Hemp seeds (often called hemp hearts) are no revelation to humans, as we have been using them, along with other hemp products, for thousands of years, either as a component in bird seed mix, as fishing bait, or to manufacture durable fabric. Unfortunately, we have yet to explore the full nutritional potential of these remarkable products, which have sometimes been named the most nutritionally complete food in the world.
These seeds, obtained from plants in the Cannabis genus (thankfully, oilseed and fiber varieties of the Cannabis plants that are approved for industrial hemp production yield insignificant amounts of psychoactive substances, insufficient for any sort of physical or psychological effects), contain all of the essential amino acids and most essential fatty acids necessary to human beings for health. This means that they are a reliable plant source of complete protein and unsaturated, healthy fats.
About 40% of the seed’s weight constitutes omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and 33% of it is made up of protein, surpassed only by soy, which contains 35% protein. However, the protein found in hemp seeds is easier to digest and more readily absorbed. They are also a wonderful source of dietary fiber (which helps create the bulk of the stool and provides the feeling of satiation), along with calcium, iron, helpful trace elements and electrolytes. It is also considered to be one of the safest foods to eat, as it is gluten-free, and can be eaten by people with any other food intolerance (such as lactose, sugar or gluten), while there are no known allergies to it.
Yet this seemingly remarkable and widespread plant product has gone largely ignored as a possible nutritional source for humans. In fact, a recent study has shown that more than 95% of the total hempseed sold in Europe is turned into animal feed. Nonetheless, there are countless ways of using and preparing it, and the options only end with our imagination. We can consume them raw, ground into a powder, sprouted, soaked, turned into hemp milk (which is powdered seeds mixed with water and made into a creamy beverage), added to baked goods or even as a tea. Companies that produce health and fitness food may also offer hemp tofu, butter, cereals, breads, and many other tasty products. The soft, nutty flavor of the seed makes it an excellent addition to desserts and milkshakes. Moreover, delicious vegan ice-creams can be obtained from frozen hemp seed milk.
Surprisingly, hemp seed oil, which is extracted directly from the seeds, is mostly used in body care products, or industrially in lubricants, fuels, paints and plastics. However, the benefits of consuming the very potent hemp seed oil cannot be ignored. It is comparatively lower in saturated fats than other cooking oils, and has been shown to be efficient in reliving the symptoms of eczema. While it is not suited for frying due to a low smoking point, it is sometimes used as a dietary supplement: one single tablespoon of hemp seed oil per day can provide all of the essential fats the human body needs to stay healthy. This makes it an excellent alternative to sunflower and olive oils for salads and dressings.
Even with these unquestionable nutritional benefits exposed, hemp seeds are still largely viewed as a non-food product in many countries, and as a result are not typically sold in grocery stores.