Acertain section of people have always perceived hemp or cannabis as the panacea for the ecosystem. Several regions within the United States of America, Canada, and now, Thailand have approved the use of hemp in food and beverages. A multi-purpose plant, hemp has had a long tradition through civilisations from ancient China and Japan to India.
For the uninitiated, hemp belongs to the same species as the cannabis plant. The term hemp refers to plants that possess a low quality of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — less than 0.3 per cent — which gives them an intoxicating quality. The chemical is most prevalent in the flower of the plant.
Yash Kotak, co-founder, Bombay Hemp Company tells us, “While the plant is prevalently found in the north and northeast India, it has not spread much to other parts.” Hemp has been found to provide over 25,000 uses. This may be a reason why the Hindu traditions include it as one of the sacred plants. Kotak adds that since the plant had such a deep presence in Indian culture, it never became completely illegal.
Culinary expert and author Rushina Munshaw Ghildiyal discovered the use of the plant’s seeds during her research on Uttarakhandi cuisine. She tells us that hemp seeds or bhaang seeds are used to make salts or as a spice mix in the region. “As a spice, it is used whole or added to the tadka,” she informs us. The seeds possess warming qualities that are essential in the cold climate. “One could equate it with cod liver oil,” she adds, “It also has digestive qualities that work to balance out vegetables like mooli (radish) or kaddu (bottle-gourd).” This practical use is widespread in the mountainous regions of Garhwal, Kumaon and in some regions of the North Bengal. Ghildiyal extols the famed bhaang ki chutney and the bhaang ka chicken from the region as examples. “They also use it as a toasted snack, Buknu, along with other seeds and nuts, and some rice.”
Amruta Shitole, co-founder of Pune’s newly-opened The Hemp Cafeteria agrees. Born in Maharashtra, the use of hemp or bhaang in food was a culture shock for Shitole on her visit to Uttarakhand. “Over there, every little house is using it as part of the daily routine. Some of the villagers also explained how the seeds were used to build immunity in children.” This inspired her to start Pune’s first hemp cafeteria. Shitole’s dishes include burgers made with hemp-infused multi-grain bread, sandwiches with hemp chutney and as an ingredient in nut-based cookies. “The seeds do not have any distinct flavour profile. It is a very adaptable ingredient,” she says, sharing her idea of using it as an addition to the Maharashtrian thalipeeth or a Delhi-favourite, momos, in the future.
Of course, as Kotak points out, the most popular perception of its use remains as an intoxicant in thandai. “As thandai, it has been used in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, but it has been restricted to a spiritual or recreational use,” he notes.
The problem of perception
This recreational use has triggered a suspicion for hemp in a majority of the Indian populace. Shitole admits that is a hurdle to entrepreneurs innovating with hemp products. She says, “It is a challenge to convince people that these seeds are not a drug, and are very healthy. Hemp seeds contain Omega-3 and Omega-6 essential fatty acids and proteins.”
Kotak shares that hemp also has agrarian advantages. “It requires very little water, grows in the span of 90 to 100 days,” he says. This self-sustaining, fast-growing quality earned it the slang name of weed.
“Now, in the age of hyper-information, people are re-looking the plant and its uses,” Kotak concludes. If adopted, the plant will prove itself a natural survivor.
Kumaoni bhang ka khatta meetha kaddu
Time: 40 minutes/ Serves: 4
For the bhaang spice mix
. 50 gm bhaang (hemp seeds)
. 2 dry red chillies
. ½ tsp salt
To cook the kaddu
. 2 tbsp mustard oil
. 2-3 whole dry lakhori/red chillies
. 1 tsp cumin seeds
. 1 pinch Dehra Dun hing or ¼ tsp regular hing
. 750 gms red (ripe) pumpkin, cleaned and diced with the peel on
. ½ tsp turmeric powder
. ½ tsp chilli powder
. 2-3 tbsp tamarind extract or juice of 1-2 lemons
. Salt to taste
. 100 ml water
For the bhaang spice mix
Heat a kadhai. When hot, lower the flame and slowly dry roast the bhaang seeds while stirring. Once they darken with a nutty aroma, transfer the mix to a bowl and leave to cool. Grind to a powder when cool.
For the kaddu
Into the same kadhai, add oil and heat till the oil is smoking hot. Lower the flame before adding hing, red chillies, cumin, and wait for them to splutter. Then add the diced pumpkin with water and mix well. Cover and let it cook till the water reduces. Add salt, red chilli powder and turmeric, and continue to cook on a low flame, stirring regularly and mashing as you go. The pumpkin must be coarsely mashed. Add jaggery to the mix with the bhaang masala and cook for one to two minutes. When the preparation is ready, take it off the flame and stir in tamarind or lemon juice. Serve hot with puris, parathas or rotis.
Legal limitations on hemp
On November 15, 2021, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) approved the use of hemp seeds in limited quantities in food and beverages. In beverages, the use of hemp is limited to 0.2 mg (THC) per kg, while in foods; it is limited to 5 mg per kg. Such foods or drinks cannot be provided to infants.
The Source Guide
. Bombay Hemp Company: Established in 2013, the company offers hemp shell seeds, oil, powders as well as immunity boosting capsules and skin creams to try out.
Log on to Boheco.com
. The Hemp Factory: Mumbai’s first hemp-based food outlet, this cloud kitchen offers a variety of choices from pizzas made from hemp dough and pasta fusilli with a hemp base to healthier smoothie options.
Log on to Swiggy/Zomato
. Its Hemp :From personal care and pet products to kurtas and shirts, this online store offers everything hemp for the potential buyer. Fitness buffs may want to try the natural protein powders on sale.
Log on to itshemp.in
. CBD Store India : This e-platform offers consultations with medical professionals, in addition to beauty and skin products. For the fashion-conscious, there is a hand-made hemp fibre clothing range to suit every season.