Hemp's status as the next budding superfood is well founded - as well as trumping flax and chia seed for plant sources of omega-3 and -6 fatty acids, a recent study found hemp oil produced from pressed seeds contained 55% linoleic, 16% alphalinolenic and 11% oleic acid, vitamins A, C, E and beta-carotene.
Tom Vierhile of Datamonitor said the benefits don't stop there: “Better yet, hemp seed is on the right side of two of today’s hottest nutritional concerns.
"First, it is regarded as a complete source of protein because it contains all ten essential amino acids and has them in the correct ratio for the body to use most efficiently.
"Second, hemp seed is gluten-free and is not known to cause any food allergies.”
A marketing challenge?
But is it challenging to market a product that is undeniably linked to an illegal drug?
Mintel analyst Stephanie Pauk said that education would be critical for hemp to overcome its association with marijuana.
In the meantime, however, Latvian company Lecavnieks which produces hemp butter, found that it could use the risqué association to its advantage by creating a buzz.
Spokesperon Lelde Blažēvica told NutraIngredients: “It’s more of a humorous kind of thing. When we launched last year’s marketing campaign (...) many young people talked about it on social media.
"We put a hemp leaf in the advertisement, which maybe made some of the population think that we are adding this illegal drug in our product. So, we could say that the mistaken connection to the drug works in a beneficial way.”
Similarly Irina Tanina, co-owner of Italian company GVM which produces hemp seed coffee Cannabissimo, said that the ingredient name caught consumers’ attention.
“The name was chosen both to intrigue – to let understand to everybody the coffee’s composition – and to give the idea of an Italian product. The world knows the Italian suffix -issimo conveys the idea of uniqueness.”
But while they may play with this idea of legality, both said that they clearly stated on the packaging and the websites that the products were 100% legal and did not contain THC, the psychoactive ingredient found in marijuana.
Even so, could a packet decorated with marijuana leaves alienate older people – leaving manufacturers with a consumer base limited to hippies and teenagers?
Not so, said Blažēvica: “The older generation, which recognises old traditions and came into contact with hemp seeds in the past, are happy to use this product.
”Hemp seeds had been forgotten for many years [but] have made a breakthrough in recent years,” she added.
And with hemp seeds certified for human consumption, Blažēvica said that they had not met any legislative hurdles.
“In the more distant past when we used to cultivate hemp seeds ourselves there were inspections from the responsible institutions, such as the Rural Support Service of of Latvia," she said.
"[But] in recent years we have not encountered any particular difficulties from the Latvian government or the European Union.”
Tanina said that GVM, which sources its hemp from growers in the UK and Germany, sold Cannabissimo coffee across Europe, the US and Canada although not in Australia, where hemp is illegal.
According to Mintel data, global food and drink product launches with a hemp ingredient jumped from 12% in 2009 to 39% in 2013.
Hemp seed led the way as an ingredient appearing in 78% of products, followed by hemp protein at 13% and hemp oil at 8%.
NutraIngredients’ Omega-3 forum – April 8. Head winds & trade wins
Tap the latest from the industry and scientific frontiers in the ever-changing and expansive omega-3 space in a no-holds barred debate on April 8.
It’s a €25bn sector but can it keep growing amid scientific and sustainability challenges? Misappropriated research? Plant v marine? Emerging v Emerged markets? Changing demographics.
Tune in to find out…simple registration available here.