“Every time a person hears ‘hemp,’ they automatically go to marijuana and ask, ‘Oh, am I going to get high?’ And we’re like, ‘No, you’re going to get healthy,’” Tyenella Hall said as she described a typical inquiry about Gourmet Hemp Foods. The Richmond, VA company, started by Rob Ujevic in 2015, found its footing in 2018 when Tyenella and her husband, Reginald Hall Jr., brought their cooking talents on board to create a line of sauces.
While Ujevic originally planned to create a marinara to complement an existing pasta product, the first sauces to come out of the Halls’ kitchen were a hot sauce and barbecue sauce. The Hemp Hottie Sauce and Hemp Honey BBQ Sauce gained quick popularity in the local market and, in 2021, became available in Food Lion grocery stores across Virginia.
“We’re proud that the three of us bottle up almost 7,000 bottles to be able to meet that order each month,” said Tyenella Hall. “And we’re talking hand pouring. There is no cannery. We are literally standing there with 212-degree hot sauce, pouring it into bottles by hand and sealing it by hand.
“This is a labor of love.”
Until recently, hemp was illegal to grow in the US. Advocates, citing the benefits of hemp, finally in 2015 saw cultivation of the crop become legal in Virginia, which is where the majority of the hemp used by Gourmet Hemp Foods is sourced.
The benefits of hemp are what drive Ujevic and the Halls. “Hemp is something that can heal you from the inside out,” explained Tyenella Hall. “It can feed you, heal you, clothe you, house you. The seeds are fortified with Omega-3, 6 and 9, so that means you’re getting a complete balanced amino acid. Whereas for some people, you have to get Omega-6 from a pill or fish oil. Then you have to go out and find somewhere else to get Omega-3. Then you have to go somewhere else and get Omega-9. With hemp seeds and cold pressed hemp oil, you get all of those benefits in one shot.”
But what does it taste like? The hemp seed has a nutty flavor, rather than the greenness that is associated with CBD and marijuana-infused foods. Hemp oil has a viscous feel that causes the sauces produced by the company to linger on the tongue.
“You actually get to feel and taste the flavors that we put into our food,” said Hall. “The pasta sauce is more earthy, so that taste that you usually get when you get CBD or marijuana-infused products, you’ll definitely feel that with the pasta. It’s a really deep, green color. You’re going to know that you’re eating Mother Earth.”
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