Although space brownies and other high-inducing baked goods are the first things most people think of when they consider cannabis cookery, there is a long tradition of cooking with hemp in many regions of the world. Many of these traditions still persist, and are increasing in popularity as the hemp industry regains legitimacy.
Hemp in traditional cooking
Non-psychoactive forms of cannabis, generally known as hemp, grow in a great variety of habitats throughout the world. The local inhabitants have utilised hemp seeds in their traditional cooking for countless generations, as they are widely available and cost little to nothing.
Hemp grows abundantly throughout these regions, both under cultivation and in the wild.
Hemp seed has been used for generations by the rural populations of northern Asia and northeast Europe, in China, Mongolia, Russia and Germany and many other present-day nations.
The seeds may be pressed to extract the oil, used whole, or crushed, rolled or ground to produce meal or flour. From these products, a range of porridges, soups, and stews can be created.
As de-hulling techniques are complex and often require machinery, hemp meals and flours made in rural areas are often gritty and heavy due to the presence of crushed hulls; thus, in times of abundance, other grains are preferred, and hemp is particularly prized in times of famine.
Hemp in traditional European diets
In medieval Germany and Italy, hemp seeds and oil were used in a variety of cooked dishes, including soups and filled pies. In traditional hemp growing regions of northeast Europe and the Baltic nations, the local hemp seed is still used for oil, and is also used whole or crushed in various other recipes.
In Latvia, hemp seed foods are eaten during annual Midsummer’s Day celebrations in June, which traditionally marked the most significant date in the Latvian calendar. Hemp seeds are also crushed and added to sweet-cream butter to impart a greenish colour and a ‘bitter-fresh and slightly hazy’ flavour. Traditional hemp butter, known as kanepju pavalgs is still widely enjoyed in Latvia today, and is available at most farmers’ markets and health-food stores.
Hemp butter is typically spread on toast or rye bread, or may be used as an additive in various recipes. Reportedly, chefs also use hemp butter as an ingredient in many local dishes, as it is said to impart a pleasant accent to the overall flavour.
Siemieniatka & kanapiø koðë
Siemieniatka or semianka is a soup based on hemp seeds that is still consumed on Christmas Eve in traditional households in Lithuania and Silesia (a historic region now situated in Poland, the Czech Republic and Germany). The soup is made by simmering whole hemp seeds in water until they begin to burst, draining then crushing them thoroughly, whereby a milky, sap-like substance is produced. The hemp-milk is then combined with cow’s milk, flour, salt, sugar and butter and simmered to produce a thick, creamy soup.
In Lithuania, savoury hemp porridge (kanapiø koðë) is traditionally served on potatoes baked in their skins; the porridge is made by dry-frying and grinding hemp seeds to a fine powder, then simmering flour, salt, pepper, and onion in hot water, removing the mixture from the heat, and stirring in the hemp powder. Hemp milk is also used in place of cow’s milk in Lithuania during certain religious festivals.
Hemp cooking in Asia
Locally-produced hemp seed oil has been used as household cooking oil in rural Nepal for generations, and continues to be used to this day. Indeed, hemp seed oil may often represent the sole source of vegetable oil in some remote and isolated populations.
China, which traditionally styled itself the ‘land of hemp and mulberry’, has a long history of hemp foods. Whole hemp seeds are commonly eaten in many parts of China, raw or roasted, and most food markets carry them, particularly in rural areas. Roasted hemp seeds are popular as a snack food in present-day China—they are also on sale at markets food stands in various cities, and are a common ‘family snack’ eaten at outings and events, much as popcorn is in other parts of the world.
Traditional hemp cuisine in Canada
In Canada, cultivation of hemp was widespread by the 19th century, and prospective migrants were even offered free plots of land and hemp seed to cultivate as an incentive. The Doukhobors, a sect of spiritual Christians that arose in 18th-century Russia, migrated en masse to Canada in the late 19th century to escape persecution in their home country. They brought its traditional uses to the newly-established territories along with the seeds themselves, and even after cannabis was outlawed in 1923, it was widely used in soups, cereals and other foods.
The development of modern cuisine
Many of these traditional recipes use whole hemp seeds that still have their hulls intact. The hard shell, which makes up almost 20% of the weight of the seed, is difficult to remove, and flours and meals produced with whole hemp seed often have a gritty, unpleasant texture.
With the tools and techniques available to traditional rural populations, dehulling hemp seed was not an option. However, recent technological advances have enabled a dehulling process that utilises mechanical separation to produce smooth, grit-free hemp seed ‘hearts’, which can be eaten as is, or further processed into fine-textured, light and airy flours and meals.
Hemp foods are increasing in popularity once more, as knowledge of their nutritional value spreads. As well as providing a good basis for a healthy diet, hemp’s various properties can help to ameliorate a range of lifestyle diseases and disorders. While the trend for cooking with medical cannabis has become de rigeur, it is important not to forget the many benefits that hemp cooking can provide.