EUGENE, Ore. — We’ve come a long, long way from your older brother’s pot brownies. Yeah, those ones with visible chunks of cannabis flower. Did they even work?
Today’s refined edible cannabis doesn’t necessarily look or taste anything like the plant, and chefs are incorporating it into a staggering array of sweet and savory foods and drinks, from soups and sauces to sodas, beer and butter, all in controlled-dose servings.
And though these experiences still mostly appeal to a niche diner, the concept is entering the mainstream.
Cannabis Cooking Magazine, a Portland-based online publication less than a year old, is a fun, free way to explore the diversity of the modern stoner food discipline in a Martha Stewart-esque presentation. It’s edited and published by Devorah Ungerleider-Moore, who with her sister, business director Karmel Ungerleider-Abrams, started the cannabis-focused food magazine after the two founded Progressive Nectar Publishing, a web resource for people following special diets.
Why it’s catching on
As serious chefs have discovered, cannabis food is more than just another way to get stoned. The plant can be considered a culinary ingredient like any other herb. When you cook with a full-spectrum cannabis oil, meaning it contains the plant’s full range of terpenes (essential oils) and cannabinoids, you can taste the stuff.
For uninitiated taste buds, cannabis terpene flavors can range from lemony, floral and grassy to resinous, spicy or even cheesy. There are as many flavor profiles as oolong tea or pinot noir, so culinary applications are endless.
A recipe in Cannabis Cooking Magazine for infused ghee (clarified butter) provides a pillar for many other recipes. By heating dried cannabis plant material, or flower, in butter at a low temperature and then straining it, the cannabinoids are transferred into the fat in a new form that’s absorbable by human digestion, via the liver (instead of the lungs).
This heating and conversion process is called decarboxylation. Without it, adding weed to food is pointless unless you’re considering it a vegetable. This process works for either hemp (less than .3 percent THC) or marijuana flower.
Once a butter or oil infusion is made, it can be dosed out into portions of food, though knowing the potency is tricky. Cooking with infused fats works best in recipes in which ingredients are evenly mixed, like a sauce, soup or dough, to ensure an even distribution. Something like popcorn, for example, is tricky to dose because each piece could have quite different amounts of butter on it. But depending on one’s reasons for cooking with cannabis, getting an exact dose may or may not be important.
Experts advise trying small doses to find the right one. But the best way to control dose is to buy an ingredient from a dispensary that’s tested for potency. Store-bought canna-butter from the company Portland Oven, or the infused olive oil, honey and salt made by Portland company Alto Essentials, are just a few ways to dose recipes at home.
Food as a formula
Food can be medicine whether we’re cooking with cannabis or without it, said Maia Keller, herbalist and co-owner of The Lighthearted Farmer, a CBD extract company in Lowell, Ore., and a regular recipe contributor to Cannabis Cooking Magazine. When she cooks with the extracts, she said she considers the recipe a formula. But, according to Keller, healing can come from any recipe.
“Every single one of my recipes that I make is a formula unto itself,” Keller said. “Every single ingredient that I use, even if there’s no herbs at all in the food, it’s still healing. It’s still paying attention to every detail and combining them in the most perfectly balanced way to create something that’s beautiful, artistic, delicious.”
The Lighthearted Farmer’s extracts are organic and full-spectrum. Many herbalists, including Keller, believe that whole-plant formulas are more effective for healing than a single, isolated compound. That said, her product is not designed for people who regularly undergo drug tests or who don’t want to consume any THC.
While many strains of cannabis are bred to be dominant in THC for its psychoactive effect, Lighthearted Farmer extracts from strains dominant in CBD or CBG. These strains are considered hemp under federal law, which means the plants contain less than .3 percent THC. CBG is a lesser cannabinoid that Keller said is gaining respect as therapeutic for specific conditions.