Hemp hearts are the edible nutty flavored inner part of a split hemp seed that is full of healthy fats, protein, and essential amino acids. They’re heart healthy and a complete protein source making them ideal for adding to all kinds of recipes!
If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably wondered what is a hemp heart anyways? Like chia seeds, flax seeds, quinoa and all of the others that have gone mainstream over the last decade, hemp seeds deserve their due.
I’ve been eating them for years now and they’re a pantry staple at our house. I wanted to add some clarity for anyone else new to this health food super food on what hemp hearts are, why to eat them and how.
What are hemp hearts?
Hemp hearts are the interior of raw, shelled hemp seeds. Shelling the whole seeds allows for more nutrition to be absorbed once the soft inner part of hemp seeds is exposed from the hard shell. They have a soft texture and a nutty taste.
You can sprinkle hemp hearts into smoothies, cereal, yogurt, oatmeal, or salads or cook them into granola bars, cookies, burgers, granola, or pretty much anything really. They’re so versatile!
And, with all the buzz around hemp, you might be wondering how hemp hearts are related to cannabis. Hemp is in the cannabis sativa species but differs greatly from the THC heavy cannabis varieties that are sold at dispensaries.
While technically the same plant species as marijuana, hemp plants only have trace amounts of THC and are typically used for the stalk, CBD oil, or other non-psychoactive properties, depending on the strain. To be classified as hemp, the cannabis sativa plants must contain under .3% TCH in the United States, compared to high THC strains that typically range anywhere from 8-30% THC.
Other consumable hemp products are hemp seed oil, hemp protein, and hemp milk. Hemp seed oil, is made from cold pressing hemp seeds to extract the oil. This can be consumed as well but it is not recommended to cook with over 350°F (175°C). In hemp protein powder, hemp seeds are ground up into a powder. Hemp milk is made from blending and then filtering water and whole hemp seeds.
Hemp heart health benefits and nutrition
With all of the other health food items the world is trying to sell you, why add one more? Well my friends, in this case they are absolutely phenomenal for your body. Whether you’re trying to improve your immune function or lower blood pressure, or just up your protein intake, hemp seed hearts have plenty of nutritional goodness that contribute to a healthy diet.
Hemp hearts have twice the amount of protein that chia seeds and flax seeds do and less carbs. They’re also loaded with the perfect balance of omegas and other essential fatty acids and nutrients. In fact, hemp hearts have all 9 essential amino acids that our bodies need, including alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3 fatty acids), linoleic acid (omega-6 fatty acids), and gamma-linolenic acid, making them a complete protein source.
Here are some of the key health benefits that make these tiny seeds an excellent addition to your diet:
- Good source of plant-based protein
- A complete protein source
- Low carb
- Gluten free, dairy free, vegan, etc.
- Sodium free
- Nut allergy safe
- Excellent for diets like Paleo, Whole 30, Keto, macro, vegan / plant-based diets, etc.
- Low glycemic index
- Full of healthy fats
- High in Vitamin A, B Vitamins, and a great source of vitamin E and micronutrients (iron, zinc, thiamine, phosphorus, magnesium and manganese)
- Prebiotic for optimizing digestion and the overall gut microbiome and immune system
- Good for brain function
- Heart healthy and may lower cholesterol levels and reduce risk of heart disease
- Contain soluble and insoluble fiber
Hemp hearts are full of nutritional benefits but exactly how good for you are they? One serving is classified as 3 Tablespoons or 30 grams in weight and you’ll be amazed that just that tiny amount has 11 grams of protein and only 2.6 grams of carbs.
They are calorie dense with 166 calories per serving so they’re great as a booster to other foods instead of served on their own. One serving has 5-7% of your recommended daily Vitamin A intake 2.4mg of Iron which is almost 1/3 of an adult male’s daily recommended iron intake. Females aged 19-50 need more so only 13% of our daily value and if you’re pregnant or breast feeding, the recommended amount is even higher.
Like most nuts and seeds, they have a high fat content but its a good fat.
Where to buy them
While they used to be more of a specialty health item, these days, you can find them at your local grocery store, Costco, Amazon, health stores, or many other places. I use the Manitoba Harvest hemp hearts brand since I trust the source (not sponsored, just researched and approved), but many companies sell them.
They’re typically next to the nuts and seeds, in the baking isle, or in the organic foods section in grocery stores but I’ve also seen them in the refrigerated area. Stores like Whole Foods may even have them in the bulk section so you can buy the amount you want without the extra packaging.
You can purchase organic hemp hearts from different brands manufactured in different countries. I recommend purchasing hemp hearts produced in Canada, the USA or Europe and avoiding any sourced from China since they don’t have the same level of oversight.
Hemp heart storage
Due to their oil content, hemp hearts have a relatively short shelf life. Since they are a seed, you need to keep an eye on the expiration date and store in a sealed container in a cool, dry, dark place or in the refrigerator. They will keep fresh for 5-6 months in the cupboard and up to a year in the refrigerator or freezer.
I used to buy mine at Costco but now, I choose to buy smaller amounts through my local grocery store. Even though it seems like it costs more, it really doesn’t when you consider how much product will most likely go bad with a big Costco sized bag. Consider how often you eat them and buy accordingly.
Do hemp hearts go bad?
If you have room, I recommend keeping a small bin in the refrigerator with jars for hemp hearts, chia seeds, flax and nuts to help keep all of this organized.
They’ll have a rancid smell if they go bad. The smell can be faint though so I recommend marking the bottom of your storage container with a piece of masking tape and marker with the best by date. Once the oils start going bad, they’ll give off a bitter taste instead of the nutty flavor they typically have.
Ways to use hemp hearts
Hemp hearts are so versatile, the options for this great source of protein are truly endless. They have a nutty taste and aren’t particularly tasty on their own but are excellent added to other dishes.
Plus, a little goes a long way so you can add a pinch for a nutrient protein boost to your favorite recipes and favorite foods without altering the flavor of what you’re making.
Here are a few good ways to use them:
- On top of avocado toast
- On toast with peanut butter or nut butter and jam or honey and banana slices
- In a salad or salad dressing
- On top of oatmeal
- On popcorn
- Sprinkled in a sandwich
- In smoothies or on top of smoothie bowls
- Baked into muffins, cookies, bread or other baked goods
- In energy balls
- Mixed into casseroles
- In spinach pancakes (or any pancakes)
- Sprinkled on top of hummus
- In tabbouleh like this Eating Bird Food recipe
- In homemade pesto
- Topping ice cream, chia pudding or other desserts
There are so many other uses too – far too many to list. If you’re already eating hemp hearts, good for you!
If you’re new to them but eager to try, pick some up and just go small at first, sprinkling them into whatever you’re eating. Gradually work this nutritional powerhouse into more of your meals and enjoy!
Frequently Asked Questions
No, hemp hearts will not cause you to fail a drug test. Hemp hearts do not contain THC (the psychoactive component in cannabis sativa plant) which is what drug tests measure.
No, hemp hearts and hemp seeds are not the same thing. The soft interior of the hemp seed is referred to as the heart. The hearts are completely unshelled before being sold and have a soft, easily digestible texture.
Hemp hearts taste nutty, mild and earthy. They are dry and soft with a somewhat crunchy texture and best mixed into or sprinkled onto other foods instead of eaten on their own.
Hemp hearts do not contain CBD. They do not have any psychoactive properties.
Yes, hemp hearts are excellent for adding into recipes while cooking and baking. Keep in mind that they can start to degrade if heated past 350°F (175°C) so it’s best to cook with them at low temperatures.
Originally published January 24, 2020 but post text has been updated since then.