Hemp milk the latest product innovation finding favour with Aussie consumers

By Lester Wan

- Last updated on GMT

Refresh’s O’Neil said his hemp milk contains “just dates, sea salt, hemp and water”. ©Refresh
Refresh’s O’Neil said his hemp milk contains “just dates, sea salt, hemp and water”. ©Refresh

Related tags Hemp Australia Beverages Dairy Non-Dairy superfood Nutrition plant-based milk Plant-based foods vegan

Hemp milk is the latest product to be launched in Australia after the ingredient was permitted for use by regulators at the end of last year.

The product was first available in Western Australia and “will be heading to the East Coast soon”​, Refresh Juice + Cleanse founder Liam O’Neil told FoodNavigator-Asia​.

Following a trend of nut milks such as almond milk, his new non-nut, non-dairy milk product’s key ingredient is hemp seeds.

O’Neil said Refresh’s hemp milk contains “just dates, sea salt, hemp and water”​. The hemp hearts, date paste, sea salt and filtered water are blended together and strained with a fine-mesh bag to get hemp milk.

“This milk is for everyday use as a nut- and dairy-free milk alternative,” ​said O’Neil.

He said the business has been growing rapidly and so has the response to the novel hemp milk.

“The people of Perth have been very supportive and open to such a new and interesting product,” ​he said.

According to him, a pop-up store will be planned in the East of the country within a few weeks’ time.

Following that, he said his hemp milk will be available in supermarkets. He declined to say more about the plan.

“We have more flavoured products on their way,” ​he did reveal.

The company currently obtains its hemp seeds from the US, simply because the industry is very new in Australia. According to the local 9 News​, in Western Australia, only 21 licensees are cultivating hemp crop this year.

O’Neil said he believes the industry in Australia would grow fast, and “then we can support our local farmers”​.

He said, being a cold-pressed juice business, the company makes various other “healthy and tasty” ​juices made from farm-direct produce and ingredients native to Australia.

Refresh was founded in June 2015 and currently has eight employees.

Recent ruling

Just in November last year, the Australia and New Zealand Ministerial Forum on Food Regulation, backed by Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ), made changes to the Food Standards Code to permit the sale of hemp seed as a food.

Since then, a wave of food products containing hemp​ has been growing across Australia. These have so far included hemp chocolate, brownies, cereal, honey​ and even beer.

Jeff Clements, marketing manager of Hemp Foods Australia, had told us in December: “Australia can expect to see hemp cookies, cereals, beer, butter, breads, burgers, dips, spreads and milk.”

His words have since proven prophetic with many of these products already in the Australia and New Zealand markets in the last half a year.

Hemp Foods currently has about an 80% market share of the industry, mainly selling hemp flour, hulled hemp seeds, hemp protein powder and hemp oil through its online store.

Hemp nutrition and caution

O’Neil said that hemp is naturally high in protein, and Omega-3 and Omega-6.

“Hemp seed hearts are rich in oils, with a ratio of Omega-6 to Omega-3 polyunsaturated fats of around 3:1,” ​concurred Carl Gibson, CEO of Complementary Medicines Australia (CMA).

“Hemp seeds contain around 25% protein and is one of the original superfoods, up there with soybean and even better than quinoa. Most of the essential amino acids are present, plus valuable minerals and amounts of vitamin E.”

“In a 250ml glass of hemp milk, there is roughly 48% of your daily calcium intake,” ​added O’Neil.

Nonetheless, while the Dietitians Association of Australia (DAA) agreed that Omega-3 and Omega-6 have been shown to decrease bad LDL cholesterol levels and to decrease the risk of heart disease, it also advised caution about hemp food products.

“There are a number of health-related claims put forth by marketers of this product that suggest that the consumption of hemp seeds can decrease food cravings, food intolerances, inflammation, cholesterol and blood pressure and improve digestion, cellular health, circulation, immunity, weight loss and energy levels. However, while hemp seeds have similar nutritional composition of other nuts and seeds, no clinical research has been conducted on humans that supports these claims,”​ said Natasha Murray, spokesperson for the DAA.

Furthermore, she said that there is currently no evidence that hemp seeds are more beneficial or superior to other edible nuts and seeds, and there are a number of other foods that also contain good amounts of healthy fats and protein.

“One small, short-term human study showed an improvement in dry skin when 30ml of hemp oil was consumed on a daily basis. Larger, long-term studies are needed,” ​she said.

CMA estimates that the international market for hemp foods is around $1b annually.

Derived from the cannabis sativa plant, hemp permitted for food use has an especially low level of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which eliminates psychoactive effects known to be in the drug strain of cannabis.

Industry regulator FSANZ made it clear that any association between hemp products and the drug strain must be avoided.

Hemp product packaging cannot use an image or representation of the plant or leaf, and the word “cannabis” cannot be used.

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