What is Hemp Seed and Is it Considered a Grain?

Harvested hemp seed is often referred to as a grain, but it is not a true grain like barley or wheat, which are members of the Poaceae family. Hemp is an oil crop, similar to sunflowers, canola or flax, and can be preserved whole or crushed to obtain its oil. It is also a nutrient-rich food that can be eaten in its whole form. Hemp seeds are packed with omega-3 fatty acids and protein, making them a nutritious and delicious snack.

Hemp seeds can be eaten raw, cooked, or roasted. They can also be ground and boiled into porridge, often with rice or another grain. Botanically speaking, hemp seeds are actually hard-shelled, single-seeded fruits (called achenes). The soft, white grain inside that nourishes its own embryo or the animal that eats it is the “seed”.

Some research has suggested links between hemp seeds and health benefits, but these studies tend to use extracts with high concentrations. This is because most of the hemp bean cultivars on the market were developed in Canada and are adapted to the long lengths of days experienced in the northernmost latitudes. Hemp grain is mostly produced in the United States, with field reports stating that hemp beans are grown in Washington, Colorado, Kentucky, Illinois, Indiana and North Carolina. In order for dual-purpose hemp cultivation for grains and fiber to be successful, complementary dual-purpose processing facilities for efficient production would likely be required.

To remove the hard outer shells of seeds at home, a person can use a mortar or a food processor. Hemp grain processors should consider other oilseed ingredients that are commonly used in processed foods and how those ingredients have been developed to have certain characteristics (such as taste, mouthfeel, the way they are emulsified, and other factors) that are desirable for food manufacturers as well as for companies that produce body care products. Yields of hemp grain per acre can range from approximately 1,000 pounds in drylands (22 bushels per acre in a 44-pound bushel) to up to 3,000 pounds per acre in irrigated fields. We have identified IND Hemp in Montana, Healthy Oilseeds in North Dakota and Victory Hemp Foods in Kentucky, as well as Evo Hemp in Colorado. Victory does buy hemp beans in cash from farmers who grew them speculatively.Tracy Rice from New Mexico believes that farmers should be able to grow dual-purpose hemp that can be processed both for grains and for fiber to make the company more lucrative.

Calvin Trostle from Texas A&M gave the hypothetical example of a farmer who harvests hemp early for more flexible fibers, resulting in immature seeds. The nutritional value of hemp seed is quite extraordinary since it contains between 20 and 25 percent of easily digestible edesthion-type proteins, between 20 and 30 percent of carbohydrates and between 25 and 35 percent of edible oil. It also contains between 10 and 15 percent of insoluble fiber which passes through the digestive tract and serves as forage. Hemp seed has received GRAS status (generally recognized as safe) by the U. S., making it an even more attractive option for those looking to add it to their diet.

Kelli Prellwitz
Kelli Prellwitz

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