Ingredient Spotlight: Hemp Seeds

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

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By Stella  Sarkisyan, Contributing Blogger

Did you know Buddha reportedly ate hemp seeds during a fast of enlightenment? It’s no wonder as these small, nutty-flavored super seeds boast a long resume of nutritious ingredients. After a temporary ban, hemp foods are making a comeback in the health food section with hemp seeds leading the way.

What Are Hemp Seeds?
Brought to America in the 1600’s by the Pilgrims, hemp was once the most popular crop. Its various plant parts have been used throughout history as anesthetics as well as treatment for infections, gout, vomiting, and rheumatism.

In 2001 the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) ruled that products containing even traces of THC (responsible for marijuana’s mind-altering effects), would be illegal. While hemp and marijuana share the same plant family, hemp seeds come from the plant Cannabis sativa L. and contain little to no THC. THC is mainly found in the flower and leaves of the plant, and while trace amounts (0.3%) have been reported in the seeds, this is likely due to contamination during processing. In 2004, the DEA’s ruling was appealed and overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court, allowing the import and use of hemp products.
Hemp seeds are small, round balls with crunchy outer shells covering a nutty, soft inner ‘heart.’ Shelled seeds, or hemp hearts, have a taste similar to pine nuts.

The Nutrition Low Down
Hemp seeds contain many good-for-you nutrients, including an impressive amount of protein, healthy fats, and minerals. Whole hemp seeds contain approximately 24% protein and 30% fat, while shelled hemp seeds (called hemp hearts) contain 36% protein and 47% fat. Studies show significant amounts of iron, magnesium, phosphorus, manganese, zinc, and calcium in these super seeds.

The proteins found in hemp seeds are very easily digestible by the body, making hemp seed a top protein choice for vegans and vegetarians. Moreover, they contain all 9 essential amino acids that are sometimes missing in plant-based foods. Hemp seeds are also rich in essential fatty acids and contain a very healthy 3:1 ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 healthy fats. These healthy fats act like antioxidants in the body, fighting pesky free radicals.

These small seeds show big promise to help fight heart disease. Studies have found that hemp seeds and help oil may help control blood cholesterol, lower blood pressure, and strengthen the immune system.

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Buying and Cooking
Hemp seeds are available as hemp seeds and hemp hearts. Hemp seeds start at around $4 for an 8-ounce bag, while hemp seeds are around $6. You can also find hemp food products including butter, milk, flour, baked goods, chocolate, protein powder and beer. Sprinkle hemp seeds and hearts on salads, yogurts, cereals, puddings, or incorporate into smoothies and baked goods.

Hemp seeds and hearts can last 14-months. You can look for the packaging date stamped on the products to determine their freshness. It is best to store away from heat and light, so a cool dark spot (like your fridge) is recommended. If you would like to keep them even longer, try storing in the freezer.

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