Hemp seeds are known for their versatility -- with minimal processing, they transform into de-hulled hearts, oil and various levels of protein powder -- or they can be left whole and roasted. In this article, we’ll discuss the sensory and health benefits of whole hemp seeds and hemp hearts, or hulled hemp seeds, in food applications.

      Food formulators must consider several factors when determining whether to use hulled or un-hulled hemp seeds. Certainly a key consideration is sensory:  texture and flavor. 

      Hemp Hearts Benefits

      Simply crack the hull or shell of the whole hemp seed, and a small, creamy-colored hemp heart emerges. Hemp hearts, also referred to as shelled hemp seed and hemp nut, have a mild, nutty flavor that is best described as a cross between a pine nut and a sesame seed. Hemp hearts can be added to baked goods, such as breads, cookies and snack bars, as well as cereals, granolas and snack mixes and tempeh (as does Smiling Hara Hempeh). They can also be added to butters and spreads, pesto, hummus and smoothies.

      Roasted, whole, un-hulled hemp seeds are crunchy and chewy, with a lightly nutty, toasty and earthy flavor.  They make for tasty snacking, either alone, combined with spices, or combined with other seeds, spices, nuts, pulses in a loose mix (as does Patagonia Provisions) or in a bar (as does Thunderbird Real Food Bar).  Whole, roasted hemp seeds also can be ground and added to a mix of ingredients. The opportunities for creativity stretch just as wide as for other ingredients.  

      Texture and flavor are only part of the ingredient consideration, however. Research shows that hulling hemp seeds changes their nutritional profile. A 2010 study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry explains the macronutrient composition and quality of hemp seed protein and products derived from hemp seed grown in Western Canada.1 Researchers obtained 30 samples of hemp products from commercial sources, such as whole hemp seed, hemp seed meal from cold-press expelling, de-hulled or shelled hemp seed, and hemp seed hulls.

      The research team conducted proximate analysis, including crude protein, crude fat, and fiber, as well as full amino acid profiles for the samples. Next, they calculated protein digestibility-corrected amino acid score (PDCAAS) measurements on subsets of hemp products. The researchers found that removing the hull fraction improved protein digestibility and the resultant PDCAAS value. In other words, when the dietary fiber in the hull is removed, proteins within the hemp hearts are highly digestible.

      Roasted hemp seeds are less dense with protein, fat and calories, and offer more fiber than hemp hearts. The fiber in hemp shells, though, is healthy unto itself. The shell is high in minerals (among them magnesium, iron, copper, zinc)  and insoluble fiber, which we know is good for gut health.

      Hemp Hearts - A Complete Protein 

      Hemp hearts contain complete protein because they include all nine of the essential amino acids which the human body cannot produce on its own. The two main components of hemp seed protein are albumin, a globular protein, and edestin, a legumin protein; both contain all nine essential amino acids. Edestin is especially high in arginine, a metabolic precursor for the production of nitric oxide (NO), a molecule recognized as a pivotal signaling messenger in the cardiovascular system.2

      A 2005 study of 13,401 participants aged 25+ showed an independent relationship between the dietary intake of L-arginine and levels of C-Reactive protein, a marker strongly correlated with the risk of cardiovascular diseases. The results suggested that individuals may be able to decrease their risk for CVD by following a diet that is high in arginine-rich foods.3 Hemp hearts fit that profile while simultaneously providing numerous other nutritional benefits. 

      In addition to their protein and amino acid profile, hemp hearts are an excellent source of Omega 6 and Omega 3 fatty acids, which also correlate to cardiovascular health. The gamma linolenic acid (an Omega 6 fatty acid) found in hemp seeds has been linked to reduced inflammation, which may decrease the risk of heart disease.

      Learn more in the articles below:

      Which Seeds are Important Omega 3 Sources?

      Finding Balance in the Omega 6/ Omega 3 Fatty Acid Ratio

      To learn more about the studies cited in this article, visit these links: 

      1. Evaluating the Quality of Protein from Hemp Seed Products Through the use of the Protein Digestibility-Corrected Amino Acid Score MethodJames D. House, Jason Neufeld, and Gero Leson Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 2010 58 (22), 11801-11807. DOI: 10.1021/jf102636b.
      2. Rodriguez-Leyva D, Pierce GN. The cardiac and haemostatic effects of dietary hempseed. Nutr Metab (Lond). 2010;7:32. Published 2010 Apr 21. doi:10.1186/1743-7075-7-32
      3. Wells BJ, Mainous AG, Everett CJ. Association Between dietary arginine and C-reactive protein. Nutrition. 2005;21:125–30. doi: 10.1016/j.nut.2004.03.021.
      Full Article by Chris Bailey
      November 15, 2019