Cooking with hemp might not be as alluring as making weed edibles, but it's much more healthy and sustainable in the long term. And as government restrictions loosen and public knowledge of hemp grows, so does the plant's nutritious legend. Rich in protein, fiber and good fats, hemp is quickly becoming a regular part of plant-based dishes and diets, and has even gained the annoying "superfood" moniker. But how are we supposed to eat it?
Shadi Ramey found herself wondering the same thing five years ago. Already a chef for a decade by 2015, she knew how to infuse food with cannabis (she still teaches private cannabis cooking classes), but incorporating hemp into a healthy diet was entirely different. After immersing herself in hemp cooking and even growing the plant for herself, the Boulder-based Ramey has developed a full set of recipes featuring hemp seeds, hearts, oil and protein, among other hemp-based ingredients. Her favorite meals at the moment? Hemp heart tabbouleh, hemp-mushroom chili and hemp-crusted mushroom tacos.
You'll soon be able to cook Ramey's favorites and more hemp eats with recipes in Hemp Can Change the World, her new cookbook printed entirely on hemp paper. Before the book becomes available in November, we caught up with Ramey to learn more about hemp's place in the culinary world.
Westword: How has cooking with hemp evolved over the past five years? Is it still mostly hemp seeds, or has it expanded?
Shadi Ramey: My cooking with hemp has evolved drastically over the past five years! I've gone from a sprinkle here and there to creating high-vibe cuisine, using hemp much more liberally. World cuisine is my speciality, and I've been working on creating interesting and unique dishes with hemp from cultures from around the world. My repertoire ranges from Persian rose baklava to Japanese shichimi togarashi.
Hemp food, in general, has been expanding over the past few years, certainly. There are a few people who were making hemp food products before 2015, and there are certainly many more now. There are a vast number of hemp food products on the market now, such as hemp mylk, hemp protein bars, hemp protein powders and veggie burgers, and even hemp beer and [vegan] hemp "nice" cream.
Just how flexible is hemp as a food additive? What diets and cuisines does it fit in with best?
Hemp is an extremely versatile and flexible ingredient for all diets and lifestyles. Hemp spans many different food styles and genres. Hemp is paleo; it always was. Hemp is gluten-free and vegan, as well as keto-friendly. Hemp is the ultimate high-vibe nutrition.
Hemp fits into many different cuisines — that's one of the things I explore in the cookbook. The recipes in the book incorporate different parts of hemp that include hemp leaf, full-spectrum hemp extract, hemp hearts [shelled seeds], hemp seeds and hemp-seed oil. The different parts of the plant and the different ingredients work well with many different kinds of cuisine. Hemp is very hearty and has a nutty flavor that goes well in many different dishes. Hemp seed oil has a very strong flavor that can take over the flavor profile of a dish, so it's important to understand that when creating dishes.
What are some simple ways for beginners to try out cooking with hemp?
I think that eating a big salad every day with as many colors of the rainbow as possible is one of the best things you can do to increase your vitality. Adding a couple of tablespoons of hemp hearts on there is super-easy and an excellent source of plant-based protein. I also love baking with hemp. It’s a great way to add protein and nutrition to traditional baked goods. There's a whole chapter on baking in my book full of vegan, hemp-based baking recipes.
Three tablespoons of hemp hearts boasts a mighty eleven grams of protein. Sprinkling hemp here and there is a simple way to start using hemp in recipes. Smoothies, salads and baking are easy ways to incorporate hemp into your daily wellness routine.
I believe in a whole-food, plant-based diet. Therefore, I caution people who want to run out and buy some of the packaged hemp products that are on the market. I am a staunch advocate of consumer education and believe in the power of understanding food labels. One of my criticisms of many of the hemp products and cannabis edibles on the market is that many of the companies are still using horrible ingredients, packaging or both. I do love hemp products that are made with intention and integrity — they are out there. But I certainly would advise people to learn about the hemp companies they are supporting before purchasing their product.
On a scale of one to ten, how much of hemp's potential has been reached in the cooking world?
Currently, I would have to answer "one." Hemp has not really become part of gastronomy. So far, it has only been used by a small group of people in the culinary world — mostly counterculture hippies and those in the natural-foods world. The potential of hemp and gastronomy has yet to be explored, and that is what I do in my cookbook.
What led you into using hemp as a cooking ingredient?
In 2015 I started a hemp farm on my property just north of Boulder. It was then that I started living with cannabis on a daily basis and began using hemp as a cooking ingredient. Additionally, hemp is an amazing source of nourishment, and I wanted to incorporate it into my work as a chef. Hemp is the high-vitality, plant-based food we have been waiting for.
Why was it important to print your hemp cookbook on hemp paper?
For me, it was imperative to print the book on hemp paper. I had self-proclaimed “leaders” in the hemp industry tell me that hemp was too expensive and to print it on recycled paper. That kind of thinking and practice will not move the plant forward. I believe that true leadership forges the way even when it is hard and uncomfortable. Hemp paper is in fact more expensive. Therefore, as consumers and business owners I believe it is imperative that we support hemp products, and that over time the prices will come down.
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.