instead, has begun making her own hemp milk, which has a rich, creamy nutty taste. She says hemp seeds are a fine replacement for nuts in many recipes, including on salads, over yoghurt and granola and in smoothies.
Hemp, whose seeds, oil and hearts – shelled hemp seeds – are becoming easier to access across Asia as populations here in pursuit of healthier lifestyle grow, are ideal for home use, says Lam, who also likes to scatter her raw chocolate with cascades of hemp seeds. But the cost of importing them for chefs bulk use may be cost prohibitive she warns, so we might not see hemp proliferate menus in Asia any time soon.
But at least one chef has put hemp products on his shopping list. “Hemp oil also has a nutty flavour and is great for salad dressings and smoothies,” says Moises Mehl of Nood Food, a raw and detox cafe brand, who thinks demand for hemp products will grow. “Hemp is a really versatile, easy-to-digest ingredient that’s also high in protein. With the demand for plant-based diets booming, I am sure more chefs will start incorporating it into their recipes. Hemp flour pasta, seeds as breakfast yoghurt topping, hemp oil tossed salads, the possibilities are almost endless,” he says.
The one hemp by product we may be left waiting in the dark for are those prized hemp leaves. Despite being easy to grow, hemp production remains heavily protected – everywhere. In New York, Whitcomb’s leaves were plucked from plants on the grounds of the state’s first and only farm licenses industrial hemp farms, J D Farms, which also produces hemp pasta and salad mixes. Chefs are reported to be clamouring to use the grassy flavoured ingredient, if only production would allow. It’s as highly regulated in China.
While we wait for them, of course, there is always kale.
Nood’s Green Hemp Smoothie
Moises Mehl’s refreshing hemp smoothie is, he says, as green as the colour of the hemp plant, and “healthy and yummy too”. Try it at home.
1 cup coconut water, equivalent to 225 ml
1 cup spinach
½ cup mango
½ red apple
2 tbs hemp seeds
1 tsp lemon juice
½ cup ice (optional) 3g salt
Blend until smooth!