State fairs are typically notorious summer locations for serving up some of the guiltiest food pleasures known to mankind. Should you have the fried Twinkie filled with mayonnaise and dipped in chocolate or a giant funnel cake topped with marshmallows and M&Ms? Such a massive caloric upload is probably not the best way to spend a day in triple-digit heat surrounded by crowds, dust and cattle – but many of us indulge in these gut-bombs for the sheer, decadent absurdity of it all. But now the Kentucky State Fair is turning the tide of those nutritional deficiencies offering a treat this year that is as novel as it is quintessentially American: hemp hot dogs.
The convergence of local hemp and local cattle – two characteristically Kentuckian industries – is creating instant promotional buzz for the maker of the “Kentucky Hemp Dog.” David Neville, a cattle farmer and creator of the hemp wiener, told the Courier-Journal in Louisville that his product represents years of work and an unwavering crusade to serve something truly local at the fair. He also hopes his creation scores him a blue ribbon prize. “We hope to get the nose of the camel under the tent,” he said while addressing his Kentucky Hemp Dog’s entry into competition alongside commercial beef farmers at the fair. “Hemp gives [the hot dog] marketing appeal.”
Balancing the dietary scales at the Kentucky State Fair, which runs August 18-28, Bluegrass state food manufacturers are in a particularly advantageous position this year to make their mark with hemp food products. Kentucky is one of just six states in the U.S. to make the most of the 2014 Farm Bill that lifted the prohibition of growing industrial hemp and allowed farmers to get plants in the ground. That decision has created a plethora of hemp products ready to wow consumers this year across the nation. Destined to be a hemp powerhouse with over 4,700 acres of hemp planted in 2016, it makes sense that we’re seeing the likes of Kentucky hemp frankfurters on fair menus.
“I’ve never seen it used anywhere [else] in the world in a meat product,” Victory Hemp Foods’ Chad Rosen, supplier of the hemp hearts in the hot dogs, told PM Nightly News. “We are breaking ground on industrial hemp.”
Just what goes into the production of a typical American hot dog might be a topic best left to the tiny, polysyllabic print on the side of food packaging. One very common ingredient added to most hot dogs, as a filler and binding agent, is the ingredient “maltodextrin.” Basically, a thickening agent used in processed foods to enhance texture and flavor, it is a compound included in hot dogs and made from cooked starch, typically from corn or wheat. It can be found in an assortment of common foods, including canned fruits, salad dressings and powdered drinks. Despite being only slightly sweet, it should be noted that maltodextrin is a rich carbohydrate and affects blood sugar, an important caveat for a population suffering from increased cases of diabetes and glucose issues.
Hemp on the other hand, while being relatively absent from American diets for decades, is a food reportedly loaded with nutrition. The National Center for Biotechnology, a branch of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, states that it is widely known that hempseed is “an excellent source of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, compounds that are proven to have beneficial effects on our cardiovascular health.” Though its presence in human diets has been recorded for hundreds of years, very little research has been published on hemp’s positive biological effects, largely due to industrial hemp’s inaccurate co-mingling in the last century with its psychotropic sibling marijuana. Hemp, however, is not psychoactive.
Kentucky’s rich history cultivating industrial hemp, which dates back to the 18th century, puts its population in the catbird seat when it comes to developing new local foods. Kentucky Cattlemen’s Association Dave Maples told the Courier Journal, “Consumers want to know where their food comes from and what the story is behind it.”
Hemp producer Rosen is hopeful that Victory Hemp Foods’ product line and their work with the Kentucky hemp hot dog may help drive more hemp ingredients to be used in foods manufactured across in the U.S.
“Leveraging local beef in Kentucky with a little help from local hemp,” said Rosen, and “hopefully, the USDA and FDA will give [federal] clearance for using hemp as a food additive and ingredient in meat products so we can see these move into a bun near you.”
Would you enjoy a hemp hot dog if it was available at your local state fair this year?