Hemp sprouts are the next must-have superfood, researchers say
Baby hemp leaves or juvenile hemp seedlings? who may end up in consumers' bowls? Researchers are studying the suitability of another source of income for hemp growers. Beyond grain, fiber and flower crops for which hemp has become most closely associated. Young hemp shoots are cultivated and tested as a new crop of green leafy vegetables with high added value for the consumer. However, the legality of this culture is unclear. While hemp seeds and grain-based foods have been found to be generally recognized as safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, there is still no legal precedent set under the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Interim Final Rule for production of hemp so that the plant is produced and marketed as a lettuce.
In the “winter salad bowl” producing region of Yuma, Arizona, on the California border, where 90% of the country's leafy green vegetables are produced during the winter months, consumers line up to test hemp seedlings and whether they can be added to bagged salads that the region produces for national distribution.
Arizona is the second largest lettuce producer in the United States after California, and most of the produce grown in Arizona is grown in Yuma County. Young hemp shoots could be the next superfood in your salads, according to researchers at the University of Arizona.
“We have the cropping system for it, we have… mechanical harvesters that can harvest it, we have coolers and we have transportation infrastructure to feed the nation with leafy greens, lettuce, lettuce. romaine, iceberg lettuce, ”Masson told the Hemp Industry Daily. “It's our cash crop here.”
Masson planted 17 different varieties of grain and hemp fiber in Yuma's test fields, maintaining the harvest for 18 days before the hemp leaves were harvested. The young hemp shoots “grow like weed,” Masson said. The crop reached the three leaf stage and even flowered, which helped neutralize some of the bitter taste of the leaf.
Young hemp shoots can also offer high nutritional value, although research is ongoing in this area.
“When you eat it, it's very dense,” Masson said of the young hemp shoots. “You can feel the fibers moving through you; although it is nice and tender, there is still a lot of fiber.
Out of 17 varieties, five were found to have the best taste qualities, based on a taste test carried out by 89 volunteers.
All five greens were sampled along with common leafy greens like romaine, kale, and small-leaf spinach for comparison. Another sample was made into green hemp pesto.
According to Masson, consumers appreciated the young hemp shoots, which have minty and fruity flavors, with floral influences, while the crunchiness of hemp was found to be similar to that of collard greens, and consumers said that the hemp had more “peach down” than the other shoots.
Consumers have reported that hemp has more “peach fluff” than other green vegetables. On a scale of 1 to 5, hemp scored 3,3, which puts it right in the middle. Consumers preferred hemp to collard greens, Masson said.
In the meantime, some growers in the region are excited about the prospect of a new crop of leafy green vegetables. Farmers in the region have avoided growing hemp for CBD, seeing a similar “boom-bust” potential to jojoba, Masson said.
“Most of the farmers here are very conservative and therefore have been neutral on the issue (green hemp babies); however, there have been a few very large farmers and solids processing centers that really want to do it, ”Masson said.
From the first trials, the young hemp shoots appear to have a good shelf life, and the nearby Yuma lettuce processing facilities are doing their own post-harvest freshness and quality tests, a- he said.
“They are all very reserved because they know that if it turns into something important, they have to do their homework now and not tell anyone, so when it becomes legal they can give up and go,” said Mr. Masson. “But what I hear is that it keeps very well”.
In Masson's trials, young hemp shoots germinated faster than young leafy spinach, which has a planting density of around 3 million seeds per acre.
At this density, hemp growers might fear seedling growers competing for seed supply. This is a serious consideration for a crop whose seeds are relatively expensive.
Henry Huntington, president and CEO of lef Farms, a producer of green leafy greenhouse plants in Loudon, New Hampshire, said the high cost of hemp seed could affect the plant's viability as a profitable green baby .
“The young shoots are so young that it takes a lot of seeds to produce a pound of green plants. Since this is a single crop, the cost of the seeds is a big factor, ”Huntington told Hemp Industry Daily.
But Masson said he was working with local seed growers to build the stock. Based on testing and consumer reaction, Masson predicts that hemp seedlings will be an iconic crop that will sell like “fire”.
“Most vegetables are just trendy - this is the spring dress you have to sell in the spring - it can't last until fall because no one is going to buy it and it is going to go wrong” , said Mr. Masson.
“I can't imagine a more fashionable green than the marijuana leaf. It's an icon, ”he said. “People don't have romaine lettuce tattoos, they have marijuana leaves.
Mr Masson said the University of Arizona study was based on a two-year Cornell University study conducted by graduate horticulture student Renyun Mi, which examines production requirements and sensory qualities of the new culture.
Cornell University's division of controlled environment agriculture is studying new crops that can be produced in indoor environments, according to the horticultural trade publication Greenhouse Grower.
In a series of experiments conducted by Mi and a team of fellow Cornell researchers, hemp seeds were planted in plastic seedlings and harvested 13-18 days after sowing, when the stems are less fibrous and the leaves are tender.
Cornell's team used hemp seed cultivars and fiber varieties and performed trials for:
- The best cultivars.
- Seeding densities and the resulting cool, dry weight.
- The effect of seed size on yield.
- Following the cultivation experiments, the researchers asked a consumer panel to rate six species of young leaf lettuce based on taste, texture, aftertaste and appearance.
- The species included hemp, kale, romaine lettuce, butter lettuce, spinach, and arugula.
According to the Cornell panel, the young hemp shoots had a “relatively mild taste, with unique fruity and floral flavors, and a soft, slightly fuzzy texture”.
Cornell's research team noted that there is a need for further research, selection and improvement of breeding and crop management techniques to fully optimize this new crop.
One of the goals of Mi's work was to develop a standard protocol for optimizing the yield and quality of young leaf hemp production, including cultivar screening, seeding density and seed size. The study was published on the peer-reviewed index of academic publications in Basel, Switzerland, MDPI.
This potential crop is so new that many indoor leafy vegetable growers haven't even had time to consider it yet. Huntington, the New Hampshire green vegetable grower, said another concern for production in a greenhouse environment is humidity. He noted that cannabis growers are often faced with powdery mildew.
“Our young shoots grow so fast that they sweat like little fog machines,” Mr. Huntington said. “I would be worried about compatibility”.
New food standards
If adopted for food production, hemp shoots would be subject to the same food safety rules and traceability standards developed under the Food Safety Modernization Law of 2011.
The vegetable industry has come under serious scrutiny in recent years, following large-scale recalls of romaine lettuce and spinach after foodborne illnesses from E. coli were linked to lettuce from Yuma County, Arizona and Central Valley, California.
The green leafy vegetable segment of the fruit and vegetable industry has developed a large-scale effort to focus on food safety under the California-based green leafy vegetable marketing agreement, to which growers must join if they want to have any hope of selling their harvests of green leafy vegetables, according to Masson.
Last month, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced the launch of a multi-year study on improving food security which aims to better understand the ecology of human pathogens in the environment that can cause outbreaks of foodborne illness.