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growing hemp seeds for food

Growing hemp seeds for food
Hemp plants grow brown popcorn kernel-sized hard seeds. Inside these hard seeds lie soft, white or light green inner kernels that are packed with essential amino acids, protein, and omega-3 fatty acids. You can’t really derive a lot of nutritional value from the unhulled seeds, so when you see a bag at the store labeled “hemp seeds,” what you’re actually buying is those soft inner kernels, also known as hemp hearts. Hemp hearts can be pressed to make hemp seed oil, leaving behind a byproduct that can be turned into hemp protein powder. You can find all of these hemp products at health food stores, or a well-stocked grocery store like Whole Foods.

Everything You Need to Know About How to Eat Hemp Seeds

Hemp seeds are considered one of the most valuable plant-based proteins out there. Here’s what you need to know about how to eat them.

As far as the nut and seed world goes, hemp seeds are like the straight-A student who’s also captain of the football team. A couple of spoonfuls of hemp seeds packs a serious amount of essential nutrients, they’re easy to eat and cook with, and they have a pleasantly nutty taste, like a cross between a sunflower seed and a pine nut. And no, they won’t get you remotely high. Here’s everything you need to know about how to buy and eat these little seeds.

So, Will Eating Hemp Get Me High?

Although hemp and marijuana are members of the same species, Cannabis sativa, they’re in effect completely different plants. There are about a dozen varieties of hemp plants that are grown for food, and all of them contain about 0.001 percent Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the main psychoactive ingredient in marijuana. This means you can eat as much hemp as you want and you’ll never have to worry about getting high or failing a drug test. Although certain states have begun to legalize the cultivation of industrial hemp in the last couple of years, the hemp seeds you can find at your grocery or health food store were likely grown in Canada or China.

What You Need to Know

Hemp plants grow brown popcorn kernel-sized hard seeds. Inside these hard seeds lie soft, white or light green inner kernels that are packed with essential amino acids, protein, and omega-3 fatty acids. You can’t really derive a lot of nutritional value from the unhulled seeds, so when you see a bag at the store labeled “hemp seeds,” what you’re actually buying is those soft inner kernels, also known as hemp hearts. Hemp hearts can be pressed to make hemp seed oil, leaving behind a byproduct that can be turned into hemp protein powder. You can find all of these hemp products at health food stores, or a well-stocked grocery store like Whole Foods.

How to Eat It

Eating shelled hemp seeds, or hemp hearts, is as simple as sprinkling a spoonful or two into smoothies or on top of cereal, salads, or yogurt, says Kelly Saunderson of Manitoba Harvest Hemp Foods, the world’s largest hemp foods manufacturer. People with gluten sensitivity can use hemp seeds as a substitute for breadcrumbs to coat chicken or fish. Just like you can blend almonds and water to make almond milk, you can do the same with hemp seeds for hemp seed milk, which you can use as an alternative to dairy milk in drinks and recipes. And because of its nutty flavor, hemp seeds make a great substitute for people with nut allergies—you can dry-toast them over low heat to bring out even more of that nuttiness.

Hemp seed oil should be used as a finishing oil, rather than a cooking or frying oil, since the delicate omega fatty acids will break down during the cooking process, stripping the oil of its nutritional benefits. Instead, use it to make salad dressings, or drizzle over pasta, grilled veggies, or popcorn.

Sprinkle a spoonful of hemp seeds over anything you think could use a boost of protein. Flickr/infinebalance

Health Benefits

Hemp seeds have long been prized as a high-quality source of plant-based protein and omega fatty acids. A single serving of hemp seeds, about two heaping tablespoons, provides 10 grams of protein and 10 grams of omegas. Hemp also packs in all nine essential amino acids, which we need to get through diet since our bodies don’t produce them naturally. Hemp seed oil, which is the oil derived from pressed hemp seeds, contains the most essential fatty acids of any nut or seed oil. Of the three main hemp products on the market—seeds, oil, and protein powder—hemp seeds will provide the broadest spectrum of nutritional benefits per serving.

Buying Tips

Hemp is rich in omega fatty acids, which are prone to breaking down and spoiling. The one thing you want to look for when buying a bag of hemp seeds is a totally opaque package that doesn’t have a window for you to look at the actual seeds. A window means the contents of the bag are being exposed to light, which means it’s likelier those omegas will spoil quicker and go rancid. Also look for a “packaged on” or “best before” date on the bag and buy the newest product you can find. This will help prolong your hemp seeds’ freshness.

How to Store

Once open, put the package or its contents in an airtight container and refrigerate or freeze it to extend the shelf life. Once opened, you can expect a bag of hemp seeds to last for about a year in the refrigerator or freezer. If you keep a package in your pantry, however, that shelf life will be more like 3 to 4 months. If you give your bag of seeds a sniff and they smell rancid, toss them.

The level of THC and CBD permitted in low-THC hemp seeds and hemp seed food products is too low to have a medicinal or psychoactive effect.

Hemp seed as food

Information about growing, manufacturing and selling low-THC hemp seed as food.

Latest update: Low-THC hemp seed as food

  • Growing, manufacture and sale of low-THC hemp seeds as food is now permitted.
  • You need to meet the requirements of theMisuse of Drugs (Industrial Hemp) Regulations 2006 – for activities involving whole seeds you must have a licence.
  • You must also meet Food Safety requirements and Ministry of Primary Industries requirements
  • Hemp seeds and hemp seed food products are not medicines. Health and nutrition content claims cannot be made about CBD

Hemp and its seeds

Industrial hemp is varieties of Cannabis sativa that have a tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content generally below 0.35 percent.

Industrial hemp is captured by the “cannabis plant” entry listed in Schedule 3 Part I of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975. Industrial hemp also contains CBD (cannabidiol).

THC is a psychoactive substance found in cannabis plants.

CBD is a substance found in cannabis that has potential therapeutic value, with little or no psychoactive properties.

Hemp seeds do not contain THC or CBD. Other parts of the hemp plant (eg, leaves and flowers) contain THC and CBD which could contaminate the seed if not processed correctly.

What you need to know

The Misuse of Drugs (Industrial Hemp) Regulations 2006 have been updated to allow low-THC hemp seeds to be grown, manufactured and sold as food products.

The level of THC and CBD permitted in low-THC hemp seeds and hemp seed food products is too low to have a medicinal or psychoactive effect.

The only part of the hemp plant that can be used for food is the seeds.

The permission to cultivate, manufacture and sell low-THC hemp seeds as food has no impact on the restrictions on medical cannabis products.

Terms used on this page

Whole hemp seeds have their outer coat on. Any activity (eg, growing, retail) that involves whole hemp seeds, requires a licence issued by Medicines Control.

Hulled hemp seeds are seeds with the outer coat or hull removed that are not able to germinate. A licence from Medicines Control is not required if your activities start with hulled non-viable hemp seeds.

Hemp seed food products have been produced from hemp seeds for example, hemp seed protein powder and hemp seed cookies. A licence from Medicines Control is not required if your activities start with hemp seed food products.

Importing or exporting hemp seeds and hemp seed food products

If you are importing whole hemp seeds (seeds with their outer coat on) you need an import or export licence under the Misuse of Drugs Regulations from Medicines Control.

You do not need a licence from Medicines Control if you are importing or exporting hulled, non-viable hemp seeds and hemp seed food products.

Whatever type of hemp seed or hemp seed food product you are importing or exporting, you must also meet New Zealand Food Safety requirements. These include having to be registered as a Food Importer with MPI and biosecurity rules. See link to

  • More information can be found on the MPI website: Hemp seed as food

Growing hemp to use the seeds as food products

You need a general licence issued by Medicines Control under the Misuse of Drugs (Industrial Hemp) Regulations 2006, with cultivation listed as an activity:

To grow hemp for commercial use you have to grow an ‘approved cultivar’. Link to approved cultivar page The Industrial Hemp Regulations set the allowable limits of THC (given as a % of the dry weight of the plant) of generally below 0.35% and not more than 0.50% in hemp plants.

You also need to be registered under the Food Act with the Ministry of Primary Industries.

Growers can only sell whole hemp seeds to someone who has a licence from Medicines Control with ‘procurement’ or ‘processing into specified hemp products’ listed as an activity.

Processing and manufacture of hemp seeds and hemp seed food products

If you are processing whole hemp seeds (eg, washing and hulling) or manufacturing hemp seed food products from whole hemp seeds you must:

  • Have a general licence issued by Medicines Control with processing into specified hemp products listed as an activity
  • Make sure you are using approved cultivar low-THC hemp seeds
  • Record all transactions in the seed register
  • Make sure that the food produced is within the allowable limits of THC and cannabidiol (CBD) as set by the Food Standard. Note that the allowable limits of THC differ depending on the type of product (ie, whether an oil, a beverage or other hemp seed food product).
  • Be registered under the Food Act.
  • Make sure the product labelling meets the requirements of the Food Standard. Health claims and nutrition content claims cannot be made about CBD.

If you are processing hulled hemp seeds or hemp seed food products (eg, hemp oil, hemp powder) you do not need a licence from Medicines Control. You must:

  • Make sure you are using approved cultivar low-THC hemp seeds
  • Make sure that the food produced is within the allowable limits of THC and cannabidiol (CBD) as set by the Food Standard. Note that the allowable limits of THC differ depending on the type of product (ie, whether an oil, a beverage or other hemp seed food product).
  • Be registered under the Food Act 2014.
  • Make sure the product labelling must meet the requirements of the Food Standard. Health claims and nutrition content claims cannot be made about CBD

If you want to transport or store hemp seeds and hemp seed food products

You do not need a licence from Medicines Control to transport hemp seeds (whole and hulled) or hemp seed food products but you must be registered under the Food Act.

If you are storing whole hemp seeds you must have a general licence issued by Medicines Control with ’procurement’ listed as an activity and be registered under the Food Act.

If you are storing hulled hemp seeds and hemp seed food products you do not need a licence issued by Medicines Control but you must be registered under the Food Act.

Selling hemp seed food products

To sell whole hemp seeds you must:

  • have a licence issued by Medicines Control with ’procurement’ listed as an activity
  • only sell to a person with a general licence issued by Medicines Control with ’procurement’ listed as an activity.
  • record all transactions of whole seeds in the seed register
  • ensure labelling, promotional material and information must meet the requirements of the Food Standard. Health claims and nutrition content claims cannot be made about CBD.

To sell hulled hemp seeds and hemp seed food products:

  • a licence from Medicines Control is not needed
  • these products can be sold to anyone
  • labelling, promotional material and information must meet the requirements of the Food Standard. Health claims and nutrition content claims cannot be made about CBD.

Hemp seeds and hemp seed food products are not medicines

While there is interest in the use of THC and CBD for medicinal uses, the level of THC and CBD allowed in hemp seeds and hemp seed food products is too low to have a medicinal effect. THC and CBD are present in these products as a ‘natural contaminant’, fortification of products with CBD is prohibited under the Food Standard. The Food Standard that allows the sale of hemp seeds and hemp seed food products does not permit health or nutrition claims to be made about the CBD content of these food.

  • THC and CBD products for use as a medicine must be accessed via prescription from a doctor.
  • No impact on medical cannabis
  • The changes to enable low-THC hemp seeds to be cultivated, manufactured, imported, exported and sold for use in, or, as food will not apply to cannabis products used therapeutically. Read more about cannabis products for therapeutic use in the sections:
    • Prescribing cannabis-based products
    • CBD products.

Further information about industrial hemp and the changes to allow hemp seed food products

Read about industrial hemp and the regulations that control its use:

Changes have been made to the Misuse of Drugs (industrial Hemp) Regulations and the Food Regulations to allow low-THC hemp seeds and hemp seed food products to be grown, manufactured and sold.

  • The consultation document and the summary of submissions on the proposed changes are available on the Ministry for Primary Industries website
  • Link to the Industrial Hemp Amendment Regulations
  • Link to the Food Amendment Regulations