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4 things to know about hemp

It can't get you high, but it is full of protein, vitamins, minerals and fibre!

Dionisvera/ShutterstockDionisvera/Shutterstock

We give you the lowdown on this up-and-coming “superfood.”

Everything old is new again
Hemp is a strain of the cannabis sativa plant grown for industrial uses including paper, textiles, clothing and food. It’s been around for thousands of years—in fact, it’s considered to be one of the oldest domesticated crops in the world. But as governments cracked down on drugs throughout the 20th century, hemp got lumped in with marijuana and became illegal to grow. In 1998,
the Canadian gov­ernment began to allow the processing, harvesting and selling of hemp, which opened up opportunities for Canadian companies to sell hemp food and beverage products. The production of hemp was legalized in the United States 20 years after Canada, in 2018.

Hemp crackers, bars, milk and more
A 2019 report from Zion Research showed the global hemp-based food market was approximately US$3.9 billion in 2018 and is expected to grow to US$4.89 billion by 2026. Meanwhile, Research and Markets released a report this year forecasting a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) for hemp protein of 15.2% between 2020 and 2025.

Along with this growth comes innovation. While packaged hemp seeds, hemp hearts, oils and powders have been around for years, we’re now seeing a boom in new product innovations. For example, Manitoba Harvest now sells a line called Hemp Yeah! Granola in flavours such as Dark Chocolate, Blueberry, Cranberry and Honey & Oats; a line of Hemp Yeah! bars as well as Hemp
Yeah! Milk. Montreal-based Evive Smoothie also features hemp in several of its smoothie cubes, while U.S.-based Flackers has released a Hemp Seed & Green Hatch Chile toasted cracker and spread maker Dastony offers organic hemp seed butter. “We have seen more brands coming
to market with products that include hemp now,” says Robin Langford, product category manager at Ontario’s Goodness Me! Natural Food Market. She says hemp hearts continue to be most popular, but they’re also now selling a wider variety of hemp bars. “Hemp has such a great nutty flavour that it adds itself well to bars..”

Hemp can’t get you high!
Unlike its sister strain of cannabis, marijuana, hemp won’t get you high. That’s because the levels of THC (the component that does get you high) are negligible in hemp. The hemp plant does, however, contain cannabidiol (CBD) that many believe can help with problems such as anxiety, insomnia, depression and pain.

Superfood status
According to Euromonitor International, hemp is increasingly being recognized around the world as a “superfood,” thanks to its high content of protein, vitamins, minerals, fibre and essential fatty acids. As the Government of Canada’s Ingredient Focus – Hemp in packaged food and beverages report explains, hemp seeds “can be eaten raw and hemp seeds and their valuable oil can also be integrated into bread, cakes, biscuits, breakfast cereals, pasta, dairy products and juices. They are an ideal ingredient for a superfood snack.” As the plant-based trend continues to grow, hemp has the added advantage of being a plant-based protein. “I would say primarily [the typical hemp consumer demographic is] the vegetarian/vegan segment, but there’s also a large number of seniors interested in improving and/or maintaining their health through their diet rather than relying on vitamin/mineral supplements,” says Robert Rae, president of Gibson’s, B.C.-based Canada Hemp Foods, which manufactures hemp oils, hemp protein powders, and hemp seed hearts. “We’re also seeing increasing interest from young individuals and families.”

This article appeared in Canadian Grocer‘s May 2020 issue.

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