Hemp, Hemp, Hooray. San Francisco Chronicle, Feb 23 2001, by Marina Wolf.
Subhead: Santa Rosa Man Sells Food Derived From The Plant
Say the words “hemp” and “food” in the same sentence, and most people think either of midnight munchies or of Alice B. Toklas’ famous brownie recipe.
But in fact there’s a whole world of hemp food out there, all derived from the seeds of industrial-grade marijuana and none of it psychoactive, and Santa Rosa-based HempNut Inc. is leading the charge in providing it.
Within the next month, HempNut’s new blue corn chips, with 10 percent hemp seeds, will hit the stands. And in two or three months, HempNut will introduce the first hemp seed-oil margarine: vegan, organic, kosher, nonhydrogenated and nutritious — everything, in short, that most margarines are not.
HempNut owner Richard Rose came up with the margarine recipe, just as he developed the rest of the HempNut line, which includes cookies, energy bars, hemp-seed butter, HempNut cheese alternative and the inevitably punned Hempeh Burger.
“I really enjoy product development, so I do it a lot and always have,” Rose says with a shrug.
The 44-year-old began experimenting in 1980 with his first health-food venture, Brightsong Tofu. Before he and then-wife Sharon Rose moved Brightsong from Mendocino County to Petaluma and shut down tofu production to focus on TofuRella in 1986, Rose had developed 60 or 70 tofu products.
But it was TofuRella, a soy cheese analog, that propelled the company to the Top 500 list of Inc. 500 in 1992. Out of a spare bedroom, the Roses managed to grow the company by more than 18 times its initial output over five years. Rella’s success enabled Rose, a longtime hemp activist and vegan, to pursue the development of hemp-seed foods, to formally incorporate HempNut in 1997 and to get HempNut’s administrative office out of the bedroom and into a smurf-blue Victorian on the edge of town. Success is no sure thing when it comes to hemp, though, which is why Rose split HempNut from Rella a few years ago.
“It made sense to put a firewall between the two,” says Rose. “But most of the controversy has been pro forma. Retailers and distributors are somewhat reticent to bring it in because they’re afraid. Inevitably, they bring it in and there’s no problem. The fear of the problem is the problem.”
The backlash that he and other hemp-food promoters worried about from shoppers hasn’t materialized. “It’s been almost like an anti-backlash,” says Rose. “You have to remember that something like two-thirds of the adults in this country have used medicinal cannabis at some point in their lives. They think fondly of those days,” he says with a laugh. “So people are predisposed to want to try it and find out more about it.”
Information seekers can check out the HempNut Web site and the HempNut cookbook, a hooray-for-hemp extravaganza of recipes, historical background and nutritional information. Scientific studies back up Rose’s claim that hemp seed has a higher protein content than any other, animal or vegetable, except soybeans, and its fatty-acid levels are higher than any source except egg whites. And the hulling process, for which HempNut has a patent pending, makes the hemp seed both more palatable and less, well, problematic.
Unhulled hemp seed can be tainted with hemp resin, which contains traces of the intoxicant THC, even though industrial hemp has far less THC than your run-of-the-mill Maui Wowie. Remove the hull, and the THC is gone. “You couldn’t flunk a drug test if you ate a ton of our products,” Rose says proudly.
Drug testing and general attitudes about drugs remain issues for HempNut and other producers. “It’s not always easy to get our products into stores,” admits Rose. “There are chains and independent health-food stores that won’t touch it with a 10-foot pole, even in this county.”
Rose is particularly indignant about the response of one of the nation’s largest natural-food chains [Whole Foods Market]. “(They) said we were promoting marijuana. At the same time, they’re selling snack chips with kava kava in them, with St. John’s Wort. They’re selling snack chips with actual drugs in them, but HempNut cheese alternative is somehow promoting marijuana.”
Rose is fairly open about his own stance on marijuana use, both industrial and “medicinal.” A photo that accompanied his interview with High Times magazine showed him holding a suspiciously fat cigarette. And among the strings of conference badges hanging from his wall are tags from the Cannabis Cup, the international pot party that High Times hosts in Amsterdam every year.
“I’m no elitist,” he says, smiling.
Rose still faces criticism from some hemp activists for not leveraging his products’ hemp origin more to support the larger issue of legalizing marijuana. But he shrugs it off as having nothing to do with his hemp cheese or corn chips.
“I do want to see justice for this plant, whether it be the industrial hemp side or the medical end,” says Rose. “But I’m able to separate that from the professional side. I take off my activist hat and put on my food-professional hat. We’re talking food here, we’re not talking about smoking pot. Those are two different issues.