- More than 30 nations around the world grow hemp
- Total production across all European countries in 2015 was nearly 250 million pounds – about two thirds of global production
- Hemp derivatives are used to make a variety of products, including granola, protein flour and health supplements
- The seeds are said to be a source of iron and fibre, while omega-3 and omega-6 is also abundant in the oil
It may be a species of cannabis, but smoking or eating hemp in any form won't get you high.
Instead, the marijuana relative – officially known as cannabis sativa – will add a nutty, earthy flavour to dishes featuring its seeds, oil or flour, as well as offering some health benefits.
Hemp is a hardy plant that will grow practically anywhere and proves a versatile ingredient, with it increasingly appearing on menus around the globe.
In Italian cooking, hemp flour, created by milling the seeds, is being used to make pasta, bread and – as we can see with growing vegan pizza group Purezza – even pizza dough, while the oil is used as a dressing or a dip.
Toasted hemp seeds add texture and a “deep nutty flavour” to dishes, says Joe Hill, group executive chef at Passo in London, who sprinkles them in a salad, but they are equally at home atop soup or even porridge.
And this wonder-plant's work isn't quite finished: the seeds can also be steeped in water and blended to make a milk, as you would with almonds, which can then be drunk or used in cooking.
Joe Hill, group executive chef at Passo, uses hemp seeds in the restaurant's green goddess salad: “The green goddess salad is something I came up with when travelling in LA. Green goddess dressing is really popular in the US, especially Los Angeles, where they make it with mayonnaise, anchovies, garlic, tarragon, parsley and mint. At Passo, we’ve made it healthier by using yogurt instead of mayonnaise and omit anchovies to make it vegetarian-friendly. We use seasonal ingredients that are all green in colour for the salad, such as rocket, various lettuces, green tomatoes, avocado, basil leaves, parsley and spring onions. We then add croutons and mix with our version of green goddess dressing and top with toasted pumpkin and hemp seeds. The hemp seeds provide a great, deep nutty flavour and texture to the salad. As they are toasted they almost pop in your mouth and work really well alongside the pumpkin seeds. You get this lovely crunch and punch to the salad.”
Isaac Bartlett-Copeland, owner of Isaac At, uses hemp oil in a pre-starter of carrot soup: “At the moment we've got some amazing huge carrots which we're using for our pre-starter, which is a soup of carrot, Alexander bud, hemp oil and black pepper. We juice the carrots and muddle in the locally foraged Alexander bud to give it flavour without making it bitter, then drizzle hemp oil over it and add black pepper. We hadn't originally planned to use hemp oil, but our supplier brought in some Vitality Hemp Seed Oil, produced naturally at the foot of the South Downs in West Sussex. It adds a creaminess and has a dynamic flavour profile, bringing another dimension to the dish. It’s got quite a floral flavour, similar to burdock, which is why it goes so well with the Alexander bud.”
Tim Barclay, co-founder and managing director of Purezza, uses hemp flour to create a hemp sourdough, which is used as a pizza base. “It's a recipe that uses our standard sourdough recipe as a base, which is already unique as it contains healthier and richer type 2 wheat flour, but our hemp dough replaces some of the wheat flour with hemp flour. It cooks just the same as our standard sourdough in the pizza oven, and is functionally the same as our standard wheat sourdough. The main benefits are in the taste and health factors to the dough. The taste is also nuttier, deeper and richer than standard sourdough. It tastes fantastic in a pizza, and pairs really well with Italian tomato sauce. All our pizzas taste great with a hemp base, but the very best are those with strong flavours of their own to balance the hemp such as the Pesto Manifesto or the Parmigiana Party.”