Expect a lot of hype about hemp next week.
A great source of protein with a distinctly nutty flavour, hemp, derived from the same species as cannabis, will be legalised for Australian consumption from Sunday, November 12. That means food made with hemp products can be legally sold as food; there’s even a hemp festival, complete with hemp food tastings, coming in December.
The change in legislation follows a prolonged campaign by activists and a major review by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ). The decision to allow the sale of hemp food was made by the ministers responsible for food regulation in April, with implementation delayed until now to allow changes in legislation to be passed.
A spokesperson for FSANZ told SBS Food: “Our risk assessment found that low-THC hemp seed foods are safe for consumption and can provide a good alternative source of nutrients and polyunsaturated fatty acids, especially Omega-3 fatty acids.”
As a result, Australian producers will now be able access a growing global industry worth in excess of $500 million.
Hemp seeds join dates in these hemp tahini date-caramel bars
Low-THC hemp contains very little or no delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol – the psychoactive component of cannabis. The sale of hempfoods has been prohibited under the Australian and New Zealand Food Standards Code (although hemp seed oil can be sold as food in New Zealand); the new laws will allow low-THC hemp to be legally sold as food (some products made with hemp seeds and hemp oil have been sold in Australia, but usually promoted as pet food or beauty products).
Paul Benhaim, founder of Hemp Foods Australia, a certified organic wholesaler, retailer, manufacturer and exporter, has been a prominent figure in the push for legalisation here for the past 17 years.
“Hemp is a super-food that’s been around as far back as history records go,” Benhaim says. “It’s one of the best plant-based balanced sources of Omega-3 and Omega-6 essential fatty acids and good quality plant-based protein.”
On top of its nutritional qualities, Benhaim says that hemp seeds, which can be eaten raw or processed in a multitude of ways, are also delicious. “Hemp tastes really great, really hard to compare with anything else because it’s quite unique.”
Unlike cannabis, hemp contains little to no THC, so you won’t get high eating it, Benhaim notes. “You could smoke a field of the stuff and all you would do is get a headache.”
Hemp is a sustainable, pest-resistant crop that requires less water than some other food crops and less water and chemical application than other fibre crops. The product also has multiple uses beyond being food source, including textiles, bio-plastics, paper, fuel and the automotive industry.
“Personally I’m very excited to see hemp foods being sold in restaurants, cafes, juice bars and gyms and I’m looking forward to seeing what what other manufacturers can do with this versatile ingredient,” Benhaim adds. “I’ve seen it used around the world in hemp bread, pasta, sauces, chocolate bars and cookies.”
Lissa Todini of Sydney-based wholesale Italian patisserie Dolceroma is also excited about the possibilities presented by working with hemp. She has been training to be a nutritionist and is in the process of creating a health food spin-off business dubbed Nutriamo, which means to nourish in Italian.
“Legalisation is very exciting,” Todini says. “Hemp has a really good profile because it’s organic, it’s sustainable. It works really well with other ingredients and it has a very pleasant taste.
“We’re looking to use hemp in healthy treats aimed at health food stores and gyms. The idea is to have food with purpose.”
Hemp seeds, oil and other food will be on show at the Hemp Health & Innovation Expo in Melbourne on December 2 and 3. Expo director Michelle Crain says it's exciting that the legislation changes mean it's possible to have what she describes as "Australia’s first ever large-scale hemp food taste testing event". "Expo attendees will also be able to take part in workshops with Masterchef Finalist Dani Venn on cooking with hemp," she says.
Only seeds from low THC varieties can be legally used for food, and the new legislation also includes regulations relating to labelling and advertising of hemp food products.
For even more healthy protein and omega-3s in this dish, you can add a tablespoon of hemp seeds to the quinoa, which will blend right in. The salad keeps really well as a make-ahead side for the week, as does the tahini yoghurt sauce you’ll want to generously douse it in.
I love eating these hemp falafel as a snack during the day, adding them to a collard wrap with sprouts, tomatoes and cucumber, or throwing them on top of a fresh green salad.
I don’t usually make my meals so multi-faceted. But every once in a while my brain lights up with a big idea and something like raw hemp falafel happens. And then all I can think about is emerald-colored foods with a better-for-you spin. Thus, quinoa risotto. And of course you need something sweet to round out all of these greens. Sweet potatoes it is!