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Gourmet and Green Cuisine: Cooking with Cannabis

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     On October 17th, Canada joined the ranks of the few countries in the world to fully legalize the use of cannabis. Bill C-45 was only introduced in April of 2017, but before the end of the year it had generated quite the buzz from the pro-cannabis community. The sale of edibles are expected to be legal no later than October of 2019, but rumors are that it will be legalized as early as July.

     As it stands, recreational cannabis is only permitted for use in your personal residence with fines being imposed for use anywhere else. Following the legalization of edibles though, the guidelines may change slightly to follow a more alcohol-like mindset. If so, this opens up possibilities for products such as Coke’s possible CBD-based beverage, in addition to the other cannabis-based beverages being considered, as well as something quite rare in the world.

     Cannabis-themed cuisine may sound pretty simple, yet are anything but. You’ll commonly hear about brownies, cakes, or other baked goods that are made with “cannabutter”, which are quite popular around Amsterdam. Treats such as lollipops and chocolates can be found, depending on where you go. An emerging trend, though, is the idea of edibles that are more than just snacks; they are entire dinners.

     Cannabis restaurants are not something you can see out in the open in areas where cannabis is legalized. The most common form of fine-cannabis-dining are in privately hosted dinner parties, hosted by services like 99th Floor in New York and The Green Chef in Toronto. With dishes like 99th Floor’s Slow Braised Humba Pork Belly, and The Green Chef’s High Thai Curry Soup, cannabis seems to be applicable to nearly any dish you already enjoy. Rather than depending on cannabis infused butter, these meals incorporate THC or CBD infused oils with ingredients such as salad dressings, sauces, broths, etc. Of course, these dinners are exclusively for medical cannabis card carriers save for the growing number of States that allow for recreational use.

     Inventive cannabis cuisine relies on more than just being an inventive chef, though. While cannabis is referred to in a singular term, it lives up to the ‘herb’ nickname by coming in multiple strains with various flavours. Terpenes, a class of organic compounds found mainly in plants and that define your spice rack, dictate the taste and smell profiles of a strain. Terpenes in hops dictate the quality and taste of beer in a similar way. Similar to alcohol pairings, these terpenes pose a challenge to chefs who look to include them in their recipes. With flavours and scents ranging from chocolate and strawberry to cheese and ammonia, any culinary artist will be put to the test.

     In addition to this is the amount of cannabis-based substance that a chef will mix in to the dish. Unlike alcohol, which burns off in the heat of cooking, CBD and THC transfer their effects into whatever food they are being put in to. This means that portion control, and catering to a customer’s tolerance level, would be a concern in any restaurant preparing the food. During the SmartServe test, which anyone who serves alcohol in Ontario is required to pass, applicants learn how to evaluate a customer’s intoxication level so they can stop serving them accordingly. Due to the delayed nature of cannabis, especially in edibles, evaluation of intoxication is nearly impossible if the customer plans to leave in a short period of time. Furthermore, any other substances, legal or illegal, could affect how the THC or CBD reacts with a customer which could lead to a serious problem.

     The biggest concern is the possible opposition a cannabis-based restaurant may have with the alcohol market. Since legalization late last year, there have been many reports that either support or refute claims made on how the cannabis industry affects the alcohol industry. Aspen, Colorado reportedly made $11.3m from cannabis sales in their ski resorts in 2017, compared to the $10.5m from alcohol sales. Similarly in Calgary, Alberta, alcohol retailer Alcanna reported in late October of 2018 that cannabis sales were nearly tripling the amount of alcohol sales in their stores.

     In contrast, the American Distilled Spirits Council (DSC) has published a study reporting that the liquor industry has nothing to worry about at this point. In the study, the DSC quotes tax reports from both pre and post legalization in Colorado, Washington State, and Oregon, showing that sales of hard alcohol, or spirits, has actually grown. Wine sales are mixed, rising 3.2% in Colorado but dropping 3.1% in Washington, and beer has declined completely, but this is seen on a national scale, regardless of legal status of cannabis. Rather than stealing shares of alcohol’s market, it seems as if cannabis has uncovered an untouched source of income across areas it has been legalized in.

     Realistically, the largest hurdle cannabis restaurants have is the question of social interest. Cannabis is known best as a substance that is smoked, or consumed occasionally for the novelty of the experience. While a cannabis restaurant might be interesting at first, the allure of it could die out quickly after the couple times you visit. Connoisseurs will return, but the average 20-something year old would probably prefer their own stash. That being said, the cannabis market is a billion-dollar industry with plenty of potential for creative ideas to come to prosper. We live in a world where novelty can sustain itself, given proper social networking and luck.

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