Hemp seed oil is typically produced by cold-pressing the seeds of industrial varieties of Cannabis sativa L. after harvest. Unrefined hemp seed oil is dark green in color, due to the high levels of chlorophyll found naturally in hemp seeds. Refined hemp seed oil is also available and is light green in color due to the removal of most of the chlorophyll. However, during the refining process many other compounds are removed along with the chlorophyll (including phytosterols that would be desirable if the oil is used as a food source).
There are numerous applications for both refined and unrefined hemp seed oil. Table 1 lists some of these uses.
|Unrefined Hemp Seed Oil:||Refined Hemp Seed Oil:|
Table 1 – Uses for unrefined and refined hemp seed oil
So what is hemp seed oil composed of that makes it useful as both a food ingredient and a base for oil paints? The answer is that it is composed almost entirely of fats, which makes it useful for dissolving oil-based pigments. Furthermore, the kinds of fats found in hemp seed oil are nearly ideal for human food use. Hemp seed oil is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids in the desirable alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) form, which the human body can put to immediate use upon consumption. Studies have shown that consumption of fatty acids in a ratio of 4:1 omega-6 to omega-3 results in a reduced risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. Hemp seed oil contains omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids in a ratio of less than 3:1, which means that it is a great source of omega-3 fatty acids and helps to maintain a healthy dietary fatty acid ratio.
Besides the favorable fatty acid composition, hemp seed oil is also rich in vitamins, antioxidants, and phytosterols that make it even more desirable to use as a cooking oil. For example, hemp seed oil contains significant amounts of vitamin E, phytol, and β-sitosterol. The FDA recognizes that phytosterol consumption is linked to lowered blood levels of LDL cholesterol. Thus, including hemp seed oil in the diet could contribute to this effect.
This is just a brief look at the composition and uses for hemp seed oil. Certainly more and more uses for this already versatile product will be found as the cultivation of industrial hemp becomes more common in the USA. Furthermore, once organizations such as the National Hemp Association are successful in their bid for federal legalization of industrial hemp, it will become easier to perform research on the plant and its products, thereby clarifying and multiplying the uses for hemp seed oil in the future.