"Hemp is not a drug. Hemp is not bad."
So says Kieren Brown, a microbiologist and managing director of Ananda Food, a company on the forefront of bringing hemp products into the Australian food chain.
Ananda Food operates a processing plant at Beresfield for hemp food products.
Ananda Food is a subsidiary of Ecofibre Ltd, a fast-rising newcomer in the world of legalised cannabis products. Ecofibre went public in March of this year, exuding the confidence of major shareholder Barry Gilbert, an Australian businessman who has poured millions into the business.
According to Ecofibre's website, Ananda Food provides customers with guaranteed 100 per cent Australian grown and processed hemp-based foods. The parent company is active in research and development, and offers products in the health and textile markets with a firm footprint in the US.
Hemp food became legal in Australia in November 2017.
Cannabis sativa or hemp, has been used by humans for over 10,000 years. Long before it was made illegal, hemp was recognised for its therapeutic uses in the ancient texts of the Greeks, Romans, Indian Hindus, and the Assyrians. Today, despite sanctioned scientific research being relatively thin on the ground, we know that there are around 25,000 different uses for hemp.
Hemp is a fantastic source of protein as it contains every essential amino acid our bodies need to meet our dietary requirements. Ninety per cent of the oils from hemp are polyunsaturated fatty acids, such as Omega 3 and 6; these are the good fats for healthy brain development, good joints, and overall healthy body function.
Hemp is also high in the antioxidant vitamin E, which may help to lower the risk of Alzheimer's. The husk of the hemp seed is predominately an insoluble fibre which is great for gut health; keeping your intestines and digestive tract clean and healthy.
It's got zinc to help the immune system fight off invading bacteria and viruses, and magnesium for regulating muscle and nerve function, blood sugar levels and blood pressure.
Recent scientific research into hemp has demonstrated improvements in bone strength, which may help reduce the risk of osteoporosis. It also has been shown to promote healthier skin, hair and nails.
There are two main properties of the cannabis plant species; tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).
THC is the main psychoactive ingredient that generates a euphoric "high", while CBD is a non-intoxicating compound that helps mitigate the effects of THC. You cannot get "high" from CBD.
Hemp, meanwhile, is a cannabis variety that is primarily grown for food and fibre. Cannabis sativa contains a greater concentration of CBD than THC, making it the ideal source for food products.
"We grow hemp as a grain crop for food," says Brown. "From a food stand point, I see hemp as a proactive health choice . . . You eat its various food products for their nutritional constituents, as a way to maintain and stay healthy."
Ananda Food has been growing hemp as a grain crop in Tasmania since 1999. Since November 12, 2017, when Australian legislation approved the use of hemp seed products as food for human consumption, there has been a significant rise in Australian farmers growing hemp as a food product right across Australia.
"I don't know exactly why the plant was ever called 'weed', but it will grow anywhere. There are varieties that will grow in every latitude, even as far north as Siberia and Russia," Brown says.
"We support hemp farmers in Tasmania, south-east Queensland and into NSW, from Launceston to Forbes, and Wee Waa to Goondiwindi.
"I know of trials growing hemp in Griffith as well as some parts of Victoria, South Australia, and Western Australia too."
While the company grows their food based hemp on Australian farms as remote as Wee Waa, the food products themselves are processed in the Hunter Valley.
"The freshly harvested seeds arrive here and they get stored in separate silos... in batches. This is so we can batch control the product back to a particular paddock, right back to a particular grower," Brown says.
"This allows us to do what we call traceability verification. So, if a customer identifies an issue with a particular product, we can figure out what paddock that product initially grew in, what day it was harvested, what day we processed it, what day we packed it, all the way through from paddock to packet."
Hemp seeds are cold pressed to extract the oil, which has all those healthy polyunsaturated fats and essential fatty acids, or milled into seed cake to further process it into protein powder and hemp flour. Alternatively, hemp seeds are simply de-hulled - a process that nicks off the outer husk and leaves behind a soft, white, creamy coloured kernel with a deliciously mild, nutty taste; a bit like peanut butter.
"It's quite a nutty flavour that comes through when you eat the seeds raw . . .," Brown says. "We use a mechanical process to produce our various hemp food products, so there's no chemical or enzyme extraction, which gives a fresher, better tasting product."
How to eat hemp based food products is entirely up to you. Drizzle the oil straight over salads, or mix in as an ingredient for a salad dressing. Supplement the hemp protein powder with your regular whey powder and add it to drinks, such as smoothies and shakes. Make bread, cakes and pasta using hemp flour, or simply sprinkle the de-hulled hemp seeds over your cereal for breakfast in the morning.
"Because it's such a relatively new product, you're really only limited by your imagination, in terms of how you eat it," Brown says. "We have a few recipes on our website about how to utilise hemp as an ingredient, but we've also partnered with chef Michael Moore, who is using it as an ingredient at his restaurant, O Bar & Dining, in Sydney."
Chef Michael Moore believes hemp derived foods could be a game changer in the food industry. He caused a stir amongst Sydney diners this year, when he introduced hemp as a key ingredient in dishes such as grilled hemp seed flatbread, macadamia and hemp seed dip, and hemp pasta filled with cashew spinach and pistachio.
Ananda Food hemp-based food products are becoming more widely available under the Woolworths Macro branded products, and they are working closely with IGA Supermarkets to get their hemp based foodstuffs on their shelves soon.
Consumers can buy direct from Ananda Food via their website (anandafood.com).
"Hemp is not bad, it's actually a really nice food product," Brown says. "It has a fantastic nutritional profile, it's great tasting on its own and it blends well with other ingredients to make really interesting dishes. And, there's so much more you can do with hemp besides . . . I think hemp is a very exciting product, in terms of the future of food and agriculture in Australia."
Daniel Honan is a shareholder of Ecofibre Ltd.
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