Hemp: Gastronomic Uses of a Much Vilified Plant

The hemp plant is a true all-rounder.

Photo provided

The hemp plant is a true all-rounder.

The hemp plant is a true all-rounder.

Photo provided

Hemp is the oldest useful plant in the world, it has been processed and utilised in many different ways by all kinds of cultures since time immemorial. In addition to the use of the female hemp plant as an intoxicant and medicine (think cannabis), hemp (from the male plant) can be processed into flour and oil, drunk as tea, woven into textiles, braided into ropes, used for heat insulation and as an industrial lubricant, processed into paper, cosmetics and cleaning agents and can be used as biofuel.

Unlike cannabis, hemp has an extremely low level of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), less than 1%, so no matter how much you eat you will not experience any kind of high from hemp. However, growing and farming hemp is still controversial. It requires a licence in the UK and has only been legal in the US since 2018.  

Hemp products

Hemp flour

Taste: Dark, slightly nutty, rich in vegetable protein and high in dietary fibre.
Production: Hemp flour is obtained by carefully milling and turning hemp seed 'cake' which is the nutrient rich by-product of hemp seed oil extraction.
Uses: Importantly, hemp flour is gluten and lactose free and can be used in muesli, with desserts, for baking and cooking (typically you can replace 25% of wheat flour with hemp flour in most recipes); to thicken sauces or add to smoothies. Hemp flour has a high protein content, around 24% protein. It is also high in omega-3, omega-6 and omega-9 oils.
Directions for use: Recommended daily maximum 15 grams. Freshly ground, it will keep for three months in a cool dark place.

Hemp oil

Production: Cold-pressed from hemp seeds, notably, it has a low smoke point (60°C/140°F).
Taste: Strongly nutty, lemony-green colour.
Uses: Not suitable for cooking due to its low smoke point. Best as a bread dip or as an ingredient for salad dressing, pesto or homemade mayonnaise. Can be drizzled over rice or pasta. It has quite a strong flavour, so is best used in combination with another lighter oil or vinaigrette. Gives a lovely shimmer to food. Also a good addition to smoothies, especially together with avocado, banana or green vegetables.
Storage: Keep refrigerated after opening.

Hemp seeds

Taste: Reminiscent of the flavour of sunflower seeds and pine nuts, while the texture is more like that of cashew nuts.
Uses: As a smoothie ingredient, sprinkle over yoghurt and muesli, use in biscuits or muesli bars, in salads or dips. A good gluten-free alternative for breadcrumbs if finely chopped. Also a delicious nutty flavour for those who have a nut allergy.

Many useful products can be made from hemp.

Many useful products can be made from hemp.

Photo provided

Hemp powder

Production: Not to be confused with hemp flour, even though it is obtained in a similar production process as the flour. Hemp protein powder is made from the 'cake' left over from hemp oil extraction, but the residue is ground again at very low temperatures to break down the fibres further and concentrate the protein. Thus the powder is much finer than the flour.
Taste: Nutty.
Uses: Hemp protein, along with pea and soy protein, is one of a handful of plant proteins that contains all nine essential amino acids. This makes it an ideal protein for vegetarians and vegans and an effective protein supplement for athletes. Add to smoothies, shakes and porridge, or make pancakes, waffles, cupcakes, protein bars and brownies. The nutty flavour works well with chocolate.

Hemp tea

Production: Made from the dried leaves and/or flowers of the plant Cannabis sativa. These are then often mixed with green or black tea or herbs and spices such as chamomile, mint or ginger.
Taste: Mildly bitter compared to green tea. Sweeteners can be added, lemon peel works well.
Uses: Commercial hemp tea should have very low levels of THC (in the US this must be less than 0.3% in states where it is legal) but it also contains CBD (Cannabidiol). There is a great deal of scientific and medicinal interest in CBD as it is considered to helpful for sleep, pain, nausea, seizures and anxiety. 

Hemp milk

Production: From hemp seeds, can be made at home from peeled or unpeeled hemp seeds.
Preparation with hulled hemp seeds: creamier, more filling than filtered hemp milk. Per tablespoon of hulled hemp seeds (also known as hemp seed hearts) add 100ml of water, sweetener (rice syrup, coconut blossom syrup, maple syrup) and fine-grained salt, blend to a creamy liquid. Can be kept refrigerated for up to three days. Best served chilled, shake before serving.
Preparation with unhulled hemp seeds: 200g unhulled hemp seeds, 1 litre of water, sweetener (rice syrup, coconut blossom syrup, maple syrup). Blend the hemp seeds and water for three minutes, then add the sweetener and blend for a further minute. Filter the liquid through a cheesecloth or muslin. The remaining hemp puree can be made into a pesto. 
Use: As a 1:1 milk substitute; ideal for shakes, smoothies and ice cream. Take care if boiling, as it flocculates easily.  
Note: Free from lactose, milk protein, soy, cholesterol and gluten.

Aprons made from hemp

Advantage: Allergic reactions are not known to date with fabrics made from hemp. Hemp is naturally mildew resistant and antimicrobial, making it the ideal fabric for use in the kitchen.