Last Sunday my evening meal ended with a hemp brownie. I know what you're thinking: a "special" brownie containing a certain famous green psychoactive substance.

But this was not a high-inducing dessert. It was made from hemp protein, one of the products of local company Plant Culture, which is part of a movement to bring hemp-based food to Kiwis.

Hemp - harvested from a non-psychoactive variant of Cannabis plant, different from marijuana - is an incredibly versatile crop. It can be used to make fibre, textiles, building materials, medicines and food.

Promoters say it's a sustainable crop that could be the future for New Zealand horticulture; farmers are venturing into hemp as a way of diversifying from traditional things such as dairy. Hemp is a high-value, "low input" crop, needing neither fertiliser nor irrigation.


As a food, hemp has a lot going for it. The seeds can be made into oil with a nutty flavour and a healthful nutritional profile - high levels of omega-3 and a good balance of fats omega-6 and the health-promoting omega-3.

It's important to note that the omega-3 in plants is a different type to what we get from oily fish; it may be more difficult for our bodies to process and absorb this type of omega-3.

But hemp seed oil is still a useful and delicious oil. Because of its low smoke point it's best used in dressing and finishing, rather than cooking.

Hemp seeds are particularly high in protein compared to other seeds, and it's a complete protein, which is fairly rare among plants; quinoa is another example.

Like other seeds, hemp seeds are high in fibre. For maximum benefit look for products made from whole seeds, as when the hulls or shells are removed the fibre content goes down.

The laws around growing and selling hemp are a bit weird at the moment, although this is set to change.

Right now growers who want to produce hemp as a crop are able to do so legally, with a licence and some restrictions on where crops are grown. Hemp seed oil is able to be legally sold. And hemp foods including hemp protein powders are legally allowed to be eaten.

But hemp-based foods (apart from oil) can only be sold labelled as animal food, even though they're clearly intended for humans. Food safety authorities approved a change to this rule last year which requires changes to the Food Act, the Misuse of Drugs Act and the Medicines Act, which are yet to be implemented.


Unsurprisingly, the budding hemp industry here is eagerly awaiting the change.

In the meantime, those of us wanting to explore the world of hemp can find hemp-based foods online.

In the Plant Culture-hosted dinner I attended, the versatility of hemp as food was clear. We enjoyed pesto, pizza; cookies and milk among other hemp treats. For vegans and omnivores alike, it's exciting to discover and try a new edible plant.

*Niki Bezzant is editor-at-large for Healthy Food Guide