Cannabis edibles are older than heck, first showing up in anthropological records around 1500 BCE in ancient India – in the form of bhang, a paste made by grinding buds and leaves. They show up again in Renaissance writer Bartolomeo Platina's “On Honorable Pleasure and Health,” the first printed cookbook. And speaking of cookbooks, Alice B Toklas' 1954 eponymous one went a long way to popularizing “Hashish Fudge” with the Beat Generation.
Now, in a time of unprecedented legality and technological capability, edibles are evolving. Sure, you'll always be able to fall back on the tried-and-true “special brownies,” but the cannabis industry is finding new ways to work with cannabis and learning to control it to a clinical level for the first time.
To get the lay of the land of THC-laced treats, DGO interviewed four representatives of Colorado's edible industry.
Lauren Gockley/Coda SignatureWhen it comes to looking fancy, Coda Signature has a lot of other edible brands beat. The company makes truffles, chocolate bars, a line of gummies called “Fruit Notes,” and “Chocolate on a Spoon” – and the people behind the scenes definitely have aesthetics on their minds.
When creating a THC-infused treat, Lauren Gockley, Director of Edibles at Coda, said, “It's not specifically about thinking of it as an infused item as much as creating an item that's going to create a really wonderful experience for our customer – and that starts with our packaging, the appearance of our products ... the flavor profile, and the quality of the cannabis ingredient as well. I'm looking to create the overall experience as it relates to all those different aspects of cuisine, visual effects, and the effect of THC as well.”
Gockley took up cooking with cannabis as a way to challenge herself when it comes to working with chocolate – a food she had worked with for years, including a couple at New York City's uber-elite Per Se restaurant.
“I saw an opportunity with cannabis to introduce really high quality products to continue to elevate people's experiences,” she said.
On a fundamental level, cannabis and chocolate combine to provide a level of nourishment that really excites people, she said. “Whenever I tell people what I do, I always get in trouble if I'm not carrying any.”
The key to why chocolate and weed go so well together is anandimide, a chemical our brains produce naturally that helps regulate emotion. It's important in creating a feeling of happiness or bliss, and very similar chemicals can be found outside our bodies, notably in cocoa bean products and cannabis.
“There are a lot of really beautiful parallels between chocolate and cannabis. That makes for a really synchronistic pairing,” Gockley said.
Combining other things people love and are familiar with is likely why Coda Signature's Coffee & Doughnuts chocolate bar is the top-selling edible chocolate bar in Colorado and the second top-selling in the nation, she said.
Surprisingly, Gockley's favorite edibles recently haven't been chocolate at all, but her company's Fruit Notes. The confections are made with a cannabis distillate, which basically creates a blank slate to which flavors and strains can be added, instead of a CO2 oil that would much more closely emulate the plant from which it came. The confections are also sugar-based, whereas many others edibles are fat-based.
“I'm still exploring you know who I am as an edible consumer,” she said. “I have a lot more research still do, which is not such a bad job to have.”
Josh Fink/IncrediblesOne of the main focuses when creating edibles at Incredibles is creating products that are accessible to the consumer, said corporate executive chef Josh Fink. All of the company's products – which include gummies, chocolates, and pressed tablets like sweet tarts and mints – are all well-demarcated with the precise milligrams of THC inside them.
Creating that level of control was one of the early challenges for the edible industry when cannabis became legal in Colorado, he said. Before legalization, the level of cannabis in an edible was inconsistent at best, especially when inconsistency is one of the hallmarks of the food.
“A well-made brownie is not evenly mixed. If you mix a brownie to the point where it's homogeneous, it's almost cake; it's not really a brownie anymore,” Fink said. “I heard so many stories about, 'Well, I cut it up into four pieces, and one person was asleep on the couch, and one person was doing laps around the house, and the other two folks were like, what's the big deal?' And we definitely wanted to avoid that issue for people and make it consistent and reliable.”
Fink was a pastry chef for a large, nationally-distributed bakery based in Denver when he was approached about creating a line of baked goods for the medical cannabis market.
“That was very short lived because as soon as we got into the market, we realized everybody's like, 'Oh, we want at least three months shelf life,'” he said. “I could make you a brownie that would last three months, but that's Hostess. That's not medicine.”
When it comes to creating edibles, Fink said chocolate is great to work with because the terpenes – the aromatic oils you find in cannabis – mix into the chocolate well while the taste of the chocolate mask a lot of the “off” flavors present in the cannabis.
For personal usage, though, he likes the potential for microdosing associated with the tablets Incredibles creates. Only about 15% of the edibles market, he estimates, consists of high-dose users, with a larger percentage of users wanting it as a social lubricant that they can fit into their everyday routines.
“I think micro dosing is definitely going to open doors to a lot more markets for people. You know, when somebody can have an edible and go out for the evening and not have to worry about whether they have a glass of wine or not, that's going to make a big difference in the availability and the access for people,” he said.
Lauren Finesilver/Sweet Grass KitchenSweet Grass Kitchen is known mostly for its baked goods – brownies and a variety of cookies – as well as mints and fruit snacks. Operations Director and Executive Chef Lauren Finesilver, however, considers one of the company's most interesting products to be its cannabutter.
“It's a stick of butter that you can take home and cook whatever you want. Sweet, savory, the butter on its own is kind of creating your own culinary adventure,” she said.
Making cannabutter on one's own is a bit hit or miss, Finesilver said, especially when it comes to the strength of its THC. Purchasing cannabutter, on the other hand, ensures consistency. Each stick is 100 mg, with each pat having 10 mg of THC. And if people want to dilute the THC even further, that's pretty easy to do – just mix in more regular butter.
Finesilver got into the cannabis business largely because of timing. Sweet Grass Kitchen was just forming as she was looking to get out of the vary corporate setting of working for while foods. Creating edibles – then just for the medical marijuana sector – allowed her to keep working and work with a plant that was going to help people.
Ironically, despite knowing the products she creates inside and out, Finesilver has no tolerance for edibles and doesn't eat them that often. As such, one of her favorite products from the selection that Sweet Grass produces is its CBD Double Chocolate Cookies. Each cookie has 20 mg of CBD and just 1 mg of THC – they grant the same feelings of wellness and relief people find with CBD, but won't get you too stoned. (They have to have at least some THC in there, though, because otherwise Sweet Grass can't legally sell them in the same space as cannabis.)
Peter Barsoom/19061906 is named after the year the Pure Food and Drug Act was enacted. The law, which aimed to bean traffic in adulterated and mislabeled food and drugs, was a reaction to “The Jungle,” by Upton Sinclair, which detailed revoltingly unsanitary conditions in the meatpacking industry. It was also one of the first laws to limit the sale of cannabis too, and many consider it the first step the country took toward prohibiting it.
Today, the company 1906 isn't just enjoying the fact that they can make and sell cannabis-based products again, but also trying to take the industry in a bit of a different direction than most.
Founder and CEO Peter Barsoom said he got into the business to create what he calls “functional cannabis.” 1906 has six different “experiences” in chocolate and tablet form that set out to create different feelings, specifically: Genius, tapping into ones mental powers; Midnight, getting restful sleep; Go, being more alert and focused; Love, getting into a sensual mood; Chill, calming down and relaxing; and Bliss, feeling extroverted and happy.
Like Josh Fink, Barsoom said many consumers are looking to integrate cannabis into their daily toolkits, without necessarily getting high. He said the company makes chocolate edibles because that's simply a way people love to consume cannabis and the pill-like tablets because that's how people typically consume medicine.
“Our focus is on leading consumers where they want to be next,” he said.
Personally, Barsoom, who spent 20 years in finance in New York, has found 1906's Genius edibles useful within his own life.
“I was on ADD medication for most of my adult life ... and wanted an alternative to pharmaceuticals,” he said. “Genius was created to provide that cognitive focus boost without some of the negative side effects of pharmaceuticals. ... Most people don't typically associate cannabis use with cognitive focus, and being able to offer people something that does ... and then for me personally being able to transition from pharma to plant based medicine, that was a really exciting milestone that we met.”
Regulations and the futureExperts we spoke to in the cannabis industry were almost universally surprised by how many regulations they encountered when coming into the industry. For those who got in during the early days of recreational legalization, or even earlier during the medical-only days, the world of making edibles was the Wild West. Rules would change frequently, requiring cannabis cooks to adapt to new conditions while still trying to harness a chemical that hadn't enjoyed much use in an industrial setting.
Early problems circled largely around the general inexperience people had with using edibles – not knowing how much to take and being unsure of what effect they would have or how long it would take to appear. And that's one way edibles have changed, especially going forward.
Everyone we spoke to noted that the cannabis industry is finally figuring out how to make edibles that are fast-acting. You no longer have to take one and then wait an hour to see what will happen.
“Nanocapsulation is something that's kind of big right now,” said Finesilver. “They found chemical process in which they can trick your liver so you can feel the effects of cannabis faster, so it can create more bioavailability for your endocannabinoid system – and that means you can receive the euphoric effect of cannabis much quicker instead of waiting several hours.”
Finesilver also hopes providing fresh-cooked, elegant foods such as croissants to consumers is the future for the edible industry. Only time will tell.