Could hemp milk be the next superfood?

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Hemp milk is legal for external use only in Australia, and is made by blending hulled hemp seeds with water.
Hemp milk is legal for external use only in Australia, and is made by blending hulled hemp seeds with water. Photo: Hemp Foods Australia

New York City. The home of pastrami sandwiches, that thing on Donald Trump's head, and, as of recently, a brand spankin' bar dedicated to breakfast cereal.

Located in Brooklyn's north-west corner, "cereal x" stocks 24 types of cereal including Cheerios and Froot Loops with 25 different toppings (including cookie dough) and five types of milk – whole, skim, chocolate, almond and hemp.

Hang on. Hemp milk? Cannabis on Coco Pops? Well sort of, but not quite.

Hemp milk is made by blending hemp seeds and water, similar to making almond milk. Hemp is a species of cannabis, but unlike marijuana contains zero or negligible levels of the mind-altering chemical compound tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). 

While you won't get high from drinking hemp milk, some claim it could improve your physical health.

"Nutritionally hemp milk is very high in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and is a high-protein milk that contains the full spectrum of amino acids," says Paul Benhaim, who founded the NSW-based Hemp Foods Australia in 2000. "Hemp milk is non-dairy so suitable for vegans and people with allergies."

Nevertheless you might want to think twice about drinking hemp milk, because it is currently illegal to consume food or drinks made from hemp in Australia.

In 2012, Food Standards Australia New Zealand approved an application to permit the inclusion of hemp in food, noting that foods derived from hemp seeds did not present any safety concerns. But in January 2015, food ministers from Australia and New Zealand rejected the FSANZ advice.

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As a result while it's legal to grow industrial hemp (aka cannabis sativa) in Australia and process it, products made using it must be sold as "external-use only". There's a good chance you've seen such products for sale in the skin-care section of your local health food store.

Rub all the hemp milk you want on your face, just don't drink it says the law.

NSW Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham is one politician campaigning to have the ban on consuming food products made from low-THC hemp seeds overturned. The Greens' agricultural spokesman made headlines last week when he told a NSW budget estimates hearing he had broken the law that day by eating cannabis for breakfast.

The nation's food ministers are continuing to investigate the issue of legalising low-THC hemp for food products.

At the Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation in July, it was noted that a working party was looking into "the knowledge gaps identified regarding roadside drug testing, cannabidiol levels, legal and treaty issues".

There are also concerns that marketing hemp as food in Australia and New Zealand may send a "confused message to consumers about the acceptability and safety of cannabis".

The forum will consider a report on the working group's investigation outcomes in early 2016.

Charlene Grosse, an accredited practising dietitian and spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia, agrees that hemp milk would be a good alternative to dairy for people who have lactose intolerance or a nut allergy. However, Grosse also advises against seeking out dairy alternatives if you do have a choice.

"Our recommendation would be that if someone can eat dairy it's best to consume it through milk, cheese and yoghurt as they are nutrient-dense in terms of giving us the vitamins and minerals that we need," she says.

Grosse adds that while hemp milk is indeed high in omega-3, it's a different type of omega-3 to that found in oily fish. "It's the alpha linolenic acid that it's high in, rather than what we call EPA and DHA, which are better for the anti-inflammatory effect."

Nevertheless, if laws are changed and hemp milk does become legal to consume, expect to see a superfood marketing bonanza of chia-seed proportions.

To make hemp milk at home (strictly for skin-care reasons in Australia)

1. Purchase some hemp seeds. Hemp Foods Australia sells organic hulled seeds.

2. Soak the hulled hemp seeds in water overnight (Paul Benhaim recommends two tablespoons of seeds for every cup of water).

3. Place water and seeds in a blender and whiz until the mixture turns a creamy white colour. If prefer your milk extra creamy, simply add a few more hemp seeds.

4. Strain through kitchen cloth or muslin into a big jar.

Note: Hemp milk will keep for two or three days in the fridge.