LONDON (Reuters) - Any Italian will tell you: pasta is healthy and makes you feel good. But what about spaghetti made from cannabis?
Farmers from southern Italy presenting their wares at a London food festival this week say their hemp pasta, oil and bread won't get you high, but do provide a healthy, tasty alternative to the traditional, wheat variety.
"Hemp food is truly organic," said Marzio Ilario Fiore, 30, whose farm in the Molise region produces hemp oil and flour. "Hemp requires no pesticides, no fertilizers, and only moderate amounts of water." Cannabis is most often associated with the psychoactive effects of marijuana, but some strains of the plant can also be cultivated for food.
High-growing varieties called hemp, which contain negligible levels of the drug THC, have long been grown to produce food and other products. Italy lifted a ban on hemp cultivation in 1998.
"My crop gets regularly checked by Italian police inspectors to ensure that THC is within the legal limit," said Fiore, one of some 200 Italian food artisans in London for the three-day Bellavita ("Beautiful Life") Expo.
As well as spaghetti made from hemp flour, he provided tastings of hemp taralli - hard savory biscuits from southern Italy - and hemp oil, which has a distinctive, nutty flavor.
Hemp seeds are one of the richest sources of vegetarian protein, with high concentrations of omega fatty acids, growers say.
While most pasta makers have yet to venture into the hemp market, they are finding new ways to present the staple, patenting new pasta shapes and sizes.
La Molisana, for example, showed off its square-shaped variety of spaghetti, the so-called 'spaghetto quadrato'.
Wine makers, too, are looking for ways to differentiate their products, with one producer aging its bottles on the sea bed for up to a year before selling them, encrusted with algae.
"The lack of light and constant temperature combined with the 'massage' effect of the tides produces great results," said Gianluca Grilli, co-founder of the Tenuta del Paguro which won Bellavita's best beverage business award, worth 10,000 euros.
Tenuta del Paguro uses the wreck of the Paguro oil drilling platform, which sank in the Adriatic Sea in 1965, to store its wine underwater.
The three reds and one white are produced in Riolo Terme, near Ravenna, in central Italy, before being sent to mature under the waves. The bottles sell in Italy for 100-150 euros ($110-160) each, Grilli said.
Bellavita offered a maze of hanging salami and cheese from across Italy, including provolone from the milk of the Agerolese cow, a protected crossbreed from the south, as well as cookies flavored with lavender and rosewood extract called 'Furezze', from the Venetian dialect word 'sfureso', meaning delicacy.
Editing by Michael Roddy and Robin Pomeroy