Hemp hearts, or raw shelled hemp seeds, have grown increasingly popular in the nutrition community over the past couple of years. But despite being labeled a superfood by some, they still have a stigma as part of the cannabis family. With all the recent news about hemp and marijuana, we’d like to shed some light on the benefits of pot’s nutritious cousin.
First of all, the hemp plant is legal to consume in the United States. Marijuana and industrial hemp are different varieties of the same plant species, Cannabis sativa L. Marijuana typically contains 3 to 15 percent of the psychoactive ingredient delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) on a dry-weight basis, while industrial hemp contains less than 1 percent, according to the Agriculture Department. (Manitoba Harvest Hemp Foods, a large Canadian manufacturer, says hemp contains 0.001 percent THC and will not cause a psychoactive effect or a false drug test.) Though growing hemp is still banned in most U.S. states, we’re the world’s leading consumer of hemp foods, soaps, lotions and other products.
When it comes to the seed itself, the center, or the heart, is the most nutritious part. It’s an excellent source of vegan protein (containing all essential amino acids), dietary fiber and essential fatty acids (omega 3 and omega 6). Plus, it provides antioxidants, vitamins and minerals. Hemp hearts are credited with providing energy, stabilizing appetite and improving digestion.
Three tablespoons of hemp hearts contain 10 grams of protein, 3 grams of dietary fiber and only 3 grams of carbohydrates. This same serving offers loads of natural minerals and vitamins, including manganese, magnesium, phosphorus, thiamin and zinc, as well as calcium, vitamin B6, folate and riboflavin.
In addition to being nutritional powerhouses, hemp hearts are naturally gluten-free and considered a raw food. They are free of common allergens such as soy and dairy. They’re not a nut, but they are a crunchy and portable option for those with nut allergies looking for a healthful snack with protein. Their taste is similar to that of sunflower seeds, and they can be added to cold or hot cereals, smoothies, yogurt, salads, wraps, desserts, stir-fries and baked goods. Or just eaten right out of the bag.
Combine hemp hearts with cacao powder, dates, walnuts, vanilla and a bit of salt, and you’ve got the perfect on-the-go snack. The cacao and dates satisfy a sweet tooth, and the protein from the hemp and walnuts will keep you full. Even better: This no-bake recipe is quick and easy to whip together. It is extremely heart-healthy and brimming with nutritional benefits, and not just from the hemp.
No-Bake Hemp Brownie Bites
Makes 15 to 18 servings
This no-bake recipe requires only six ingredients. It is extremely heart-healthy and brimming with superfood benefits: These hemp balls contain omega-3 and omega-6 essential fatty acids, antioxidants, protein, fiber, iron, zinc, potassium, magnesium and more. They are raw, vegan and gluten-free, and can be served as a dessert or can be eaten any time of day as an on-the-go breakfast or snack. Their rich chocolate flavor resembles that of a moist brownie. Each ball is rolled in hemp seed for additional benefits.
MAKE AHEAD: The balls can be refrigerated or frozen in an airtight container for several months. For best flavor, chill for 1 to 2 hours before serving.
Raw, shelled hemp seeds and cacao powder can be found at organic grocery stores such as Whole Foods.
2½ ounces raw, shelled hemp seeds (see headnote)
½ cup raw, unsalted walnut pieces
½ cup raw cacao powder (see headnote)
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
24 pitted dates, coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Reserve 2 tablespoons of the hemp seeds in a small bowl.
Combine the remaining hemp seeds, walnuts, cacao powder and salt in mini food processor; pulse for 10 seconds to create a fairly finely ground mixture.
Add half the dates and all of the vanilla extract; grind/puree for about 15 seconds, then add the remaining dates and grind/puree for 15 seconds or until fairly smooth. Transfer to a mixing bowl; use your clean hands to form 15 to 18 balls.
Roll each ball in the reserved hemp seeds so it’s half covered, arranging the balls in a container as you work. They can be served right away but are best when refrigerated for 1 to 2 hours before serving.
Nutrition information: Ingredients are too variable for a meaningful analysis.