Hemp seeds are a vegan’s best friend.
Since vegans do not consume meat or dairy, they must seek out plant-based proteins, but not just any protein will do. Proteins are essentially long chains of amino acids, and while the body produces many of these building blocks on its own, nine essential amino acids must be sourced from food. The ideal protein is one that contains adequate amounts of all nine essential amino acids.
Hemp seeds offer a concentrated source of vegan protein that contains all the essential amino acids. A single serving of hemp seeds (about two heaping tablespoons) provides 10 grams of protein, which, by weight, is about as much protein as beef and lamb.
A 2019 study in Food Science and Safety analyzed hemp seeds and found that, on average, they contain 25 to 30 percent protein with an amino acid profile similar to egg whites and soybeans. Similarly, a 2009 hemp review said the seeds contain “65% high-quality edestin protein, the most potent protein of any plant source, … with a high concentration of sulfur-containing AAs (methionine and cysteine), which are usually low in vegetable proteins.” They also contain significant amounts of fiber (30 to 40 percent) and healthy oils (25 to 30 percent).
When it comes to hemp seeds, most people envision the packages sold at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods that they eat as cereal, add to smoothies or sprinkle on salads. However, this 2020 study identified several other key uses, including bakery and confectionery, meat alternatives, infant foods and beverages like hemp milk.
Baked goods are particularly interesting because hemp adds a tasty protein to a product that’s primarily associated with carbohydrates and fiber. For example, this organic baker in Portugal sells gluten-free hemp seed bread that contains more protein than fiber at nearly five percent.
A study in 2020 found that adding hemp seed “to wheat flour did not affect dough stability and dough strength, but improved the nutritional value of the final product by increasing the levels of proteins and minerals.” Moreover, the study said the seed “has a pleasant nutty taste and represents a valuable source of essential fatty acids, minerals, vitamins, and fibers, as well as of essential amino acids contained in the highly digestible proteins edestin and albumin.”
Per another 2020 study, “The presence of biologically active proteins and peptides having antioxidant, antihypertensive or neuroprotective properties, as well as a relatively well-balanced profile of exogenous amino acids with sulphur-containing amino acids, makes oilseed proteins a valuable functional component or an alternative source of protein, especially for bakery and meat industries.”
Hemp seeds sit among the best vegan proteins like tofu, beans and chia seeds. Add in the high-quality fiber and essential fatty acids (e.g., omegas 3 and 6), and hemp truly deserves its star status in the vegan community.