What’s The Hype with Hemp?

Allow me to fill you in what is believed by many to be ‘THE’ food product of 2019. Since it’s legalisation at the end of last year, Hemp food products have hit the food markets in numerous forms. Oil, flour, seeds, wraps, drinks, spreads, and a range of other convenience snacks have all been spotted containing this mysterious food product.

Having recently attended the Christchurch food show, I was absolutely blown away by the number of hemp-containing products, a substance I knew little about. Having looked into hemp food products with more depth over the past couple of weeks, I can say without a doubt it’s an ingredient I’ll be adding to my pantry.

So what is Hemp?


Hemp refers mostly to varieties of Cannabis (a flowering herb) not used for drugs. Cannabis sativa is one of the main species of Cannabis recognised and is the origin of the majority of our hemp products. Hemp has been cultivated for a variety of different reasons since ancient times. Each part of the Cannabis plant can be used for the manufacture of different products including hemp fibre, hemp seeds/oils, hemp leaves and juice. Figure 1 taken from ‘Hemp: A New Crop with New Uses for North America*’ by Ernest Small and David Marcus, illustrates some of the many uses of industrial hemp. 

Having acknowledged the diverse range of uses, we’re going to hone in on the use of Hemp in food products. 

Hemp as food

Let me start off by saying Hemp food products will not give you any of the funky side effects you may associate with that relaxed, loving, hungry, tie-dye type of cannabis. In fact, the only munchies you may experience is a result of the delicious taste.  

Hulled Hemp Seeds

Hemp seeds from the Cannabis sativa plant became legal to grow, manufacture and sell in NZ for food products in November last year. The list of foods currently produced using hempseed is ever-growing. It stretches across a wide market from health bars to non-dairy cheese to bread additives.  Hemp seeds can be cold pressed to extract hempseed oil. In oil form, it can be used as a substitute for fat in the likes of baked goods, and in food supplements and salad oils. Some manufacturers are also making beverages from the seeds.   Numerous criteria set by the Ministry of Primary Industries must be met before hemp products can hit the food stores.

  1. The only part of Cannabis permitted for use in food products is the seed. The seed must come from a strain of Cannabis Sativa that is low (<0.35%) in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). THC is the psychoactive/mind-altering part of the plant.
  2. Hemp seeds must be low in Cannabidiol (CBD). CBD is another main constituent of the plant with potential therapeutic properties.
  3. All seeds must be hulled (have the outer shell removed) to eliminate the risk of contamination from THC on the outside of the seed coat

Nutritional benefits of Hemp

Why should you be interested in hemp food products? Hemp seed is an awesome source of unsaturated fatty acids, essential fatty acids, protein, anti-oxidants AND it tastes delicious. If you’re wondering where hempseed oil might rank with the other foods in your pantry, it has been identified as an alternative to linseed or soybean products.  

Hemp food might appear particularly attractive to those who strive to consume more omega 3’s and may enjoy variation from fish. Getting omega 3’s through food products rather than supplements offers the additional benefits including vitamins, minerals, fibre, and protein.

Hemp is high in polyunsaturated fats which when used in place of saturated fats, reduces the risk of coronary heart disease. Hemp contains both of the essential fatty acids (EFAs), omega-6 and omega-3. These fats can’t be made by the body and must come from the food we eat. In hemp, the essential fatty acids are found in a nutritionally sound ratio of roughly 3:1 omega-6 to omega-3. It’s important to mention here most people are not deficient in essential fatty acids. However, diets supplemented with omega-6 and omega-3s have been reported to have numerous health benefits some of which include blood pressure and cholesterol lowering, improved diabetic management and greater resistance to cancer, inflammation, and blood clotting. Gamma-linolenic acid is another polyunsaturated fat found in Hemp. Gamma-linolenic acid is currently available as a supplement to support healthy menstrual cycles, healthy skin function, and the body’s processes for dealing with inflammation in the skin and other tissues.  

About 20-25% of Hemp seed is made up of easily-digested protein. Comparatively, this is not quite as much protein as soybeans but is higher than the likes of wheat, oats, barley and some seed competitors (sunflower, flax, and pumpkin). Proteins are made up of amino acids. Similar to fats, some amino acids can be made in sufficient amounts by the body, others, namely the essential amino acids have to come pre-made in the food we eat. One of the best nutritional qualities of Hemp seed is that it contains all 8 of the essential amino acids.  

Hemp seed also has been reported to contain a natural sterol named β-Sitosterol which has been demonstrated to reduce high cholesterol levels. Hemp also contains tocopherols which work as antioxidants in our bodies. Some studies have suggested tocopherols may protect against heart disease, some cancers and other chronic diseases.   

In addition to all this greatness, Hemp contains carbohydrates and fiber which are both vital components of a well-balanced diet.  

Hemp is ooozing with nutritional goodness. The little power house packs a boost of nutty flavour with a wealth of healthful contents. It’s sustainability in production and versatility in recipes makes it a highly valuable product we are only at the beginning of uncovering.

How can you use Hemp today?

As goes the trend with many food products new to the market, Hemp is a little pricey. However, its rich nutrient profile means we don’t need a large volume to reap the health benefits.

Hemp Seeds sprinkled on a Halloumi Roast Pumpkin Salad.

Here are some ways to enjoy hemp:

  • Eat the seeds as a snack or add them to salads, cereal or yoghurt
  • Use hemp wraps for your burritos/tacos/kebabs
  • Use hemp butter in place of your current nut butter.
  • Drizzle hemp oil on salads, vegetables or use as a dipping for bread
  • Add hemp powder to smoothies
  • Bake with hemp flour
  • Purchase food products with added hemp e.g. yoghurt or corn chips.


Cary Leizer BA , David Ribnicky PhD , Alexander Poulev PhD , Slavik Dushenkov PhD & Ilya Raskin PhD (2000) The Composition of Hemp Seed Oil and Its Potential as an Important Source of Nutrition, Journal of Nutraceuticals, Functional & Medical Foods, 2:4, 35-53, DOI: 10.1300/J133v02n04_04

Essentials of Human Nutrition, edited by Jim Mann, and Stewart Truswell, Oxford University Press, Incorporated, 2014. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral-proquest-com.ezproxy.otago.ac.nz/lib/otago/detail.action?docID=1591378.

Trends in new crops and new uses. 2002. J. Janick and A. Whipkey (eds.). ASHS Press, Alexandria, VA. Hemp: A New Crop with New Uses for North America*. Ernest Small and David Marcus https://www.votehemp.com/PDF/small.pdf

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