LIFESTYLE
30/06/2018 14:53 SAST | Updated 30/06/2018 14:53 SAST

How Cannabis Edibles Are Shedding Their Stigma In The Food World

Marijuana-infused foods are evolving far beyond magic muffins...

Ji Sub Jeong/HuffPost

At one point in cannabis culture history, mastering the art of baking the perfect weed brownie — or "magic muffin" — was considered a rite of passage, but those days are long gone.

Thanks to the development of medical marijuana programmes and the decriminalisation and legalisation of recreational cannabis in many parts of the world, the THC-infused world of eats has evolved far beyond brownies, cookies and admittedly impressive dispensary snacks, and moved into the culinary space.

Cannabis cuisine had been gaining popularity among casual consumers and connoisseurs alike, but now it's being welcomed into the mainstream as never before.

When Martha Stewart gets in on the action, you know it's gone mainstream.

Media and entertainment have been pushing the narrative of marijuana normality into the homes of more conventional audiences with shows like Vice's "Bong Appetit" and VH1's "Snoop and Martha's Potluck Dinner Party". Chefs around the U.S., in particular, are embracing cannabis and elevating the lowly edible to the same sensory realm as high-end cuisine by curating pop-up dinners, supper clubs and private events where cannabis can shine.

Cat Cora, the first female "Iron Chef" and an advocate for cannabis who recently graced the cover of Cannabis Now Magazine, spoke at length about infusing foods with marijuana.

"I'm learning a lot about usage, dosage, things like that," she told the magazine in April. "I'm a big proponent for olive oil. I'm Greek, obviously, but the Mediterranean diet as we know it is the healthiest diet on the planet. So [I'm adding cannabis olive oil to] anything that I can infuse."

For example, she said she's put cannabis olive oil in vinaigrette for salads. "I have so many amazing ideas and a lot of things that I really want to apply it to," she added. "I want to create products around cannabis with the right partner and the right situation."

It's gaining respect at the top culinary levels.

This shift from stoner snacks to foodies and fine dining puts the focus not only on the buzz the plant creates when consumed, but on its flavour profile and pairing capabilities, just like any other herb or even wine.

Andrea Drummer is the co-owner of a Los Angeles culinary cannabis events company, Elevation VIP Cooperative. As a classically trained chef, the Cordon Bleu graduate gives cannabis the gourmet treatment in dishes that reveal her ingenuity and creativity. Take, for example, her cannabis-infused bread-pudding soufflé, which she brulées, or her Southern take on stuffed grape leaves made instead with collard greens filled with cannabis-infused spicy dirty rice, which she served at a private Spotify dinner event.

Drummer's skills have earned her a spot on "Cooking on High", the first cannabis cooking competition show that features chefs from around the country. The show debuted on Netflix this month.

While that's exciting, Drummer said she sees even bigger things on the horizon.

"Bringing cannabis into the culinary conversation is important, because it allows people to open their minds to something they may have been against because they haven't understood its potential," she said. "With more people becoming educated about it, I think cannabis cooking will evolve to the place where we will see things like restaurants and cafes at some point."

But the law is keeping cannabis out of restaurants.

For now, you won't find restaurants that offer full-service cannabis dining even in states like California or Colorado.

The reason is legality.

Because cannabis is still a Schedule I substance under federal law, states that have legalised recreational marijuana are only offering licenses and permits that allow chefs to serve cannabis-infused food in private settings. In South Africa, of course, despite a major legal and social campaign, the state has shown no urgency in reforming South Africa's marijuana laws, so don't expect legitimate cannabis cuisine spots to pop up everywhere just yet.

To allow people who don't live in states where private events are hosted to get a taste of what's going on, some chefs are passing on their kitchen secrets to home cooks.

One of them is Coreen Carroll, chef and co-founder of a cannabis-infused pop-up event in San Francisco called the Cannaisseur Series. Her upcoming cookbook, "Edibles", is designed to accompany both newbies and virtuosi in what she calls "the modern cannabis kitchen".

Others like Drummer, Laurie Wolf, Jessica Catalano and even Bob Marley's daughter, Cedella Marley, are helping people at home learn to incorporate cannabis into their cooking. Their instructional guides not only share recipes, but explain the basics of cannabis strains and dosing, to help cooks control the type of experience they create with their food.

Gadgets can make it easier to cook with cannabis at home.

Home cooks are also being brought into the fold with herbal infusion appliances that take the confusion, legwork and need for constant supervision out of making the perfectly infused product.

Companies have been introducing countertop devices that make the infusion process as easy as brewing coffee or tea and allow home cooks to flavour a dish with cannabis the same as oregano, rosemary or thyme. With appliances like the LEVOand the MagicalButter, cooks can infuse butter or oil with cannabis by just adding their ingredients and pressing a button.

Shanel Lindsay, the founder and president of Ardent, has created a smart device that helps activate the THC in cannabis. The process ― called decarboxylation ― involves heating cannabis up to a certain temperature to release the THC and make it more available for the body to absorb upon consumption.

A stove or toaster oven will also do this, but Lindsay contends her device provides greater precision and temperature control in order to preserve the flavour profile and potency of the cannabis. With the device, cooks can decarboxylate their choice of flower, concentrate or kief in just a little over an hour.

"It's really a one-button solution to being able to make just about any cannabis-infused product you want," Lindsay said. "The sky is the limit."

What's next for cannabis cuisine in the U.S?

So what can we look forward to? Amsterdam-style coffee shops with infused goodies on the menu? Cannabis restaurants open to the public? An instructional cooking show on a major network? A culinary cannabis school on par with Le Cordon Bleu? Perhaps.

Until then, the future of cannabis cuisine rests on the shoulders of the chefs and home cooks whose skill and dedication should continue to strip away the stigma that masks the herb's versatility.

"I think it's really important to offer people a new way of thinking about and approaching cannabis," Lindsay said. "The industry is very fast-moving, and it's important that mainstream culture reflects this shift in how people are viewing cannabis and all of its possibilities."

Cannabis cuisine awaits the final cutting of the regulatory red tape before it can move into full bloom. But the seeds have definitely been planted.