India has long consumed hemp in different forms. The most popular is bhang ki lassi or thandai and bhang ki chutney (a paste made from hemp seeds)—a local delicacy of Uttarakhand.
Bhang is readily available in some government shops across the country. Traditional thandai, a milky drink made with hemp paste and dry fruits, is a must-have for holi and a few other festivals in states like Bihar, West Bengal, Odisha and Goa. However, bhang and hemp are slightly different, as they come from different parts of the plant.
India has always loved hemp, but it is now re-entering into popular culture with things like fabric, papers, oils and protein food sources. Hemp is being seen as a sustainable solution to the industrial-scale production of food and fabrics.
Hemp is a cultivar of the cannabis sativa plant, which has all the benefits yet no psychoactive chemicals like THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol); this differentiates the industrial fibre and food source—hemp—from marijuana. This plant is also different from the one that produces bhang.
India Hemp & Co., founded by sisters Jayanti and Shalini Bhattacharya, sells hemp-based food and pet products. They made an appearance on Shark Tank India recently.
"We started the business after my sister Shalini found relief from a terrible chronic back pain through CBD oil," said Jayanti, the younger of the two to DH Online. "As Indians, we are familiar with bhang, but the scope of this superfood (hemp) is vast. Hemp has got FSSAI approval and is seen as a clean food source."
The company has grown 300x since the FSSAI announcement, shares Jayanti.
It's not just food, though.
Goa-based gin maker Shubham Khanna added the hemp seeds from his keto supplies in a batch to experiment.
"The result was satisfactory for Gin Gin to launch as one of the only gins in the world to use hemp as a botanical," said Khanna.
Spaceman & Company's Samsara gin also uses hemp in it.
The Bhattacharya sisters admit that the buzz about hemp is much bigger globally than it is in India, despite it being historically associated with the plant.
"It was easier for me to access information regarding hemp products in Spain than finding good quality seeds for sourcing in Uttarakhand. To raise awareness of hemp as a superfood, we work with home chefs and culinary experts to curate unique menus and recipes," said Shalini.
She adds that all their products are vegetarian, lactose-free, gluten-free, and diabetic friendly.
Kuhoo Rawat, a marketing professional with Pahadi origins, has memories and anecdotes from her childhood.
"The elderly women in our home used to make a coarse chutney mixed with garlic and green chillies. I have also seen them use hemp hearts as medicine for joint pain. They used to caramelize sugar into batashe (flat sugar discs) and put one hemp heart in each."
Another traditional use of hemp seeds has been dry roasting it and eating it raw with roasted red rice called "Bukhanha," said Rawat.
(Chandreyi Bandyopadhyay is a freelance writer and blogger with a keen interest in food and travel)