When considering cooking with cannabis, the first recipes that spring to mind for most people are for sweet products, such as brownies and muffins. However, cannabis is also incorporated into traditional savoury dishes in several countries. Furthermore, as laws relax in the USA, a new phenomenon of cannabis cuisine is emerging.
Cannabis in traditional cooking
Use of psychoactive forms of cannabis in traditional cookery is apparently limited, although one or two notable examples exist. In Thailand, where psychoactive forms of cannabis are naturalised and widespread, the dried, ground leaves and flowers were traditionally used as an ingredient in boat noodle soup, a dish that has been consumed in Thailand for centuries.
Although cannabis is now illegal in Thailand, it is widely believed that many cooks continue to use a pinch or two to add flavour to their broth. Despite the anecdotes, there is no concrete evidence that this is the case, and the traditional spice blend remains a closely guarded secret. It is thought that cannabis is—or was—used to counterbalance the strong, gamey flavour of the wild cattle whose meat was typically used, rather than to cause intoxication. However, some report unusual effects such as extreme appetite and thirst after consuming the soup.
Another notable example of psychoactive forms of cannabis being used in traditional cuisine comes from India. The famous cannabis drink bhang lassi is usually sweet, but savoury versions certainly exist. Bhang is also used in other traditional Indian foods, both savoury and sweet. Kachori, a spicy ball of fried dough stuffed with meat or vegetables, is often made with bhang, particularly during certain festivals such as Holi. Bhang ghee is also be used in place of regular butter or ghee in various traditional Indian recipes, including pakora, bhaji and samosa.
Using high-potency cannabis in cooking
The simplest and most versatile way to incorporate psychoactive strains of cannabis into edible goods, either sweet or savoury, is to start with creating an oil-based infusion. The necessary proportions depend entirely on the results desired and the quality of the raw materials used. A good rule of thumb is to use around ten grams of good-quality trim or shake per 500ml of oil, or 625ml of butter, as around 20% of the content of butter is milk protein that is lost during the process of making cannabutter.
When making cannabis oil or cannabis butter, a temperature of around 100°C (212°F) is optimal; stove temperature must remain at or below 180°C (355°F) to avoid causing the volatile cannabinoid compounds to evaporate. Keeping the temperature lower will also help to ensure that flavonoids and terpenoids are not lost. Using a double boiler or crockpot is a good means to ensure constant temperature and avoid ‘hot spots’; cooking time of around two to three hours is usually optimum. When ready, the mixture should be strained through muslin and put aside to cool.
It is also possible to use ground herbal cannabis in cooking, similarly to any other herb. It is thought that the Thai chefs who still make boat noodle soup according to the traditional recipe utilise it in this manner, as it is said to act as flavouring rather than as an intoxicant. Using this method, the quantities required to make the dish psychoactive would almost inevitably result in an overpowering flavour; therefore, it is better to experiment with dishes that are not required to provide a large medicinal or recreational dose.
Creating delicate cannabis infusions
The flavour of oil or butter varies according to the freshness, quality and variety of the materials used. Using leafy trim can lead to excessive presence of chlorophyll, which adds an unpleasant bitterness and darkness to the infusion. Dried material is preferable, as fresh material imparts a more pronounced chlorophyll flavour. In order to create the most delicate flavours, it is preferable to use dried flowers or even high-grade hashish, if possible.
Cannabis may also be steeped in rum or brandy to produce a liqueur informally known as crème de gras. This alternative method of incorporating cannabis into cuisine is becoming increasingly popular among connoisseur circles. Furthermore, cannabis can be incorporated into the beer-brewing process: as it is a close relative of hops, dried, cured female cannabis flowers can be blended with them and used to create beers with complex fruity and earthy tones. Pale ales, IPAs and stouts work particularly well with cannabis flavours.
How to use cannabis infusions in cooking
There are hundreds of ways for cannabis infusions to be used in cooking. It is important to ensure that the dish does not require cooking temperatures high enough to burn off the cannabinoids; however, 180°C (355°F) is safe, and is also hot enough to successfully bake, roast and even deep-fry almost anything.
Any dish that incorporates a reasonable quantity of oil or butter is feasible. Pasta with cheese sauce or béchamel, such as lasagne or macaroni and cheese, can be simple and delicious; however, pizza may not be as successful as it generally requires a very high cooking temperature. To avoid problems related to temperature entirely, it is also possible to use THC-infused oils in salad dressings and dishes that do not require cooking, such as gazpacho soup.
The rise of modern cannabis cuisine
As the U.S. market for cannabis edibles has expanded in recent years, a new class of cannabis chefs has emerged, and an abundance of cannabis cookbooks are now available online. There are several restaurants in Colorado that are now incorporating cannabis into their menus, and in 2012, a restaurant specialising in cannabis cuisine opened in Ashland, Oregon.
In California, invite-only, multi-course cannabis dinners are being served up in exclusive restaurants for cannabis connoisseurs, and cannabis chefs such as Gabriel Reeves are teaching classes on how to balance not only flavours, but healing properties. For example, turmeric is thought to have anti-inflammatory properties, so cannabis could be paired with it to create a delicate curry sauce.
But a fairly major problem remains: for many, the taste of cannabis is overpowering, strange, and unpleasant. Therefore, the challenge is on to find flavours that compliment cannabis, as well as simply attempt to disguise or mask it entirely.
Finding flavours to compliment cannabis
A good cannabis recipe should contain balanced flavours and be enjoyable as a meal in its own right, as well as being sufficiently potent to produce the required level of intoxication or medication. Some chefs use very high strength extracts which can be added in tiny quantities; however, this cannot truly be called cannabis cuisine as the quantities used have no discernible effect on the taste.
The art of pairing cannabis infusions with complimentary flavours in in its infancy, but has already yielded some interesting results. The flavour palate found in cannabis strains is largely determined by the various terpenoids and flavonoids secreted by the plant; none of these compounds are unique to cannabis and many are in fact widespread in nature, occurring in many citrus fruits, seeds, nuts, spices and herbs.
The key to creating well-balanced flavours is always moderation and careful blending. This is true of almost every herb and spice, not just cannabis. As long as the cannabis infusion is not overused, there is little danger of the overall flavour becoming overpowering or unpleasant, even when using ground herbal cannabis.
So what ingredients actually work with cannabis?
Creating well-balanced flavours using cannabis extracts is easy. Again, the easy way out is to choose heavily-spiced or otherwise strong-tasting recipes, and merely adding a dollop or splash of oil or cannabutter. In this way, the overall taste will be almost entirely unaffected by the cannabis flavour. However, the trick is to find lightly-spiced flavours and select ingredients so that the cannabis flavour is permitted to come through.
Depending on the type of oil used to create the extract, cannabis infusions can be used in a wide range of dishes. Coconut oil infusions work very well with Thai, Malaysian, and some Indian recipes, particularly those that make use of ginger, garlic and curry leaves; sesame oil is ideal for Chinese and Japanese dishes, and works well when blended with honey, soy sauce and rice vinegar; olive oil infusions can be used in a range of Mediterranean and Middle Eastern dishes, and work exceptionally well with thyme, bay and rosemary.
Extracts more commonly yield earthy, deep flavours which become more apparent on aftertaste; the flavours created by use of herbal cannabis are often sharper, brighter and greener, even when created from the same strains. Herbal cannabis pairs well with basil, sage, oregano, bay, coriander and peppermint. It can also be used with fennel, ginger, garlic and lemongrass to create distinctive, tangy flavours.
How to make onion bhang bhaji
Onion bhaji is a classic staple of Indian cuisine, and one that is incredibly simple, cheap and flavoursome. Below is a recipe that combines both herbal cannabis and cannabutter to create exceptionally light, crisp and succulent bhajia; furthermore, the 180°C frying temperature allows the bhajia to be cooked in THC oil, if a super-strength end result is desired.
- 2 medium onions, halved and thinly sliced
- 90g gram (chickpea) flour
- 1 tbsp melted cannabutter or bhang ghee
- Juice of ½ lemon
- 1 tsp turmeric
- ½ tsp crushed red chillies
- 1 tsp whole cumin seeds
- 2 tsp grated fresh ginger
- ½ tsp salt
- 2 cloves minced garlic
- A handful of fresh, chopped coriander leaves
- 1 tsp fresh, chopped cannabis flowers
- Vegetable oil (THC infusion if desired) for frying
Sift the flour into a mixing bowl. Stir in the melted cannabutter and lemon juice, followed by cold water, until the mixture forms a thick, creamy batter. Stir in the spices, herbs and chopped aromatics. Next, stir in the onions, ensuring that they are well-coated in the batter.
Heat the oil to 180°C in a large pan or deep-fat fryer. When the oil is hot enough, a spoonful of batter dropped into the pan should sizzle then float. Use a cooking thermometer to ensure that the temperature does not get too high. Next, use a tablespoon to shape the mixture into rough ball shapes, and drop them into the oil. Cook for around two minutes on each side, until crisp and golden, and drain on kitchen paper to remove the excess grease. Serve with mango chutney or lime pickle.