In 2020, the popularity of locally sourced food shows no signs of stopping, but innovative chefs know they cannot rest on the appeal of local alone. Restaurants wanting to capture and retain the attention of consumers must explore innovative options to add a new twist on local food offerings. This includes looking at larger national trends such as the growing demand for cannabis- and cannabidiol (CBD)-infused foods. Three in four of the 650 professional chefs surveyed by the National Restaurant Association and the American Culinary Federation last year predicted CBD- and cannabis-infused food would remain a hot trend.

Bridges to present and past

The willingness to sidestep the norms in order to serve its customers has long been a calling card for Milwaukee-based Milwaukee Brat House. Self-described as a “personal drinking establishment for beer barons, bootleggers and patriots,” its original Old World Third Street location remembers Milwaukee’s prior roots of the industrial revolution in the early 20th century. Serving patrons who seek an “authentic Milwaukee experience,” often translates to enjoying the best in Old-World beer and brats or if you’re lucky, some combination of the two.

Located in what was once the city’s thriving German community, Milwaukee Brat House is conscious of its proximity and connections to storied Old-World butchers who supply premium smoked meats, including brats and sausage throughout the city, state and nation. Milwaukee Brat House’s Old World Third Street and Shorewood location menus proudly feature products from two well-known local meat purveyors: 130-year-old Usinger’s who offers homemade sausage and smoked meats and 4th-generation Bunzel’s Meat Market & Catering. Holding the honor of Milwaukee’s best butcher as crowned by Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel readers, Bunzel’s offers homemade specialty sausages and award-winning beef jerky.

Local focus

Looking to up the ante of its current locally made favorites, the chefs at Milwaukee Brat House approached two Milwaukee-based purveyors, Bunzel’s and Will Allen’s Beyond Organic Farms, about creating a local offering to appeal to the nationwide CBD-infused food trend. The partnership resulted in the Pineapple Express menu item featuring Bunzel’s sausage infused with tiger sauce and CBD oil from Will Allen’s Beyond Organic Farms. After including a tincture of CBD, the sausage is smoked by Bunzel’s. Chefs at the restaurant top the tiger-style Thai sausage with pineapple habanero salsa and serve it in a fried pita. In addition to the CBD-infused smoked brat, Milwaukee Brat House guests can add house-made beer mustard with CBD oil and a CBD-infused kraut to any menu item.

“This is what comfort food should be,” says Craig Mastalir, head chef, Milwaukee Brat House. “It makes me feel good because of the local connection between all three companies and gives me balance and energy because … you know, the CBD.”

The Pineapple Express brat, mustard and kraut capitalize on a growing trend for CBD-infused foods in evidence around the country, according to Andrew Fronek, owner/operator, Milwaukee Brat House. Less than a year after its introduction, Fronek deems the brat a delicious success.

But adding CBD oil to food products does necessitate additional regulatory steps. The cold-pressed CBD oil from locally grown organic hemp seeds is certified by third-party testing. Will Allen’s Beyond Organic Farms is held responsible for providing information to the state of Wisconsin to prove the absence of THC in the CBD oil they sell, according to Fronek.

“We find that most people are familiar with CBD oil and those who are 18 and older who are interested in trying the brat are not overly concerned nor do they need explanation that CBD oil is free from THC,” Fronek concludes. “The overall feedback is very positive and with this product we see the importance of innovating in every way possible.”

Milwaukee Brat House uses CBD oil from Will Allen’s Beyond Organic Farms in its Pineapple Express CBD-infused bratwurst.

Interpreting the Farm Bill

Under the 2018 Farm Bill, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires any product marketed with a therapeutic claim offering health benefits such as the prevention or treatment of serious diseases must be approved prior to its introduction in interstate commerce. The inclusion of CBD in food and drink is considered by some to be a veritable “Wild West.” Confusion on what is allowable differs across the US and continues to evolve as state governments weigh in on the issue.

In response, Wisconsin’s State District Attorney Brad Schimel proactively issued a clarification on state laws in response to the 2018 Farm Bill. “With the 2018 Farm Bill now working its way through Congress, it is likely our current laws will be changed even further to make industrial hemp’s legality clear,” Schimel wrote in a May 2019 memo. “Therefore, I am advising law enforcement not to take enforcement action against products made from industrial hemp that is grown under a lawful help research pilot program, including CBD, until Congress considers changes to the law enabling the Wisconsin State Legislature to further clarify the status of these products.”

In Nov. 2019, FDA said it cannot conclude CBD oil is Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) for use in human or animal food.

Testing the waters

Less than a year after the prediction of more CBD- and cannabis-infused foods entering the market, chefs and purveyors continue to experiment. This includes adding infusions of CBD oil to a variety of meat products including bacon and beef jerky, meat- and plant-based burgers and brats.

Dana Tomlinson, Ph.D., a research nutritionist at Zinpro Performance Minerals, Eden Prairie, Minnesota, shares that because CBD is more akin to fatty acids it is thus included in an oil. CBD oil would be digested and absorbed by completely different mechanisms than proteins or carbohydrates. “Interestingly, CBD has low solubility in water and therefore would more readily stay in suspension of high- or higher-fat meat-based products,” he shares.

CBD, the active cannabinoid chemical found in the marijuana plant, doesn’t produce euphoria or intoxication and is free from Tetrahydrocannabinol or THC, the principal psychoactive of cannabis/marijuana.

CBD meat snapshot

By 2025, Nielsen anticipates sales of CBD products to hit $6 billion. Here are some of the CBD meat products that have hit the market:

• Kushie Bites, Miami, offers low-carb, high-protein beef jerky infused with CBD oil. Available in Original and Teriyaki flavors, the product offers 250 mg total CBD oil.

• In 2019, Dallas-based North American Cannabis Holdings and Kali-Extracts, the owner and operator of a US patented cannabis extraction process, partnered with West Coast Venture Group Corp., Arvada, Colorado, to develop a plant-based protein burger infused with CBD oil.

• Chicago restaurant concept Wake ‘N Bacon is infusing bacon using CBD isolate during curing and adding CBD oil during the cooking process.

• Carl’s Jr. offered a CBD-infused cheeseburger at a location in Denver in 2019. The burger featured Santa Fe sauce infused with CBD oil.