Let There Be Hemp gluten-free chips – which feature whole hemp seeds as the #1 ingredient and pack in 6g protein and 3g fiber per serving – debuted in Fairway Market on the east coast in March, and have since picked up distribution in just under 1,000 stores including Kings Food Markets, Sprouts, and Wegmans, with an e-commerce launch planned for 2021.
Co-founded by product formulator and gluten-free baking specialist Chad White (VP of product innovation) and Mike Goose (CEO), who spent his formative years at Hain Celestial, the New York-based startup is initially focused on chips. However, White has already developed a wide array of prototypes that could be commercialized down the road.
“We’re looking at pretzels and crackers," he told FoodNavigator-USA. “But I’ve also been experimenting with a single screw extruder to make hemp puff, which has never been done before. We’re also looking at hemp butters and in the long term, we’re looking at cheeses, yogurt, tofu and really anything that’s been made out of soy, we can make out of hemp.
“We’re fractionating hemp, and we’ve developed a special press that allows us to remove oil out of the hemp hearts, not pressing the whole seed. We’re not grinding the seed with the hull on, we’re de-hulling it and then pressing the oil out of the hearts, which has involved some IP, and it’s allowed us to create products that have never been done before.
“We’re also in the process of fermenting a hemp sauce as a soy sauce replacement.”
Goose added: “I think there’s huge white space here from a culinary standpoint.”
We’d email a major retailer and they’d come back and say, 'We don’t do anything with marijuana'
From hemp milk and hemp hearts to hemp oil and oatmeal, retailers have been selling foods and beverages utilizing hempseeds (which do not contain CBD or THC*) for years, observed Goose.
But thanks to the recent surge of interest in CBD and other cannabinoids found in the aerial parts of the hemp plant (flowers/stems/leaves) - which right now are permitted as food ingredients in some states but not others – some retailers and consumers, not surprisingly, see the word ‘hemp’ on a product, and wonder what exactly they’re getting, he said.
In part, this reflects ongoing confusion between industrial hemp and marijuana/cannabis, but also reflects the fact that many firms adding CBD and other cannabinoids from hemp flower to their wares have used the generic term ‘hemp’ on pack to avoid regulatory scrutiny (as the FDA says hemp-derived CBD is not a legal ingredient in foods or supplements as it was first investigated as a drug), added Goose.
“We’d email a major retailer and they’d come back and say, 'We don’t do anything with marijuana.’ If you search my inbox you’ll probably find a thousand emails saying, ‘Industrial hemp is not marijuana.’ Sometimes it’s comical, but sometimes it’s frustrating and unbelievable.
“We’re always going into Instacart and taking a screenshot of hemp [seed] products they’re already selling, whether it’s hemp hearts or protein powders in the personal care or supplement section or cereals or plant-based milks with hemp in.”
Facebook and Instagram
He added: “Facebook and Instagram also won’t let us advertise, it’s part of their policy, as they lock hemp into the cannabis category, and they don’t differentiate. We also had issues in the past with Florida, where we were told we had to put QR codes on all of our products [a rule that applies to products containing ingestible CBD, but not to products made with hemp seeds].
“Fortunately we were able to bring to their attention that it was a mistake, but we’re very used to these challenges.”
* Some hemp seed-derived ingredients can contain trace amounts of CBD or THC, which the seeds may pick up during harvesting and processing when they are in contact with other parts of the plant.
Hemp seeds have strong nutritional credentials, containing 25-35% protein; fiber; the short chain omega-3 fatty acid ALA; plus a small amount of the lesser-known fatty acids gamma-linoleic acid (GLA), which has anti-inflammatory properties; and stearidonic acid (SDA), which the body converts into the heart-healthy longer chain fatty acid EPA more efficiently than it converts ALA.
Industrial hemp also has strong sustainability credentials, growing with little water and fewer inputs than other oilseed crops.