It can be difficult to keep up with the latest trends, let alone predict what future trends might be. However, life sometimes provides a rare opportunity to peek around the corner and get a glimpse of something great before it rises to fame.
This is one of those moments.
Hemp baby greens could be the next superfood to garner attention around the country. While growers and researchers are still investigating the full value of this food, they already recognize that it has high nutritional value and that taste testers have preferred its flavor over kale and some other leafy greens.
Superfoods are popular among health-conscious consumers because they are more nutritionally dense than other foods. In addition to vitamins and minerals, they often contain antioxidants, healthy fats and fiber. Although the Harvard’s School of Public Health claims there is no set criteria for what counts as a superfood, hemp baby greens seem to tick all the boxes.
The nutritional value of raw hemp leaves has not been adequately researched. CRx Magazine reports that “[t]he raw plant material contains essential fatty acids, nine essential amino acids, dietary fiber, enzymes, vitamins, minerals, flavonoids, carotenoids, terpenes, and phytocannabinoid acids, all of which have the potential to benefit health.”
The article adds that between the raw leaves, stems, stalks, and seeds, cannabis plants can provide almost all of the essential nutrients for the human body. However, the exact nutritional value can vary based on the strain, growing location, and other details.
Separate studies conducted at Cornell University and the University of Arizona have both shown an encouraging consumer interest in the product. Cornell University’s taste testers found that baby hemp greens have a “relatively mild taste, with unique fruity and floral flavors, and a soft, slightly fuzzy texture.”
The taste testers in the University of Arizona’s study reported the leaves having “minty and fruity flavors, with floral influences.” They rated the crispness of the leaves to be similar to kale, but noted that it had more “peach fuzz” than other greens.
The results of these studies showed that the unique flavor and texture of baby hemp leaves could be a welcome addition to consumers’ plates. However, these experiments examined more than just the potential demand for the product. They also took a closer look at production requirements and found that hemp greens can also be an appealing crop for farmers and grocers.
These trials showed that hemp greens germinated faster than baby-leaf spinach and can be harvested 13 to 18 days after sowing. At this stage, the plant should have three true leaves and may even have a flower, which can help to minimize bitterness. Other trials seem to show that hemp greens also have a good shelf life, which means that grocery stores could end up with less waste than they have from other baby greens.
However, there are a few concerns that may need to be overcome before hemp greens can gain too much traction. One of the biggest hurdles may be legality.
Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) generally considers hemp seed as safe, it has not yet set a legal precedent regarding the safety of hemp as a leafy green. If hemp leaves were to be grown for food, it would reportedly be subject to the same regulations as other leaf-greens, including food safety rules and traceability standards.
Another potential hurdle could be the high cost for seeds.
“Baby greens are so young that it takes a lot of seed to produce a pound of greens; since it is a one-time crop, seed cost is a significant consideration,” grower Henry Huntington told Hemp Industry Daily.
Because so many seeds are needed for the production of baby greens, a sudden surge of interest could potentially cause a shortage, which could drive up the cost of seeds. Expensive seeds could make business difficult for those producing baby greens, as well as those invested in other parts of the hemp industry.
Despite these risks, Robert Masson shared his high hopes for the crop with Hemp Industry Daily. Masson, who is an agriculture extension agent with the University of Arizona’s Yuma County Extension, reportedly predicts that hemp baby greens will sell like “straight fire.”
“I can’t think of a more fashionable leafy green than the marijuana leaf. It’s iconic,” he said. “People don’t have tattoos of romaine lettuce — people have tattoos of marijuana leaves.”