Cannabis: An herb with benefits

by Donna Berry
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Chef Melissa Parks discusses the art of developing cannabis-infused foods.

At the National Restaurant Association Restaurant, Hotel-Motel Show held in Chicago, Chef Melissa Parks, co-author of “Herb: Mastering the Art of Cooking with Cannabis,” a collaboration with www.herb.com, discussed the fundamentals of treating the cannabis plant as an herb in cooking that may have untapped functional potential. And similar to basil and oregano, there are many flavor profiles of cannabis available to the creative culinologist, according to Parks. Here’s what she shared about the art of developing cannabis-infused foods in the emerging legal market.

Specialty restaurants in states where cannabis has been legalized have started putting it on the menu. What does cannabis contribute in terms of flavor and aroma?

Parks: The cannabis plant is loaded with compounds, including more than 85 psychoactive compounds collectively known as cannabinoids, as well as flavonoids and terpenes. The latter give cannabis its unique odor, while most cannabinoids have no smell.

The terpene profile can vary considerably from strain to strain, giving each strain its own unique flavor and aroma. The complexity of each strain varies much like wine varietals. That is where the excitement begins for a chef. One strain may be strong in honey while another more closely resembles peach. After identifying the inherent aromas you can then create a recipe.

How does a chef “activate” the herb to deliver it in a psychoactive form?

Parks: The actual plant is sold at dispensaries in its inactive form. In order to activate the compounds, one must heat the plant. This can happen through vaping, smoking or extraction. From this activation comes the psychoactive response commonly associated with cannabis consumption. This varies by strain and dose.

What about dosing? How does a chef ensure the consumer gets what he’s paying for in regards to function, but not too much?

Parks: Dosing is both an art and a science and it varies by food application. The highly psychoactive compound tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is almost insoluble in water but is very soluble in non-polar solvents such as butter, oil and other fats. To get the greatest effect, the activated herb should be stabilized in a fat ingredient and then added to recipes. With each creation, you must determine the average amount being consumed to determine an acceptable dose. It is often safest to offer the cannabis in the form of an on-the-side dressing or sauce so the consumer controls the dosing.

Whether considered a passing fad or an emerging market, it’s true many chefs might view cooking with cannabis to be intimidating. Parks suggests they educate themselves on the topic through resources such as The Marijuana Policy Project’s website (www.consumeresponsibly.org/law/)

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