From Seed to Shelf: Transparent, Sustainable Hemp Hearts with Manitoba Harvest

manitoba harvest
Care of Manitoba Harvest

Hemp is the word on everyone’s lips these days: not just when it comes to the health benefits of CBD oil or the legalization of marijuana, but also when it comes to hemp hearts or hemp seeds – the kernel of the hemp plant and a true superfood.

But first off, let’s get one thing straight: while hemp hearts do come from the cannabis plant, they will not get you high. Large amounts of psychoactive THC are found in a different strain of the cannabis plant than the industrial hemp from which these little seeds are harvested: while the industrial strain does contain minute amounts of THC, eating hemp hearts is a far cry from eating a space cake.

“Hemp seeds are non-psychoactive, meaning that consumers cannot get high by eating them,” Jolene Formene, staff attorney at Drug Policy Alliance, tells the Huffington Post. Hemp hearts can’t even make you test positive on a drug test, according to a 2001 study.

They can, however, make you a whole lot healthier.

Falling in Love with the Health Benefits of Hemp Hearts

Hemp hearts are one of the richest sources of both omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids – and their composition of these essential fats is unique in the plant-based world.

There are several different types of omega 3 fatty acids: long-chain DHA and EPA, which are essential to brain and heart health, are found primarily in fish oil. Plants, meanwhile, contain the fatty acid ALA, which has to be converted into EHA by the body. Studies have shown, however, that ALA is converted very inefficiently – somewhere between 5 and 21 percent, according to a 2014 paper in Today’s Dietitian.

But hemp contains another omega 3 fatty acid – SDA. Also found in soy, SDA converts far more efficiently than ALA – somewhere between three and five times as much, according to the paper.

In addition to this great fatty acid profile, hemp is also rich in vitamin E, carotenes, lecithin, protein, magnesium, and fiber; it’s no wonder it’s become such a popular addition to health food store aisles.

manitoba harvest
Care of Manitoba Harvest

At the Forefront of the Legalization of Industrial Hemp

While there are dozens of companies manufacturing and selling hemp hearts, the folks at Manitoba Harvest truly have hemp – and only hemp – on the brain: this Canadian company is the world’s largest manufacturer to grow, make, and sell its own line of hemp food products, and hemp is all they do.

“We’re hemp dedicated, we’re hemp disciples.”

Manitoba Harvest got its start 20 years ago, after co-founder Mike Fata discovered the health benefits of the plant and set out to share his knowledge with his fellow Canadians, thus changing the status of industrial hemp in Canada forever.

“We’re hemp dedicated, we’re hemp disciples,” says Anne Thompson, Vice President of Marketing at Manitoba Harvest. “Our commitment is solely to hemp, bringing the highest quality, most delicious hemp in a variety of ways to consumers.”

“It’s actually a really exciting story of grit and entrepreneurship,” explains Thompson. While growing industrial hemp in Canada was illegal at the time, Fata and his partners petitioned the Canadian government to begin legalizing its production, and when they succeeded in 1998, Manitoba Harvest was founded.

“They’re the ones who chipped away and got it to its legal status,” explains Thompson. “They built this company based on basically sharing the transformative power of hemp foods, first with Canada and now with the world.”

While Manitoba Harvest has grown since then, the key tenants of transparency and sustainability still reign.

“If you take the number from any one of our packages on our shelf,” explains Clarence Shwaluk, Director of Farm Operations, “We can tell you the day that that product was packaged, we can tell you when it’s been to our facility. Going back further we can tell you which farm grew that seed, and with the help of our agronomist, we can tell you how it was grown, which bin it was stored in on the farm, and even the GPS coordinates on the farm that that hemp was grown on.”

Each crop of hemp seeds also goes through over 30 tests throughout the production process to ensure safety and quality. Moreover, Manitoba is so committed to health and transparency, it recently became the first hemp company to receive self-affirmed Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) status and has officially submitted to FDA for GRAS Notification.

“We care so deeply about transforming consumer health and removing any doubt about the benefits of hemp foods, that we’ve invested hundreds of hours on the rigorous process to obtain GRAS notification from the FDA.”

A Certified B Corp company, Manitoba is committed to producing its hemp sustainably. Of course, it’s helped in part by the qualities specific to the plant at the core of its product line.

“We care so deeply about transforming consumer health and removing any doubt about the benefits of hemp foods, that we’ve invested hundreds of hours on the rigorous process to obtain GRAS notification from the FDA. This is a milestone for the entire hemp food industry,” Bill Chiasson, CEO of Manitoba Harvest, said in a press release.

“It’s a very competitive plant,” says Shwaluk. “So it does exclude out weeds or other crops that might be trying to grow with it. If we get the crop off to a good start, we can grow it without the need of herbicides, just because the plant is aggressive and it can grow in a very natural type of setting.”

In addition, estimates from Hemp Global Solutions found that each ton of hemp grown represents 1.63 tons of CO2 absorption, and since hemp is a fast-growing plant, the culture of hemp is an excellent tool to contribute to the reduction of the effects of climate change on our planet.

manitoba harvest
Care of Manitoba Harvest

Delicious Hemp Hearts (and Other Hemp Products)

Hemp has a relatively neutral flavor that people describe as nutty, grassy, or a bit earthy. To get the purest flavor, Manitoba Harvest’s flagship product is your best bet: raw hemp hearts, available in both non-GMO conventional and organic varieties. Their mild flavor makes them perfect for sprinkling over salads or soups; Thompson suggests using them as a gluten-free stand-in for panko or breadcrumbs when baking salmon, or simply sprinkling them over your scrambled eggs in the morning.

The company also recently launched a toasted hemp seed product (including a sriracha flavor) and produces a line of Hemp Heart Toppers; these blends combine hemp hearts with flavorings like savory onion, garlic, and rosemary or sweet coconut and cocoa, making them easy to incorporate into your favorite salad or breakfast smoothie bowl recipe.

Manitoba Harvest hemp oils (not to be confused with CBD oils) are culinary oils made from pressing the hemp hearts themselves. These oils are perfect in your favorite vinaigrette or drizzled on top of hummus.

Hemp is also the base of the company’s protein powders and protein smoothie mixes; in the latter, the hemp is combined with an organic mix of healthy greens and flavors like mixed berry, vanilla chai, or chocolate.

Since hemp is Manitoba’s one and only focus, we wouldn’t be surprised to see new and exciting product releases from this company in the near future.

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Emily Monaco is a food and culture writer based in Paris. Her work has been featured in the Wall... More about Emily Monaco