The strength and durability of hemp fibre is well known, leading to a number of textile applications. Hemp oil has features that make it a very attractive ingredient in the cosmetics industry, as well.
Now, thanks to a growing body of research, the nutritional value of hemp seeds is also being proven, adding yet another dimension to the crop's tremendous value-added potential.
The Canadian Hemp Trade Alliance ( CHTA ) is spearheading a comprehensive research and market development program, the goal of which is to sustain the industry's current rapid growth by establishing and disseminating science-based information about the crop's dietary attributes.
"We're tracking retail sales of hemp products and, overall, the markets here and in the United States have been growing consistently by about 30 per cent per year since 2001," said Gero Leson, an environmental scientist and consultant.
The CHTA received some help in its efforts through the Saskatchewan Ministry of Agriculture's Agriculture Development Fund ( ADF ), which provided funding towards one of the organization's research initiatives looking at the nutritional characteristics of hemp seeds.
Leson served as a principal investigator for the project.
"The ADF project focused on the fatty acid composition of hemp oil, as well as select micronutrients, mainly the relevant minerals and vitamins.
There were a couple of minor compounds we looked at, too, such as flavonoids and phytosterols," he said.
The research analyzed a number of samples, covering the four commercially relevant hemp varieties grown in Canada and one emerging variety.
"The first finding was that hemp oil offers a highly balanced fatty acid spectrum, particularly its content of omega-3 fatty acids. It's the balance between omega-3 and omega-6 that makes hemp oil unique and particularly attractive compared to other crops," he said.
"It's also the presence of two 'higher' omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids not commonly present in other natural oilseeds that adds another good quality."
Also found was that hemp seeds offer a veritable bonanza of the nutrients which are often lacking in the common North American diet. The product is a very good source of phosphorous, magnesium, manganese and iron, and a good source of potassium and zinc. Hemp seeds are also good sources of vitamin B1 and folic acid, as well as several phytosterols.
Companion studies coordinated by the CHTA have likewise found that hemp protein is very balanced and easily digestible, further enhancing its nutritional characteristics, and, because of these qualities, Leson says hemp stacks up quite well in comparative studies with other nuts and oilseeds.
"Hemp is just a little more of a powerhouse," he stated. "It's higher in most of the relevant nutrients, and its protein quality is higher in general."
Given what he has seen from the crop, Leson feels hemp offers excellent value-added opportunity for the agricultural community.
"I really believe there is great potential in foods because the nutritional composition is just so much in line with a couple of the major trends in nutritional science," he said.
"The one concern would be that competition for acreage with other crops, and rising hemp seed prices may put a little dent into those prospects, but I guess that's the same for a number of other commodities.
Overall, I think our work is showing that there is very nice potential for the crop to grow."
The fact that commercial hemp farming remains illegal in the United States gives Canada a real leg up to cash in on that.
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Pubdate: Mon, 14 Apr 2008
Source: World-Spectator, The (CN SN)
Copyright: 2008 The World-Spectator.
Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/find?330 (Hemp - Outside U.S.)