While only legalized for recreational use in 10 states, plus the District of Columbia, cannabis is emerging as a viable ingredient for bakeries. However, knowing where to start can be a struggle for formulators who aren’t familiar with the plant’s functionality.

As a pioneer in the edibles market, Sweet Grass Kitchen has perfected its formula for recreational baked products. The bakery uses its in-house cannabutter to create infused products that include cookies, brownies and pies that are distributed to nearly 500 recreational and medical dispensaries throughout Colorado.

At the International Bakery Industry Exposition (IBIE), to be held Sept. 7-11, with an education-only day on Sept. 7, Sweet Grass’ executive chef Lauren Finesilver and sales and marketing director Jesse Burns will discuss formulating with cannabis during their Flower to Flour and Pound to Lbs —Baking and Infusing Cannabis into Food session presented by the American Bakers Association. To get a preview of what to expect at the event, Baking & Snack spoke to Mr. Burns about technical challenges formulators should consider when developing these products.

Baking & Snack: How can cannabis be incorporated into baked foods?

Jesse Burns: With edibles, the baked good acts as a delivery method. Butter infusions, like the one Sweet Grass has used since 2009, allows the cannabis to be a natural part of both the recipe and baking as a whole. There are many other methods of infusing, including oils and isolates, however, these serve more as a mix-in or extra ingredient instead of a true infusion. You risk interfering with baking science the more ingredients you add to a recipe. Butter infusions keep it simple.

What are some infusion methods available to commercial bakers?

Mr. Burns: First, it is important to understand the difference between extraction and infusion. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) can be extracted from the cannabis plant in many different ways. This extraction is most often added into a food recipe to produce a cannabis edible. Infusion, on the other hand, is food-based. It actually extracts the desired component from the plant material, in this case, the cannabinoids. It allows them to steep, which chemically binds the extraction medium — butter or oil — with the desired molecule, which is THC.

Cannabutter is as old as edibles themselves and requires heat, time and a lipid-based medium. As mentioned above, bakers can directly extract THC or purchase extracted THC on the open market in various forms. A common solvent used for extraction is CO2. This solvent produces a mid-range potency oil that can be added to recipes. It is possible to further process the THC through distillation and isolation in order to refine and concentrate the cannabinoid potency to use in edibles.

What are some limitations bakers may face when working with the ingredient?

Mr. Burns: Regulation, while currently unique to each individual state, creates a level of detail that most small bakeries don’t have to worry about. For those of us in Colorado, baking a product with a psychoactive ingredient like cannabis requires marking a warning symbol on the product as well as adhering to strict inventory counts. Waste must also be approached differently as each product that does not pass quality control must be tagged and destroyed. This makes the cost of the ingredients, as well as mixing or scaling mistakes, extremely expensive.

Per regulation in Colorado, the ingredient is tested four times for potency: flower, decarbed flower, butter infusion and the final product. Having multiple levels of testing ensures consistency but also creates a time and money barrier. In order to achieve this consistency, it is essential that a state licensed third-party lab provides accurate testing results every time. Therefore, it is important to do your due diligence on the lab you choose to work with. The same careful approach should go for any purchasing of flower, extractions, or infusions on the open market as well.

Are there any bakery products that do not lend themselves to the ingredient?

Mr. Burns: Homogeneity of the THC throughout the product is vital to consumer safety and required by state law. Products with large mix-ins and large pieces like granola or puffed rice make it very difficult to evenly spread the THC throughout the product and can load more potency in parts of the product. Additionally, it is tougher to add cannabis retroactively to something versus building the product with the cannabis from scratch.

Cannabis has a strong herby flavor that does not always pair well with every flavor profile. Therefore, it is important to be mindful of how it will interact and compete with your other flavors. Ginger, chocolate, and mint, for example, are very popular cannabis pairings because they generally agree with each other.

How can bakers evaluate the quality and safety of the cannabis they are using?

Mr. Burns: The best way to ensure safe, quality cannabis is to grow, extract and infuse your own. While vertical integration is required by law in some states, Colorado has a vast network of wholesale growers and extractors. The state requires strict testing for microbial contamination, pesticide residue and residual solvents. Passing these tests ensures the cannabis is safe. Quality, however, is determined by potency, or for inhalation customers, by its terpene profiles. A general rule of thumb for baking is the higher the potency the higher the quality and the more milligrams of THC to use in your products. By nature, cannabis with higher potency has less plant material per milligram and can therefore help you avoid having too much of that cannabis flavor in your baking.

Where should bakers start when looking to develop cannabis-infused products?

Mr. Burns: Finding experts or consultants is always the best place to start. While there is tons of information online, this takes time and can often be unreliable. In legal states, the best place to start is in the dispensary itself. See what’s available and do some exploring. You’ll quickly learn what works for you and what doesn’t. And always remember the golden rule of cannabis edibles: less is more. From there, keep it simple. Start small and work your way up. 

The education session Flower to Flour and Pound to Lbs — Baking and Infusing Cannabis into Food takes place Sept. 8 during IBIE. To register for this event, click here.