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Hemp, the Italian superfood

Hemp, the Italian superfood

Hemp is another rising star in the superfood basket, due to its nutritional properties. And it’s also an Italian specialty. Let’s see why.

Hemp, the plant

Hemp is a flowering plant, part of the Cannabaceae family, subset of the Urticales. There are 3 species – Sativa, Indica, Ruderalis – and different subspecies.

A plant with an annual cycle that germinates in spring and blooms in late summer. It grows up to a 1,5-2 meters height, also including substantial variations, and is characterized by webbed leaves with a straight stem. Pollination is anemophilous, meaning it takes place thanks to wind transportation.

Its origin for a long time was attached to central Asia, where traces of old crops were found dated back to 5000 B.C. Though recent studies have shown the existence of wild hemp crops in Europe even before the mentioned period.

Hemp cultivation in Italy has developed since the Medieval times, with a predominance in the area between the cities of Bologna and Ferrara, also Rovigo and Padua. A famous painting by the artist Guercino, 1615-1616, describes with efficiency the strenuous extraction of sheaves of plants from the macerators and their placement in conical stacks for drying. 

Italy has been the second world producer of hemp, after Russia, and its crops were much more profitable than wheat with which it was alternated. Up until, immediately after the II WW, hemp-cultivation dropped. (1)

Recent studies have revealed the ability of such plant to absorb heavy metals from the soil, thus clearing polluted lands by heavy industry. Successful experimentations have been carried out, to this end, in the Taranto and Cava dei Tirreni areas.

Hemp, applications

Industrial hemp (2) has always been used for the quality of its fibre, useful to produce cordage, paper and textiles. 

Its use in the food and cosmetic sectors – a part from bio-construction and biofuels – dates back only to the last decades.

Hemp flour and seeds, super food?

Hemp seeds can be consumed in unaltered state, as dressing for salads, vegetables and other dishes. Namely in the form of flour, used in bakery wares and special pasta.

Their composition shows the completeness of the food, with over 30% in fats (mainly polyunsaturated), approximately 25% in proteins and as many carbohydrates. As well as a significant amount of dietary fibre and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals), as per following tables. (3)

tab1

Average nutritional value of hemp seeds whole, dehusked and residual post-pressing (raw board)

valori nutrizionali canapa

The proteins quality in hemp seeds is also worthy of note. Edestin combined with albumin in fact favors the availability of essential amino-acids in an ideal proportion, which guarantees our bodies the necessary elements to build immunoglobulins, which function as anti-bodies.

proteine canapa

Hemp oil, super food?

Hemp oil, derived from cold pressing of the seeds, is composed by over 80% in polyunsaturates (PUFA). This is therefore and excellent source of anti-oxidants and especially essential fatty acids (AGE), like linoleic acid (Omega6) and the alpha-linoleic (Omega3).

Hemp seed is the only foodstuff that naturally contains Omega3 and Omega6 fatty acids with a 2,5:1 ratio, the ideal for humans to assimilate (Simopoulos et al., 2000).

Laura Pontassuglia and Dario Dongo

Notes

(1) An interesting reading, on this matter, at this link

(2) ‘Industrial hemp’ is the variety devoid of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, a psychoactive drug substance) 

(3) Source Euphytica 140:65-72, 2004. J.C. Callaway Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry, university of Kuopio, FIN-70211 Kuopio, Finland

(4) See ministry of health circular 22 may 2009

(5) Refer to the so-called Hemp Law, Italian law No. 242/16