No, me neither, but organic hemp milk is on its way to join the lactational secretions of soya beans, rice grains and almonds on the supermarket shelves in the US.
Hemp Bliss is the latest product line to be promoted by the Canadian organic hemp manufacturer Manitoba Marvest. The line already includes hemp oil, hemp butter, hemp protein powder, but this latest development is going up against heavy competition. In a week which has seen the UK’s dairy industry exhaustively promoting the benefits of milk and milk products, The North American market for dairy milk alternatives is reported to be worth around $1bn.
So where does Hemp Bliss fit in? Manitoba Harvest, which claims to be the world’s only fully integrated organic hemp-only foods manufacturer (however surprising that may seem) claim that people with nut allergies, soybean sensitivity or concerns about soy agriculture* are crying out for an alternative to the alternative to dairy. Imagine being lactose intolerant, allergic to milk proteins and sensitive to soy…what would you put on your cornflakes? Hemp milk also stands out among its peers in terms of its high content of the omega-3 fatty acid alpha linolenic acid. However, enthusiasts looking for other ‘benefits’ of hemp seed milk will be disappointed – commercially grown hemp seed is only permitted legally because of the minimal quantities of cannabinols compared to its more notorious cousin, Cannabis sativa L.
While it is easy to make light of plant ‘milks’, the market in Western Europe was reported to be worth €375m (£249.5m) in 2004 and these products have a very healthy image. The dairy industry has even made attempts to compete itself, by adding the benefits of soy milk to some yogurts.
If, like me, you were a little unsure about how to milk a soybean, rice grain, almond or hemp seed, it seems that these seed milks are produced quite simply by soaking the seeds in water overnight, then grinding them with a little water into a very fine mush (technical term), the filtrate of which can then be stabilised into a milk-like emulsion with more water using natural plant-based emulsifiers to stop it splitting. Then it’s fortified with calcium, magnesium and some vitamins to bring its nutritional profile a little closer to the old-fashioned cow-based variety and often flavoured, since plant milks in their ‘natural’ state it can be something of an acquired taste and can spoil a good cup of tea.
Looking through the CAB Abstracts database, it seems that you can milk almost any type of oilseed or cereal. Some of the more interesting ones include oat milk from Scandinavia, caraway ‘milk’ and even carrot ‘milk’, presumably for baby carrots. I found the search string ‘milk substitutes NOT (infant or breast milk or QQ010)’ worked best and eliminated animal and human milks. If you’re more interested in the growing hemp foods market, something along the lines of ‘hemp AND (QQ500 or QQ600 or QQ1*)’ produced quite a promising crop of records. A few of my favourites are listed below.
*Hemp agriculture is thought to be more acceptable to those consumers sensitive to environmental issues. Hemp requires very little water, no herbicides and is believed to stimulate soil.
Frolich, W. (1996). Oatmilk – a food involving special know-how? (Original Title: "Havremelk" – en matvare med mer kunnskap?) Meieriposten, Vol. 85, No. 11, pp. 316-317.
Lightowler and Davies (1998). The vegan dairy. Nutrition & Food Science No 2/3, pp. 153-157.
Leson (2006). Hemp foods in North America, status and joint industry research. Journal of Industrial Hemp, Volume 11, No. 1, pp. 87-93.
Callaway (2004). Hempseed as a nutritional resource: an overview. Euphytica, Vol. 140 No.1 / 2, pp. 65-72.
Lachenmeier (2004). Hemp food products – a problem? (Original title: Hanfhaltige Lebensmittel – ein Problem?). Deutsche Lebensmittel-Rundschau Vol. 100, No. 12, pp. 481-490.
Callaway (2002). Hemp as food at high latitudes. Journal of Industrial Hemp Vol. 7, No. 1, pp. 105-117.
Leizer et al. (2000). The composition of hemp seed oil and its potential as an important source of nutrition. Journal of Nutraceuticals, Functional & Medical Foods Vol. 2, No. 4, pp. 35-53.
Harland, J. (2002). The rise of soya foods. Food Science & Technology Vol. 16, No. 2, pp. 28-34.