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Hemp extract (CBD) has gone mainstream in foods, cocktails, beauty products, and even pet food but what are CBD foods, how are they made, and why are we suddenly seeing them everywhere?

At last year’s Fancy Food Show, held over a long weekend in July, a CBD-food lab and product development company called Hillside Lane Naturals (Vermont) was totally mobbed with attendees wondering about the ingredient and why/how they were incorporating it into various foods and drinks. Recently, you may have seen those three letters popping into conversations about food, coffee, and cocktails or noticed them on candy bar labels or even restaurant menus, and sandwich boards.

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CBD (short for or cannabidiol), is an herbal supplement extracted from the cannabis plant (hemp, to be specific). Users sing its praises for relief from ailments including stress, anxiety, headaches, and joint pain but with the increased popularity of medical and recreational marijuana, the non-psychotropic cousin to THC is going full-on mainstream. In the past few years, popular food and drink brands, along with bars and restaurants in cities across the U.S., have begun testing CBD recipes or spiking their existing goods at a torrid pace.

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At the food show, as things were slowing down and vendors were packing up and leaving, the CBD booth was buzzing right up until the end. Owner Mark Nadeau was mixing up CBD cocktails as fast as people could snatch them. He told me it was like this all weekend, so a few days later I caught up with Mark and his business partner Nancy Bacon to find out more.

The two operate a 7,800-square-foot organic production kitchen in Burlington, Vt., specializing in CBD food recipe creation in which companies, looking to cash in on the CBD craze, commission them to produce CBD-laced foods they can go to market with under their own brand. Mark and Nancy noticed the rise in popularity of CBD over the past several years but the options were limited to oils and an occasional gummy or chocolate bar. These days they’re getting more orders to produce CBD foods than they can handle, receiving anywhere from 2-10 inquiries per day.

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Hillside has signed non-disclosure agreements with most of their clients, Mark tells me, and couldn’t name names but assured me that they’re working with and/or in talks with plenty of brands that everyone’s heard of. The duo, who have their own line of all-natural non-CBD snacks called Freedom Foods and have been working with hemp products for at least eight years, plan to launch their own CBD food brand just as soon as they can catch up on their growing list of existing orders.

“People have been making CBD part of their daily wellness routine for a while now, but our goal has been to give them more fun and enjoyable ways to get the fix, like healthy snacks and baked goods, rather than having to drop not-so-tasty oil under their tongue all day.”

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In other parts of the country, CBD serves as an eye-grabbing ingredient in everything from cocktails to ice cream sundae, baked goods, and even savory foods like acai bowls and salads. Popular restaurant Zen Barn in Waterbury, Vt., for instance, offers CBD salad dressing on its menu and as an ingredient in cocktails.

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CBD-laced cold press juices, teas, and lemonades can be found in convenience stores and markets in this early adopter region where cannabis culture is prevalent. Coffee and beer have also proved attractive partners for CBD. Kickback Cold Brew sells a 20mg CBD cold brew urging drinkers to “keep calm and drink coffee” while California brewery Transplants recently hatched their CatBirD IPA; a floral and hoppy ale with roughly 10mg of CBD per 16-ounce pour.

Though often confused with THC, CBD comes from hemp, a form of cannabis that has extremely low levels of THC and no noticeable psychoactive properties (It won’t get you high). CBD has been a favorite of homeopaths for decades, thought of as a “miracle cure” by many—an all-natural alternative pain reliever delivering a calming effect on the mind and body but, until recently, had been ingested by way of an expensive oil extract or topically via creams and balms.

Hundreds of brands now offer some form of CBD product and total sales topped $238 million in 2018. Producers of CBD oil like Aro Med, are smiling from ear to ear as the stuff goes mainstream and Elmore Mountain Therapeutics, another Vermont-based CBD producer, lists nearly 20 infusion partners on their website, including a dog treat company. Med Men, a California cannabis retail giant with over 15 U.S. outposts and branding resembling Apple, has been valued at over $1 billion with a healthy chunk of those sales attributed to CBD.

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Restaurateurs are having fun with CBD too. Spring, a restaurant in downtown L.A. has offered a popular three-course CBD dinner prix-fixe lunch ($37) where coconut oil is the preferred vehicle for adding CBD to dishes like beet risotto and panna cotta. On 4/20 of 2018—the unofficial official celebration of all things ganja—at least 15 outposts in New York were schilling CBD specials, from CBD sundaes at Van Leeuwen to brownies at popular vegan hangout by Chloe, and cocktails at a number of watering holes.

Though legally available in the U.S., the process of selling in CBD with foods can complicate things and laws per state are changing and adapting monthly. Mark from Hillside Lane tells me they are thrilled to see how many brands are incorporating it, however, and in such unique ways. “People have always been skeptical of herbal supplements and remedies but we know first hand how many folks have been helped by CBD and we’re just so glad to see it taking off!”

Disclaimer: Neither Chowhound nor its parent company encourage or endorse any irresponsible behavior or illegal activity. If you choose to use cannabis or CBD products, please do so responsibly and only where permitted by law.

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