The hemp seed, actually a tiny nut, is comprised of a hull and a meaty inner core.
Whole hemp seeds have traditionally been used for birdfeed. In Canada, the U.S., and some Asian countries, toasted whole hemp seed is consumed as a snack food comparable to toasted sunflower seeds. However, most of the seed’s value is derived from either dehulling the whole seed and/or crushing it for oil, as the inner core is an excellent source of desirable fatty acids and proteins.
Hulled Hemp Seed
The hulled hemp seed or hemp “nut” remains after the removal of its hull. It contains 30-35% protein and 35-40% EFAs by weight. This superior nutritional profile makes it ideal for a wide range of food applications.
Quite simply, hemp is one of the most nutritious, balanced, and life-sustaining seeds on Earth. It is packed with protein, Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs), Gamma Linolenic Acid (GLA), and a variety of vitamins. It has been used for centuries as a dietary supplement in a variety of foods and a multitude of cultures. In addition, many nutritional experts have recognized and now promote the benefits of hemp in the human diet.
“Hemp butter puts peanut butter to shame for nutritional value…Such is its unique balance that it constitutes a life-long dietary sufficiency of essential fatty acids. Its high percentage of Gamma Linolenic Acid (GLA) makes it unique among vegetable oils.” – Udo Erasmus, Ph.D., author of Fats that Heal, Fats that Kill: The Complete Guide to Fats, Oils, Cholesterol, and Human Health.
The body needs Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) that aid in cell maintenance for healthy skin, hair, eyes, and overall physical health. The body does not produce EFAs and they only come from a few food sources: fish oil, the seed and oil of hemp, flax, borage, or primrose. Hemp oil is the richest known source of polyunsaturated EFAs, with a volume level of 81 percent. EFAs aid in the maintenance of cell membrane fluidity and stability, development and function of brain and nerve tissue, oxygen transfer and energy production, immune functions, and conversion into compounds involved in all body functions including local hormones governing inflammatory responses.
It also contains Gamma Linolenic Acid (GLA), an omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid made in the body from linoleic acid, an essential fatty acid (EFA). GLA is the product of the body’s first biochemical step in the transformation of a major essential fatty acid, linoleic acid (LA), into important prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are essential to the proper functioning of each cell. Every cell’s structure in the human body depends on fatty acids formed from GLA.
Hulled hemp seeds resemble sesame seeds in appearance and are comparable to sunflower seeds in taste. They may be incorporated in baking or simply added to foods such as soups or salads. Hulled hemp seed blended in shakes or drink mixes is an excellent way to meet daily protein and EFA needs. Hemp nuts may be ground and turned into nut butter for spreads and sandwiches. Lightly toasting the nuts will release the oil’s fragrance and enhance the flavor of the nutmeat.
Currently, hulled hemp seeds are sold in bulk and utilized in various food products ranging from snack bars to corn chips, nut butters and granolas. Nature’s Path, a well-known natural foods producer, has featured hulled hemp seeds in their Hemp Plus™ cereal, completing their line of other healthy grain based cereals such as Soy Plus™ and Flax Plus™. A large fraction of hulled hemp seeds are used in Germany by bakeries for specialty breads and pastries. In the U.S., research is being conducted to use hulled or whole hemp seeds in the production of “hemp milk” as an alternative to soy or rice based non-dairy milks, a category that is now the largest selling in the natural foods business.
Hemp Protein Flours and Powders
The market for high protein powders and flours for use in shakes, energy bars, and baking preparations is well established. Competitive products such as soy, egg, and whey protein are priced very competitively. However, these proteins require product development to mask bland or astringent flavor profiles. Hemp’s naturally nutty flavor complements the fruit, nut, and chocolate ingredients normally used in these products. Hemp meal can be finely ground and sifted to increase the protein content close to that of soy. If the cost of seeds and crushing can be reduced, the availability of hemp flours and powders will grow large enough and the price will decrease, allowing competition with other protein sources in a large and rapidly expanding market.
Hemp meal, the seedcake remaining from the crushed seed in oil extraction, contains a large fraction of protein, with a composition similar to that of soy. This makes it an ideal animal feed, but further processing will also yield superior products for human consumption.
“Hemp seed was the world’s number one wild and domestic bird seed until the 1937 Marijuana prohibition law. Four million pounds of hemp seed for songbirds were sold at retail in the U.S. in 1937. Birds will pick hemp seeds out and eat them first from a pile of mixed seed. Birds in the wild live longer and breed more with hemp seed in their diet, using the oil for the feathers and their overall health.” – Jack Herer, Author, The Emperor Wears No Clothes
Since the crushed seed is usually extruded into small pellets ideal for animal feed, this segment has been an obvious market for hemp meal. French and British hemp processors have marketed processed meal as fish bait. Animals such as horses, cows, and chickens respond well to hemp meal as a dietary supplement as it is high in protein as well as the residual EFAs. Recent trials in Kentucky reveal that hemp-fed cattle require less feed and digest it more efficiently. As most of the feed market operates on the basis of “protein per pound,” soy meal is the main competitor. Hemp meal marketers would do well positioning the meal as a supplement for diets that require EFAs in addition to protein to command the higher price. As the benefits of hemp are promoted, this market will develop into a clear niche.
The Ultimate Source of Nutrition
Hemp can feed the citizens of the Earth, provide critical components to human health, and revitalize our bodies! And if that’s not enough to convince you, check this fact: Of the 3 million-plus edible plants that grow on Earth, no other single plant source can compare with the nutritional value of hemp seeds.
The nutrition profile speaks for itself:
Typical nutritional analysis of shelled hempseed
Oleic 18:1 (Omega-9)
Linoleic 18:2 (Omega-6)
Linolenic 18:3 (Omega-3)
Total dietary fiber
Vitamin A (B-Carotene)
4 IU/100 g Thiamine (Vit B1)
1.38 mg/100 g Riboflavin (Vit B2)
0.33 mg/100 g
0.12 mg/100 g
1.0 mg/100 g
2277.5 IU/100 g  Vitamin E (dl-A-Tocopherol)
8.96 IU/100 g
9.0 mg/100 g
74.0 mg/100 g
4.7 mg/100 g
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