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On supermarket shelves, hemp is the new soy - It is showing up in energy bars, waffles, veggie burgers and pizza
By: Pamela Durkin, Vancouver Sun (CN BC), 04-06-05


VICTORIA - Fashion runways aren't the only places you can spot trends. You can also find them strolling down supermarket aisles.

The latest one offered up by the food industry is hemp. Fans say hemp is poised to become the new soy, and if Vitamin Shop customer Joanie Anderson is any indication, they might be right.

"I used to use soy in my morning shake, but I read on the Internet that it might interfere with my thyroid medication so I switched to hemp," says Anderson.

Hemp has been around for years -- as far back as 8,000 BC. But most consumers associate it with textiles, not with food, but not any more. Hemp's latest incarnation as the base for many nutritious food products is creating renewed interest in the plant and changing its controversial image. Hemp is showing up in a dizzying array of products -- waffles, energy bars, veggie burgers, pizza, bread, salad dressings and ice cream, to name a few.

Once maligned and even banned due to an incorrect association with its distant, mind-altering cousin marijuana, hemp has shed much of its illicit cachet -- in Canada at least. "Many U.S. grocery chains still shy away from buying products that contain hemp," says David Neuman, vice-president of sales and marketing for Richmond-based Nature's Path Foods. "Within Canada, this is much less of an issue. Most consumers in both the health and mainstream channels understand the benefits of hemp. Our HempPlus Granola is our No. 1-selling granola in Canada."

There is, in fact, no scientific cause for concern about hemp. The industrial hemp grown in Canada is grown from specially bred cannabis seeds, regulated by Health Canada, that contain undetectable levels of THC -- the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

"You couldn't get high if you smoked an acre of it," laughs Richard Plotnikoff, director of the Canadian Hemp Corp. Based in Sidney, Plotnikoff's company produces hemp oil, hemp nuts (hulled hemp seeds) and OmegaHemp energy bars. In addition, CHC educates prospective farmers about the cultivation of hemp and guides them through the regulation process with Health Canada.

Like Neuman, Plotnikoff is impressed by the hemp-friendly attitude in Canada, and particularly Victoria. "Hemp is becoming so mainstream here we've got 90-year-old grandmothers buying our OmegaHemp bars."

Plotnikoff adds that sales are stronger at the Victoria Health Show than at other shows, demonstrating that the residents are particularly health conscious.

Janet Bol, manager of Planet Organic, says, "People like the nutty, crunchy flavour of hemp nuts [shelled seeds]. Customers put them on salads, in yogurt, on their cereal and they enjoy the slightly nutty, rich flavour of the oil too. It makes great salad dressing."

Perhaps the item creating the biggest buzz within the hemp industry and among consumers is hemp protein powder. With mad cow disease, Avian Bird Flu, PCBs in fish and genetically altered soy all making headlines, it's not surprising that people are looking for safe, healthy protein alternatives.

Proponents say they'll find just what they're looking for in hemp. The edible portion of hemp -- the shelled seed -- is an excellent source of protein. Its overall protein content of 34.6 grams per 100 grams is comparable to that of soybeans and better than that found in nuts, other seeds and dairy products.

Most of the hemp grown in Canada comes from the Prairies, but Plotnikoff has had farmers from the Comox Valley express interest in growing the hard plant.

© 2005 H.U.M.A.N.: Hemp Users Medical Access Network - Toronto Medical Marijuana