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The benefits of hemp seed (No, it won't make you high)
I often get asked why I use the ingredients I do in the original recipes you see in this space. Readers want to know if they really need coconut oil, goji berries, cacao nibs, etc., and other things that most folks don’t have on hand, to truly execute a specific recipe.
You don’t really need these special items to enjoy any of my recipes. Substitutions are totally fine and work well. Olive oil can go in for the coconut oil, dried cranberries or raisins for the goji berries and chocolate chips for the cacao nibs.
But, you might be wondering, if substitutions work so well, why the heck don’t I use the easier-to-find ingredients in the first place? Why even bother to use these specialty items at all?
The answer, my friends, is nutritional diversity.
If we don’t seek out new foods, they almost never find us. And when they do they’re unwelcome, something usually barging in on us when we least want them, but when some well-meaning foodie is eager for you to give it a taste. (Sorry to my friends and family who’ve had me do this to them.)
We Americans are pretty darn predictable. Ask anybody what staples they buy each week, the answers can be pretty standard: Apples, bananas, carrots, bread, milk, cheese, etc. Occasionally, you’ll run into someone who might buy avocados every week, or kefir, or hummus. And, of course, there are those of us with special diets, who might deviate, too.
But the point is, that if you go into almost any freshly stocked kitchen in Lawrence and you’ll see the same sorts of foods over and over. We probably all have about 10 to 20 staples we buy week-in and week-out, no matter if we need them or not.
Which is both good for us and bad for us. Yes, it’s good that every week we buy bananas, because, hey, we all need potassium, but could we benefit from having a different fruit each morning with breakfast? Yes. Instead, you could have an Asian pear, pluot, black raspberries, persimmon, pomegranate seeds — the list goes on and on.
Each of those foods, while maybe not as high in potassium as your daily banana, are high in a variety of nutrients and have an untold number of antioxidants and phytochemicals that our bodies are just dying to absorb.
Add variety — even if it’s just one new food to your cart per week — and gain benefits without doing a major diet overhaul. You might even find a new food you really love.
So, I thought I might occasionally discuss the benefits of the more unusual ingredients that often show up in my recipes. I can talk about what you can sub out for them, but also what their individual benefits are and why you might want to add them to your pantry, counter or fridge.
The first ingredient to get this treatment is one that’s probably pretty misunderstood: Hemp seed.
Yes, it’s hemp as in that hemp. But it’s worth your time for a boatload of reasons.
Why would I want to use it? Hemp seeds are king when it comes to essential fatty acids. These little guys have both a copious amount of omega-3 fatty acids, which are highly anti-inflammatory and usually missing from the standard American diet, and a special omega-6 fatty acid called GLA (gamma-linolenic acid) that is also highly anti-inflammatory. These fats are called “essential” because our bodies can’t manufacture them. We need to ingest them, and the way we currently eat, we’re horribly out of whack. It’s much easier to get omega-6 fatty acids in our diets (most nuts have them), but it’s much more difficult to get omega-3s. Our ratio should be something like 1 to 3, omega-3s to omega-6s, whereas most of us can be so poorly imbalanced that our ratios are more like 1 to 20.
Other benefits: While the good fats in hemp seed are a big reason to add them to your meals and smoothies, they’ve got many other positive characteristics. The seeds are also high in vitamin K and vitamin E, both of which are important for healthy blood. Plus, three tablespoons of hemp seeds gets you 11 grams of protein, 50 percent of your daily magnesium and phosphorus, 25 percent of your daily zinc, and 15 percent of your daily iron.
Uses: Sprinkle on salads, hot cereal or scoop into smoothies. The seeds have a nutty flavor that pairs well with sweet dried or fresh fruit.
Buying it: These days, you can find hemp seeds at many health food stores. Usually, you’ll find them vacuum-packed on a shelf or in the refrigerated section. It’s good to store them in the fridge or the freezer because essential fatty acids are more likely to go bad quickly. I tend to buy my hemp seeds in large three-pound bags online and then keep only a small amount in the fridge for daily use. The rest goes into the freezer, just to make sure I get my money’s worth. If you want to buy just a small amount to see if hemp seed’s for you, check out The Merc, 901 S. Iowa St., which has little tubs of hemp seed for sale in plastic containers in the refrigerated section.
Substitutions: Ground flaxseed, chia seed
Bonus question: Do the seeds contain THC? No. Reputable sellers of the seeds (Nutiva, Manitoba Harvest) test their seeds and hemp oil to make sure they don’t register any THC. Nor can you grow hemp with the seeds. To be sold in the United States, they can no longer be viable.
Now, a little recipe for you to use with your hemp seeds, should you choose to buy some.
Hempy Winter Salad
1 tablespoon hemp seed
Baby spinach or mixed greens
½ cup pomegranate seeds
¼ avocado, chopped
4 Brussels sprouts, de-stemmed and halved
5 garlic-stuffed (or plain) green olives, halved
¼ cup prepared quinoa (or brown rice, millet, couscous, etc.)
Coconut oil or olive oil, for roasting
Minced garlic to taste (I used ½ a teaspoon)
Preheat oven to 425 F. Rub the cut side of the Brussels sprouts with coconut or olive oil and roast on a parchment-lined cookie sheet for 15 to 20 minutes, flipping about halfway through.
When the Brussels sprouts are done, combine all ingredients in a bowl and mash together. Serves 1.