Bakers Journal

What the hemp?Demystifying the Potential of a Power Plant—and Its Functional Future in Bakery

March 16, 2020
By Ben Carnevale, BSc

Demystifying the Potential of a Power Plant—and Its Functional Future in Bakery

The buzz created across the country by the Cannabis Act has quickly evolved into a rapidly expanding market opportunity for the once-banned substance. With ongoing legislative changes and controversial consumer perceptions related to cannabis, manufacturers are challenged by the uncharted marketplace that requires continued consumer education and the demystification of the term ‘cannabis.’ As a result, industrial hemp is being held back from making it mainstream—for now.

Hemp vs. Marijuana: Clearing the Smoke

Sharing the same broad classification of cannabis, hemp and marijuana are virtually identical in appearance with overlapping cultural references that have resulted in consumer confusion. The defining characteristic that separates the two is the amount of THC in the plant. Simply put, consumers want to know: will consuming hemp-based products produce a psychotropic effect? The answer is no.

Hemp Marijuana
Non-intoxicating Can induce psychotropic/euphoric effects
Contains <0.3% THC Contains >0.3% THC


In a consumer-driven economy where demands for plant-based protein, functional foods, and sustainability are soaring, industrial hemp is on the verge of a major growth phase. In fact, hemp as a food ingredient alone is seeing 15%-20% growth year on year.

Fuelling the Growth of Industrial Hemp

After 70+ years of prohibition, the oldest industrial crop in the world is making its way to mainstream following the tailwinds of several growing trends. While Mintel Purchase Intelligence shows lower cross-category purchase intent for products containing hemp-derived ingredients, the research also showed that the younger demographic understood hemp to be ‘very healthy for you’ with an increased willingness for trial—equating to a ripe market opportunity of nearly 40% of Canadians.[i]

Simultaneously, the increased consumer focus on personal wellbeing and global sustainability further supports the anticipated growth of industrial hemp.

  • Green it up
    • More than 40% of the population is actively trying to incorporate more plant-based foods into their diets.[ii]
  • Think beyond meat
    • Alternative proteins, including plant-based proteins, is expected to grow at 14% annually by 2024—up to 1/3 of the Canadian protein market.[iii]
  • Focus on function
    • Consumers report increased intent to purchase functional foods to support top personal health priorities including weight management (51%), stress (51%), energy (39%) and sleep (38%).[iv]

So, with converging consumer trends and recent legalization, why is hemp taking so long to hit the mainstream in Canada? My suspicion is that confusion in the industry created by the Cannabis Act has slowed our understanding and adoption of hemp-based products to deliver on current consumer trends.

[i] Ipsos Custom CHATS 2020 Custom Study, November 2019, Ipsos.



[iv] Proactive Health Category & Channel Demand for “Food as Medicine”, 2019, Kerry Proprietary Consumer Research.

So, Why Hemp?

Hemp provides a gluten-free, non-GMO alternative to other plant-based proteins. Suitable for vegans, vegetarians and flexitarians alike, hemp is a nutrient-rich option for anyone looking to boost dietary protein without having to consume whey, soy, or a steak. When comparing to other buzz-worthy power plant products, like chia or flax seeds, hemp delivers stronger claims and nutrient profiles—which should resonate with the 48% of consumers reporting that they always/regularly read labels.


  Hemp Flax Chia
Protein 10g 5g 5g
Carbohydrates 3g 9g 13g
Omegas 10g 9g 7g
Vitamins & Minerals†† Vitamin B, B2, calcium, magnesium, copper, potassium, phosphorus Vitamin B, B6, calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium Vitamin B, B2, B3, calcium, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, selenium, zinc
Protein/carbohydrate/omega values based on 50g serving across an average of 3 sources/brands

††Vitamin/mineral inclusion based on Canadian Nutrient File—Health Canada

Hemp-Inspired Product Development

Protein Powder

  • Hemp protein powder is 90% digestible and offers a low-carb, protein-rich, high-in-fibre protein source that is packed with healthy omega fatty acids.
    • Application: Convert traditional bakery items into protein power sources. Add hemp protein powder to increase protein in breads, brownies, cakes, muffins and other baked goods.

De-Hulled Hemp Seed

  • Also known as hemp hearts, not only are hemp seeds one of the best sources of vegetable protein in the world, but they are also highly versatile, easily digestible—and they taste delicious.
    • Application: Sprinkle, mix, top and spread! Incorporate them into your baked goods—or use them as a topping on muffins, loaves, or breads.

Hemp Oil

  • Hemp oil is harvested by cold-pressing hemp seeds and provides a natural source of fatty acids, terpenes and proteins. At present, in order for hemp-seed oil to be exempt from the Cannabis Act, it can’t contain more than 10 ppm of THC.
    • Application: Functional culinary hemp oil can be used as an edible ingredient, but at this time has limited exposure to the baking category. Explore hemp oil in brownies, bread or muffins and enjoy the nutty flavour possibilities—it could be the next coconut oil!

Hemp-based CBD

  • Cannabidiol (CBD) has been celebrated for its far-reaching medical applications—and has been linked to supporting the relief of symptoms of anxiety and pain. Hemp-based CBD is non-psychoactive, making it a safe and effective option for patients who may be concerned about the mind-altering effects of other cannabinoids, such as THC.

Application: CBD products have been used to support a range of health conditions, including the management of anxiety, depression, inflammation, acne, sleep disorders, heart disease and chronic pain.

To CBD or Not to CBD?

In Canada, CBD and products containing CBD are subject to all of the rules and requirements that apply to cannabis under the Cannabis Act—regardless of origin. The Cannabis Act and its regulations do not distinguish between CBD derived from industrial hemp and CBD derived from cannabis with greater than 0.3% THC. What you need to know:

  • Claims: Given the limited availability of peer-reviewed studies, on-label claims are heavily restricted with respect to messaging relating to CBD’s efficacy in the treatment or support of health conditions.
  • Psychotropic Effect: Regardless of source, CBD will not ‘get you high’. However, hemp-derived CBD allows you to maintain a THC-free claim on your label.
  • Dosage Limitations: With <0.3% THC, Health Canada does not impose dose restrictions or maximum inclusion rates in hemp-based CBD products.
  • Licensing: In Canada, CBD falls under the Cannabis Act—the same legislation established by Health Canada to manage licensing for all cannabis-based products.
  • CBD and Sport: Unlike other cannabinoids—including marijuana and THC—CBD is not listed on the World Anti-Doping Agency’s Prohibited List and is permitted to use in sport.
  • Available Forms: Extracted from the cultivated flower of the cannabis plant, CBD can be processed to be available as an isolate, distillate, or crude oil for inclusion into consumer products.
  • Application: CBD can maintain total functionality when being incorporated into consumable products. That said, if considering inclusion of CBD into your product development pipeline, always seek guidance to ensure your production process doesn’t compromise your product efficacy.

[sub] The Future of Baking Is Functional…?

As consumer perceptions continue to evolve with increased education, product availability, and continued legislative changes, the future of hemp is bright.

While CBD and products containing CBD remain solely available for sale through authorized cannabis retailers in Canada, ongoing changes in the legislation relating to edible cannabis will continue to evolve as additional research and peer-reviewed studies become available. With the increased consumer focus on sleep and mental wellbeing, there is a lot of exciting research underway on the effect of CBD on the management of stress and anxiety.

Prediction: While distribution is currently restricted, it’s not too early to start thinking about CBD-infused baked goods to deliver on consumer acceptance of food as medicine. With this increased investment in research to help back product claims, it would not be shocking to see a plethora of CBD-infused ingredients finding their way onto mainstream product labels in the near future.

According to Ipsos, the average Canadian consumes 10 snacks per day—with 66% of all consumption occasions occurring in between meals.[i] These statistics offer an amazing opportunity to incorporate hemp into products that promise to deliver on increased protein and plant-based consumer demands.

Prediction: With consumers looking for good-for-you snack options, I expect we’ll start to see an emergence of hemp-infused bakery products that promise consumers increased protein or functional benefits. Hemp presents and exciting opportunity for bakery, as it opens up new possibilities for the category to promote crave-worthy products that are both functional and available in single-serve portions.

In recent years, cannabis has been one of the most buzz-worthy topics across North America. Given its entwinement with the controversial topic, hemp is benefiting from the media exposure—consumers are curious, and manufacturers are taking notice.

Prediction: On the cusp of many converging consumer trends, both social and traditional media channels will demystify hemp at an unprecedented pace. Hemp is in the limelight and as consumers become more informed on its health benefits, we will see increased acceptance—and subsequent demand—for hemp-based products. Manufacturers who are exploring possibilities with this power plant are sure to benefit from the anticipated growth of industrial hemp.

The future belongs to the curious.

[i] FIVE R12M Ending June 2019, Ipsos


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