The Future of Cannabis Cuisine

Cannabis Cuisine

Posted: Apr. 20, 2018

In honor of 4/20, annual marijuana day, we explore the future of cannabis cuisine in restaurants and on supermarket shelves.

Although there is a Wikipedia page crediting four teenagers from California for the “holiday,” the origins of 4/20 are murky. And despite being illegal under federal law, marijuana is openly celebrated by enthusiasts across the United States, and around the world, every April 20th.  

The End of Magic Brownies

The collective attitude towards cannabis is shifting from intolerance to receptiveness, with none more welcoming than the food industry. Edibles—prepared foods infused with THC (the psychoactive chemical compound in marijuana which induces “high” states of mind)—are considered a leading food trend in 2018 by the Specialty Foods Association. There’s even talk that, one day, edibles will be exhibiting at major gourmet food shows.

Kara Nielsen, vice president of trends and marketing at CCD Innovation Agency, believes the demand for edibles is driven by their “no-muss-no-fuss” quality. They are “simply less of a hassle and a more discreet option [compared to smoking].” Additionally, edibles have far more thought put into them than the “magic brownies” one might make at home. Nielsen describes edibles as, “very hipster: posh, beautifully designed, all targeting a certain user.”

Nielson equates the edibles market to other artisanal foods, like cold-brewed coffees or gourmet ice creams. With great attention paid to packaging, branding, flavor options, high-quality ingredients, and craftsmanship, the edible market is intended to be irresistible to the target demographic. Producers know how to capture the attention of their consumers and deliver an excellent product that exacts loyal consumerism.

A Need to Educate the Public on Cannabis Consumption

One “pain-point” the nascent industry must contend with is the lack of standardized labeling and testing. Educating the public on cannabis consumption is critical, even to consumers familiar with smoking marijuana, because the psychoactive effects are stronger when eaten.

When inhaled, THC is absorbed through the lungs and circulated via the blood plasma. One gets high within 10 minutes, and the experience is sustained anywhere between 30 minutes to two hours. Whereas if eaten, THC is processed by the liver; the body’s natural digestion process slows down the psychoactive development and hits the person 30 minutes to an hour later. Herein lies the need for cannabis education.

Beginners can make the mistake of thinking they didn’t eat enough and consume more pot-infused food. Some time passes, the THC effects are felt, and the person is then overwhelmed and, most likely, uncomfortable. If the effects were to pass quickly, the lack of labeling might not be such a sticking point, but a high from edibles can last up to six to 12 hours.

At marijuana dispensaries, a knowledgeable store attendant is present to guide customers to the right strain for an optimal experience. When shopping for edibles, there isn’t always someone to ask. Once cannabis-food producers find a way to communicate THC strengths to their customers, US retailers can take the edible industry more seriously.  

As sophisticated business models are developed, and the market matures, expect to see cannabis edibles in major grocery stores and smaller food shops.

Marijuana-Infused Cuisine at Restaurants

Pot-enhanced food and beverages are predicted to be the next major food trend (following 2018’s leading trend: plant-based proteins). In states that have legalized marijuana consumption, some chefs have the chance to be trendsetters as they experiment with THC-infused restaurant menus. For instance, the Herbal Chef and the Chef for Higher are two of the first to offer luxury catering services with cannabis cuisine. (Check out these garlic knots made with cannabis-infused truffle oil).

In Seattle, WA, gourmet sandwich-makers at MagicalButter Studios are setting a high standard for cooking with cannabis; customers leave rave Yelp reviews, many stating that it was the best sandwich they ever had. The secret to their success? Just look to their name… all menu items are cooked with cannabis-infused butter, margarine, or oil.

A few states over in Denver, CO, Hapa Sushi Grill & Sake Bar offers a weed-and-sushi pairing menu. With an “ergonomically designed restaurant space to reduce paranoia,” Hapa’s owners are even trailblazing new décor trends.

These are just a handful of restaurants, yet they represent the spectrum of possibilities for this exciting new restaurant trend.

Where are edibles and marijuana-infused foods legal?

As of April 20, 2018, recreational use of marijuana is legal in the District of Columbia and the following eight US states:

  1. Alaska
  2. California
  3. Colorado
  4. Maine
  5. Massachusetts
  6. Nevada
  7. Oregon
  8. Washington

Throughout 2018, these four states are making the transition to legalize marijuana consumption:

  1. Michigan
  2. New Jersey
  3. Rhode Island
  4. Vermont

As a restaurateur, the marijuana laws are tricky to navigate. Take Washington, where consumption in public spaces is illegal. A restaurant must own the property, making it a private space. MagicalButter owns their space, putting them on the right side of the law when serving their cannabis-infused sandwiches.

Since marijuana is still classified as an illegal substance under federal law, the right to serve edibles and cannabis food is protected by a grey legal area. Just one week ago though, President Trump endorsed the right for states to regulate marijuana. This might mark the beginning of a new era for marijuana legislation.

As more states agree to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, we can expect to see more restaurants tapping into the cannabis cuisine and edibles markets.


Posted: Apr. 20, 2018 | Written By: Emma Alois


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