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Everything You Need to Know About How to Eat Hemp Seeds

As far as the nut and seed world goes, hemp seeds are like the straight-A student who’s also captain of the football team. A couple of spoonfuls of hemp seeds packs a serious amount of essential nutrients, they’re easy to eat and cook with, and they have a pleasantly nutty taste, like a cross between a sunflower seed and a pine nut. And no, they won’t get you remotely high. Here’s everything you need to know about how to buy and eat these little seeds.

Although hemp and marijuana are members of the same species, Cannabis sativa, they’re in effect completely different plants. There are about a dozen varieties of hemp plants that are grown for food, and all of them contain about 0.001 percent Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. This means you can eat as much hemp as you want and you’ll never have to worry about getting high or failing a drug test. Although certain states have begun to legalize the cultivation of industrial hemp in the last couple of years, the hemp seeds you can find at your grocery or health food store were likely grown in Canada or China.

Hemp plants grow brown popcorn kernel-sized hard seeds. Inside these hard seeds lie soft, white or light green inner kernels that are packed with essential amino acids, protein, and omega-3 fatty acids. You can’t really derive a lot of nutritional value from the unhulled seeds, so when you see a bag at the store labeled “hemp seeds,” what you’re actually buying is those soft inner kernels, also known as hemp hearts. Hemp hearts can be pressed to make hemp seed oil, leaving behind a byproduct that can be turned into hemp protein powder. You can find all of these hemp products at health food stores, or a well-stocked grocery store like Whole Foods.

Eating shelled hemp seeds, or hemp hearts, is as simple as sprinkling a spoonful or two into smoothies or on top of cereal, salads, or yogurt, says Kelly Saunderson of Manitoba Harvest Hemp Foods, the world’s largest hemp foods manufacturer. People with gluten sensitivity can use hemp seeds as a substitute for breadcrumbs to coat chicken or fish. Just like you can blend almonds and water to make almond milk, you can do the same with hemp seeds for hemp seed milk, which you can use as an alternative to dairy milk in drinks and recipes. And because of its nutty flavor, hemp seeds make a great substitute for people with nut allergies—you can dry-toast them over low heat to bring out even more of that nuttiness.

Hemp seed oil should be used as a finishing oil, rather than a cooking or frying oil, since the delicate omega fatty acids will break down during the cooking process, stripping the oil of its nutritional benefits. Instead, use it to make salad dressings, or drizzle over pasta, grilled veggies, or popcorn.

Hemp seeds are considered one of the most valuable plant-based proteins out there. Here's what you need to know about how to eat them.

Why Are Hemp Seeds Good for Me?

Why The Health Is This Good For Me?

By Keri Glassman, MS, RD, CDN

What They Are

Hemp seeds — sometimes called “hemp hearts” — are sprinkled on foods, pressed for oil, ground into protein powder and made into milk. Afraid of psychotropic side effects? Don’t be. While these small, pale-beige to dark-brown seeds form the edible part of the hemp plant (aka pot, ganja, weed, grass, Mary Jane, doobage), they don’t contain THC, the active drug found in hemp leaf.

Since hemp is considered a controlled substance and is not legal to grow in the United States, most of the hemp we find comes from Canada. The plant grows. well, like a weed. So it requires little to no pesticide or herbicide, which makes buying organic less important.

The Dirty Deets

Two tablespoons of hemp seed serve up 90 calories and six grams of fat. Watching what you eat? I say, “Keep sprinkling!” That two-tablespoon serving size offers two grams of fiber, five grams of protein, 300 mg of potassium, 15 percent of your vitamin-A requirement and 25 percent of your daily iron needs. It’s hard to find another food that nutrient-dense.

  • Hemp has a unique fatty-acid profile that includes common omega-3 and -6 fatty acids, plus less common stearidonic (SDA) and gamma linoleic (GLA) acids. These fatty acids fight inflammation and protect your heart and immune system.
  • Hemp milk, rich in the above fatty acids, is a great source of protein and calcium — and tastes pretty good, too. Commercial varieties contain fillers and sweeteners, so you may wish to make your own by tossing hemp seeds and water in a blender and straining the mixture through cheesecloth.
  • Hemp makes a great vegan protein powder, high in fiber and lacking in fillers (it’s simply milled hemp seeds). While the powder is not a complete protein, it’s pretty close to perfect in my book.

How To Chow Down

Sprinkle hemp seeds on salads, yogurt or oatmeal, or over rice or veggies. The seeds have a mild flavor, so you’ll mostly notice the crunch. Use hemp oil in low-heat cooking or salad dressings. Hemp milk and protein powder work as easily in cereal as they do in smoothies.

  • Love yourself some dip? Obsess over this one: Hemp-and-chia guacamole is perhaps one of the most delicious things I’ve ever eaten. Try it with bell pepper or jicama slices — you won’t even miss the chips.
  • Once you become a fan, invest in a hemp cookbook to find everything from smoothie to dessert recipes. You’ll be yummily hempin’ it in at breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacktime.
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In The Know

A seed revolution is occuring in our midst. Hemp, chia, flax and canary seeds are excellent, nutrient-rich choices. Since these seeds can be costly and expire quickly (most, like hemp, are best stored in the refrigerator), buy a small bag of one seed and, when finished, switch it up. Each seed has a unique nutritional profile, so enjoy the variety and keep ’em moving by spoon, fork or straw!

Hemp seeds add crunch and nutrition to many dishes. Don’t worry, no THC.