In recent years, recreational marijuana has gained a lot of ground and edibles have become a big business. Here’s a look at their history, and how Mindy’s Chef Led Artisanal Edibles and Cresco Labs in Chicago have turned them into a blend of high art form and precise science.
Recreational marijuana is legal in the state of Illinois, and cannabis-infused edibles are more popular than ever. If you are 21 years old, you can wander into any of 21 dispensaries scattered throughout the greater Chicago area and find a plethora of edibles guaranteed to ease what ails you. Gummies, lollipops, mints, chocolates, brittle, brownies, granola, croissants, muffins, coffee, honey—the world of cannabis-infused edibles has reached a point of near-limitless possibilities. So where does it go from here?
A Chicago-based cannabis and medical marijuana company is currently working with a legendary pastry chef to answer that question, and in the process they are transforming what was once the pastime of fledgling home bakers into a new culinary artform.
The Cake Ball That Started It All
It is widely believed that cannabis has been consumed in India since roughly 1000 CE. Bhang, a paste made by grinding and soaking parts of the Cannabis sativa plant, can be mixed with water and consumed like an unfiltered tea, blended with curd and whey to make a beverage called bhang lassi, or combined with sugar and a clarified butter called ghee and used to make sweets.
For centuries throughout the Indian subcontinent, bhang has played a role in Ayurvedic medicine and is promoted as a remedy to physical pain and nausea. It has also been a prominent feature of various Hindu religious practices, rituals, and popular Indian festivals, like the Holi Festival held every spring.
Modern cannabis-infused edibles began to evolve many, many years later. The first edibles in the United States can be traced back to 1954, when an American-born middle-class Polish Jew named Alice B. Toklas published a cookbook that included a recipe for “Hashish Fudge.”
The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book, $11.49 on Amazon
Toklas, the partner of poet Gertrude Stein and a background figure in the Parisian avant-garde movement, received the recipe for “Hashish Fudge” from her friend Brion Gysin, a performance artist, painter, writer, inventor, and good pal to famous Beat writer William Burroughs. More of a cake ball than fudge or an actual brownie, Gysin’s recipe would go on to forever link Alice B. Toklas and her cookbook with marijuana brownies due to the recipe’s prominence in the hippie culture of the 1960s and ‘70s.
Here, in its entirety, is the recipe for “Hashish Fudge,” as Toklas read it to Pacifica Radio in 1963:
Take one teaspoon black peppercorns, one whole nutmeg, four average sticks of cinnamon, one teaspoon coriander. These should all be pulverized in a mortar. About a handful each of stoned dates, dried figs, shelled almonds and peanuts: chop these and mix them together. A bunch of Cannabis sativa can be pulverized. This along with the spices should be dusted over the mixed fruit and nuts, kneaded together. About a cup of sugar dissolved in a big pat of butter. Rolled into a cake and cut into pieces or made into balls about the size of a walnut, it should be eaten with care. Two pieces are quite sufficient.
The Science of Modern Edibles
Today, the creation of the cannabis-infused edible is a much more sophisticated process. One doesn’t find many dispensaries stocked with asymmetrical cake balls mashed together earlier that morning with “a bunch” of weed involved. The THC and CBD levels in modern edibles are clearly marked on every package, along with the type of weed used in the creation of the edible (indica, sativa, or a hybrid of the two). And when one opens their cannabis-infused edibles package—especially if it is from a sophisticated manufacturer like Cresco Labs—one also finds something surprising: a curious absence of the familiar scent, or taste, of the marijuana flower.
This absence of the scent or taste of marijuana in modern edibles is made possible because of a very sophisticated extraction process in which marijuana flowers are distilled into an odorless, tasteless oil by using carbon dioxide, butane, or ethanol to separate the plant from its trichomes. Trichomes are small resin glands that manufacture cannabinoids and terpenes—in layman’s terms, the stinky stuff. Lisa Kamerad, the Vice President of Strategic Development, Food & Beverage at Cresco Labs in Chicago, is very familiar with the process.
“Our extraction manufacturing lab in Joliet has a few different methods to get the active ingredient for us to infuse into our edibles. We do a carbon dioxide extraction method, a butane extraction method, and an ethanol extraction method for products that would be high in flavor, high in terpenes,” Kamerad explains. “The method we use to get the active ingredient we infuse into Mindy’s Edibles is a pretty traditional butane extraction method, but then it is double-distilled in a short-path distillation machine. It looks like oversized glass beakers rotating on a heating element.”
This short-path distillation machine boils off and separates out the cannabinoids that are found in the active ingredient, distilling it down to the point where it is only THC.
“The process creates what we call a clear distillate,” Kamerad continues. “It is a light honey color, and it is as close to odorless and tasteless as possible—it doesn’t have a heavy cannabis scent or flavor at all—so when we put it into our edibles, you really aren’t tasting the distillate at all.”
Once the active ingredient has been created, it is ready to be cooked with, but as with most delicate culinary processes, you are also better off leaving this part to the professionals.
Edibles as High Art
James Beard award-winning chef Mindy Segal, godmother of Chicago pastry chefs and owner of Mindy’s Hot Chocolate in Bucktown, is one of those professionals. She started Mindy’s Chef Led Artisanal Edibles in a brilliant partnership with Cresco Labs back in 2016.
“When Cresco was first thinking about creating an edibles line, the question really was ‘How do we elevate our edibles offering so that we are different from what is already out there?’” Kamerad explains. “We absolutely wanted to make sure that we were creating a product that was a little bit more elevated, a little more adult, and aligned with an expert in the culinary field. The idea of getting a James Beard award-winning chef to partner with us was born out of that philosophy. And it definitely didn’t hurt that Mindy’s Hot Chocolate was right around the corner from our CEO Charlie Bachtell’s house at the time.”
Cresco Labs handles the extraction process, and then Segal uses her decades’ worth of culinary experience to create her magical recipes, which currently include gummies in a wide array of flavors (Glazed Clementine Orange, Cool Keylime Kiwi, Lush Black Cherry, Freshly Picked Berries, Honey Sweet Melon, and Botanical White Grapefruit), as well as fruit chews, hard sweets, and chocolates.
Once Cresco Labs has the active ingredient and the seeds of Mindy’s delectable confections, they infuse the active ingredient into the edibles at a very specific ratio. “It is a very un-sexy process,” Kamerad says. “It starts on a spreadsheet, the extraction lab prepares the active ingredient, and then we test it. Internally, we have a chemist on staff who does the microbiological testing for us to let us know exactly what the potency percentage is in the active ingredient. Then for every single batch of edibles we do a new math formula based on the amount of THC that is actually in the active ingredient, and how many pieces we have to make in that batch in order for every piece to have the same amount of THC. And then of course every single batch has to be sent to a third party lab to verify our dosages and make sure that we are within our variances on the labeled milligram content before anything can go to sale.”
These strict guidelines are in place not only to appease the state, but also to accomplish what Kamerad explains has always been a goal for Cresco Labs, which is to take the fear out of edibles for the consumer. “Everybody has that one bad brownie experience in their pocket, or they at least know someone from college who had that bad brownie experience,” Kamerad says. “We absolutely wanted to get away from that from the start. We want to make sure that if you are buying Mindy’s Edibles you are going to get the same experience every single time.”
Mindy’s Chef Led Artisanal Edibles are a microdosed style of edible, which means that each gummy is less than 10 milligrams of THC. They come in 5 milligram and 2 milligram doses, which really allows the consumer to regulate their own consumption. “And the edibles taste amazing,” Kamerad adds, “so you can have more than one without it being too much to handle.”
How to Safely and Responsibly Consume Edibles
The first time I ever consumed a cannabis-infused edible was in my old house in Arcata, California, a small college town sandwiched between ocean and redwoods in Humboldt County, which is known around the world as a pretty great place to go to get some really unbelievable locally grown weed. A dear old friend of mine decided to bake some brownies using a much-too-potent strain of some really incredible weed known as Train Wreck. We threw a party, I had a couple bites of a brownie, he ate the rest, and I spent my night sitting silent on the couch having a full-blown panic attack while the guilty baker assumed the fetal position on his bed and told anyone who opened his door to get out and leave him alone.
This is not how one responsibly creates or consumes an edible, but thanks to Cresco Labs and Mindy’s Edibles we now live in a world where that sort of uncomfortable situation can be avoided.
Here are some pretty simple rules to follow in order to safely and responsibly consume edibles and ensure that everyone in your party has a good time:
1. Go Low and Slow
It’s not just for barbecue anymore. No matter what kind of edible you are consuming, start with a low dose and don’t take any more until you’ve experienced where that first dose landed you, which normally takes anywhere from a half hour to two hours for digestibles, and a half hour or less for lollipops, lozenges, or any other hard candy that is ingested through the mucous membrane of the mouth.
2. Choose Sativa, Indica, or Hybrid
At this point, weed has been cross-bred so much that nothing can truly be confirmed to be 100 percent sativa or 100 percent indica. Everything is hybrid. However, the best and most reliable creators of cannabis-infused edibles can be trusted to sample all of their products and to let their consumers know what kind of experience they are most likely to have when they consume the product.
A sativa experience is an energetic and lively one, usually with a general feeling of euphoria and some creative thinking going on, which people prone to paranoia commonly refer to as “head stuff.” For this reason, hyperactive or anxious people are better off leaning more towards a hybrid or indica edible. Indica, commonly referred to by those in the know as “in-da-couch,” is a relaxed, languid, sleepy high. It’s quite enjoyable, but sure to make you a little spacey. Experiment to find what you like and stick with it.
3. Avoid the Come Down
Anything that gets your dopamine levels soaring like weed does is sure to have a little bit of a come down. Enjoy your cannabis-infused edibles with plenty of water or some herbal tea, and when you wake up the next morning get out there and get some exercise and fresh air instead of lying in bed thinking deep existential thoughts about the passage of time.
Stirring the Pot
Disclaimer: This article is about cooking with cannabis, which may or may not be legal in your area. Neither Chowhound nor its parent company encourage or endorse any irresponsible behavior or illegal activity. If you choose to use cannabis, please do so responsibly and only where permitted by law.
Header image courtesy of Zoe Rain