Hemp grows in popularity
Wednesday September 13, 2017 12:01 AM
Written by By Kimberly Marselas - Reading Eagle correspondent
In 1999, Shawn House took a gamble that hemp could be the food of the future.
Nearly 20 years later, the nutty seed has a foothold in the natural foods aisle, and entrepreneurs like House are looking for new ways to use it in everything from granola bars to tortilla chips.
House's Lancaster Trading Co. specializes in pretzels and spreads made with hemp, most notably his Hempzels a twist on the classic soft pretzel incorporating hemp seed, hemp flour and hemp oil; a horseradish-hemp-and-honey mustard; and hemp seed butter sold under the Natalie's Choice brand.
He has dabbled in everything from hemp brownies to peanut-butter filled hard pretzels, all of the results packed with more protein, vitamin E and fiber than traditional versions.
Hemp's growing reputation as a nutritional powerhouse is on equal footing with its versatility.
"It's a light, nutty flavor," House said. "Kind of like a sunflower seed."
Mixed into existing recipes before cooking, it might not even be noticeable to finicky eaters. But raw or gently heated, it can add welcome texture and depth of flavor to soft baked goods, crunchy salads, even meaty meatless burgers.
In June, the Rodale Institute's culinary arm designed a colorful, hemp-themed menu for an event promoting all things hemp at the institute's experimental farm in Maxatawny Township.
Among the offerings: coffee with hemp milk, hemp burgers, toasted hemp crackers and a salad dressing made with hemp oil.
RodaleWellness.com named hemp to its list of 70 super foods, citing the 11 grams of complete protein in a single ounce. Complete proteins include all 9 essential amino acids - ones the human body can't make on its own -a nd are typically only found in animal sources, including meat, eggs and dairy.
That's one reason the food originally gained traction with and remains popular among vegans, according to Sarah Glunz, lead nutritionist for Giant Food Stores.
A growing number of hemp foods are available online through Thrive Market, Amazon and other retailers. Hemp is popping up in everything from energy drinks to gummy bears.
And more traditional hemp products are making the transition from health food stores like Vitamin Shoppe and Whole Foods to mass market grocers. Glunz said several brands are available in Giant stores that have a Nature's Promise Marketplace.
Pacific hemp milk is available at both Target and Wal-Mart stores nationally, while Giant carries the Tempt brand. Hemp heart bites, Qi'a cereal bars that pair hemp with chia and Nature's Path superfood bars are also available locally.
"Companies seem to be finding more ways to make their products more nutritious, and hemp is any easy way to do that," Glunz said. "These types of seeds are so important for overall heart health."
Glunz suggests customers experiment with hemp in much the same way they would flax seed, either ground and mixed into smoothies or yogurt or as a topping that adds texture and subtle crunch to salads or soups.
The key is to go slowly - maybe with 1 tablespoon a day - until you know how that heart-healthy fiber affects you.
In addition to fiber, hemp is packed with omega-3 fatty acids, which are good for the heart, brain, skin and mood. Ounce for ounce, it contains more than six times as much omega-3 as tuna.
It might also be easier to swallow.
Hemp's subtly nutty flavor is easy to blend, and it's often found paired with other superfoods like cranberries, blueberries, nuts or dark chocolate. House said he's only just begun using hemp protein powders to make smoothies.
Eating (or drinking) hemp has nothing to with the leaves of the cannabis plant, where the high-inducing TetraHydroCannabinol, or THC, is present in much higher concentrations.
Hemp-based foods come from the plant's seeds, or achene, tiny nuts covered with hard shells.
House sells the shelled hemp, along with mustards and jam recipes that feature hemp as a star ingredient.
He still sees plenty of opportunity to expand his brand and hemp's popularity and is a strong advocate for reducing regulation of hemp growth in the U.S. The cannabis plant, even when intended for food products, is still regulated as a controlled substance.