Green Revolution

The Flores family rolls out Hola Hemp tamales

Hola Hemp tamales are not medicinal edibles. Let's get that cleared up right at the start. The notion that any item containing hemp will get you high is based on disinformation and basic old-fashioned preconception.

Hemp itself, although a product of the same plant, is not marijuana. The main difference is tetrahydrocannabinol, better known as THC. These days, marijuana is loaded with THC, the element that traditionally gets you stoned, while hemp might possess teeny-tiny percentage. At that level, unless you are a serious lightweight, you're not going to feel any psychotropic effects.

Hemp contains cannabidiol, or CBD. Now, we all know that medical marijuana can be used to help with many health issues, and we here in Tucson new dispensaries popping up all the time to assist those with various qualifying ailments. But it turns out that hemp can also be extremely beneficial to our general wellness, without any psychoactive or paranoia-inducing reactions.

Studies have shown that hemp seeds can assist with heart disease, as they are packed with amino acids and healthy Omega-3s that help relax your blood vessels. Hemp seed oil is beneficial for those with eczema, as the fatty acids improve blood flow for those suffering with dry skin.

But here is the best part: Hemp seeds are packed with nutrients. They are an amazing source of protein. More than 25 percent of the calories come from protein, outshining similar grains such as chia and flaxseed, which boast maybe maybe 20 percent. Plus, they taste good, too. Hemp seeds are basically a nut, so they have that mild earthy flavor. It's no wonder that a hemp food revolution is underway, or that some Tucson culinary bigshots are joining the fight.

At El Charro, the idea came "out of the blue," says Charro Steak executive chef Gary Hickey. One day, Ray Flores, the commander of the various restaurants in the Flores family string—El Charro, Charro Steak, Sir Veza's, etc.—said the restaurants should try a hemp tamale.

"Like everything else with us, it just started as a silly conversation—current menu trends, what's going on in the food world," Hickey says. "We just wanted to push the envelope, so we got to work on it pretty quick."

Hickey and Flores have friends who suffered from various ailments and said they'd seen positive results after they got their medical marijuana cards. Thus the inception for Hola Hemp.

"We started researching hemp as far as putting it out as a product and we noticed there was a big resurgence of restaurants serving hemp in California," Hickey says. "Since hemp isn't weed, it was pretty easy to get Hola Hemp up and running."

Restaurants across the country—including Oregon, Vermont and (this is an obvious one) Colorado—serve dishes infused with the nutty, delicious and beneficial seed. Hickey and Flores decided to give it a try in a tamale.

"The first set of tamales we made were amazing, but no one wrote down the recipe," says Hickey. "That was completely my fault. The tamales we sell now is like the 6.0 version. We knew we wanted to do a healthy option of the tamale, so we took it all the way to vegan."

Hola Hemp tamales contain no animal products whatsoever, but you don't miss it once you bite into one. They replaced the lard with olive oil, added black chia seeds, replaced the usual chiles with nopalitos and did away completely with cheese. What you get in the tamale is a power punch of fiber, anti-inflammatory goodness and—above all—layers of deep flavor and a hearty texture. Best of all, they are very filling. And very delicious.

The Hola Hemp tamales are primarily sold at El Charro, but they are available at Charro Steak and Sir Veza, although they are not on menu, according to product manager Julio Santa Cruz.

"We are working on broader distribution, going as far as the East Coast, but right now you can only get Hola Hemp products here in Tucson," Santa Cruz says.