01 February 2009

A Healthy Hit from Hemp?


Have you ever considered cooking with hemp? Recently I have seen several articles extolling the dietary virtues of this notorious plant. While my first thought, when cooking with hemp is mentioned, is of the kind of "special brownies" Hyde made for the garage sale episode on "That 70's Show", it seems that hemp has recently turned over a new leaf. The strain of hemp now popularly sold for its nutritional value contains only trace elements of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive ingredient cannabis is known for. Instead these new hemp products are said to pack a healthy hit of quality protein and other desirable nutrients.

While reading Lelo in Nopo this week I learned that Bob’s Red Mill, one of my favorite local sources of all kinds of wonderful ingredients, is now selling Hulled Hemp Seed. On The Mill Room, there is a recipe for Hemp No Meat Loaf and Lelo posted a recipe for Chocolate Deluxe Hemp Nuggets which she promises are chewy and rich and packed with not only protein but Omega fatty acids and iron as well.

Hemp can also be found in a variety of tempting products which have come on the market in the past few years including Dagoba Organic Chocolate's "Seeds" bar, Hempmilk, a non-dairy beverage similar to soy milk, as well as packaged granola and baked goods. All tout the health benefits of a diet rich in hemp. I have to admit, I'm curious.

First I have to wonder - when exactly was hemp, a common name for cannabis, transformed from that substance warned of in the famously cultic cautionary tale "Reefer Madness" into the latest superfood discovery? When did it lose its association with THC and become known as a nutritional powerhouse featuring complete proteins to rival soy, not to mention significant amounts of Omega fatty acids, gamma-linoleic acid, vitamins and trace minerals? Isn't it interesting how times change?


That reminded me of an interesting discovery I made while in Switzerland this past summer. On the shores of Lake Geneva I spent a whole wonderful week riding the punctual trains in that clockwork country from amazing scenic town to amazing scenic town.

Attracted to vending machines, as ever, I checked out the contents of every one I passed. For the most part I saw vending machines only at train stations and at every train station, along with familiar items one might see in the US, they contained bright orange cartons of C-Ice, sporting a large green cannabis leaf and an ice cube on the front of the packaging. Above the leaf was the C-Ice name and the subtext, “Ice Tea with Swiss Cannabis.”

Of course the first thing that went through my American mind was, “Is this legal?” The second was, “Why have I never heard of this before?” I have been to Switzerland several times and my oldest son lived there for almost a year. While I have heard that the Swiss have a somewhat relaxed view of cannabis, I was pretty sure that consumption was still illegal so it surprised me to see this product marketed in every train station I passed through. It was a puzzle and I was intrigued.


Back in my hotel room I did some research. I found that C-Ice was introduced in 2003 and is now marketed in a number of countries across Europe and Asia. It met with some resistance in Great Britain but is available there none the less. It is marketed as a "healthy, functional" beverage, much like energy or sports drinks but with one difference, a big cannabis leaf in the logo. I also learned that, despite it’s approach to marketing, it actually contains negligible amounts of THC.

Ever curious, I decided to try one. The next day at the train station I found the correct change in Swiss Francs and bought a carton. I liked the taste okay. I would say I prefer it over American style carbonated beverages but I'm not really a fan of sweet drinks. The taste was similar to sweetened iced tea I might buy in a bottle or can at home but without the fruity notes. I would also have to say that it left that same filmy aftertaste. I really prefer an unsweetened iced tea drink like you can find in practically every vending machine in Japan.


Though I didn’t love it I was glad I tried it. The packaging was bright and cheerful and edgy even if the drink itself tasted ordinarily sweet and uninspired. I would have to say that I liked it better than the energy drinks I have sampled in the US and it smelled better than my youngest son’s soft drinks of choice.

Now that hemp is being widely sold as a nutritional product in the US perhaps we will soon see this product introduced as a nutritional drink in this country. The website claims it strengthens the immune system and reduces susceptibility to infectious diseases, not to mention the rich nutritional value it offers. Still I bet the packaging will need some tweaking before it finds wide acceptance in this market.

9 comments:

LeLo said...

Fascinating. And it all makes sense now: I'm 50% Swiss. It must be in my genes. ;)

Ricki said...

We've been able to get hulled hemp seeds (with no THC content!) here for a few years, as they're grown here in Manitoba, I think. I love hemp and toss seeds onto salads, into cookies, etc. I've also just discovered a wonderful hemp milk by the same company (Living Harvest) called Hempure which actually tastes delicious!

Cathy said...

Very interesting post, Lisa. Thanks for all the info. I need to make a trip to The Red Mill so will check it out.

Ivy said...

You learn something new everyday!
:)
Thanks Lisa!

Bunny said...

Well, if it tastes like most soft drinks and is nothing outstanding as far as taste goes, I can only imagine that kids in the US would buy it simply because of the hemp plant on it, you know kids don't really think about nutritional value! Very interesting post, I learned something today!

noble pig said...

Wow, I learn something new everytime I visit a blog. I love that.

Robin Sue said...

What a neat post. I have seen hemp in lotions and such but never food products. It is funny of things change. I think vending machines in other countries are a lot of fun.

Paula said...

Well here's my something new for the day!

Sylvie said...

I've recently had some hemp beer. I'm not to sure about it's special nutritional values though. ;0)