CHICAGO — Baked goods — namely brownies — have long been a preferred delivery method for consuming marijuana, a cannabinoid derived from the hemp plant (Cannabis sativa) that contains the psychoactive compound tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). It also contains cannabidiols (CBD), compounds associated with relaxation, pain relief, improved sleep, positive mood, better memory and stress response.

Attitudes toward these substances are changing with marijuana becoming legalized state-by-state. Today, 11 states have legalized the substance for recreational use and 33 for medicinal use. CBD, the non-psychoactive compound in hemp, is legal in some capacity in 46 states, and cannabis data and research firm Brightfield Group found CBD sales reached $5.3 billion in 2021, a 15% increase from 2020. The firm projects CBD sales to reach $26 billion by 2026.

Despite this growth and demand, there’s still a lot of room for ingredient technology to grow to make it safe, consistent and effective in baked goods.

Safety, efficacy and legality

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recognized hemp-derived cannabis ingredients with less than 0.3% on a dry weight basis of THC and CBD as Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) for human products such as tinctures and extracts in December 2018.

“While the 2018 Farm Bill legalized hemp, the FDA has not approved hemp-derived CBD for use in food and beverages,” said Hilary Brown, director of technical and analytical services, SōRSE Technology. “Despite this, CBD-infused products are on the market. Some states, like California, have taken steps to approve CBD for use in food and beverages and have created regulations for that use.”

Hemp-derived CBD ingredients can be used in a wide range of products; all types of baked goods are popular delivery vehicles.

“Product developers are creating CBD-infused products that replicate formats consumers are familiar with,” Ms. Brown said. “Baked goods and snacks are a solid platform for CBD because of the small format, the strong flavor profiles that can cover the CBD’s off notes and the amount of product a consumer would typically ingest. Baked goods and snacks are very consumer-friendly products; they provide an easy way to incorporate functional ingredients into your daily routine.”

While bakery products may be a good fit for CBD, Russ Cersosimo, founder and chief marketing officer, Hemp Synergistics, noted that in its raw form hemp or CBD oil present several challenges.

“When it comes to manufacturing, the oil itself is highly viscous, making it difficult to work with and evenly dose, and requires the use of chemicals to clean machinery and utensils,” he said. “As far as challenges to the formulation, CBD oil is extremely bitter, with a chemical taste and an off-putting odor. This has caused the market to search for better, more efficient alternatives to cooking with the oil itself. One of the ways to overcome these problems is to look for a powdered form of CBD oil. Some have been specifically developed for baking.”

Toolbox of CBD ingredients

Like with all living plants, the C. sativa plant experiences ongoing chemical reactions that alter its composition until the plant is harvested and then physically processed to make it inert. In the early stages of growth of C. sativa, cannabigerolic acid (CBGa) develops. As the plant grows, it is transformed into various cannabinoid compounds, with one of the first compounds being cannabidiolic acid (CBDa).

“A key differentiator for CBDa, as compared to CBD ingredients, is that it is extracted from young hemp leaves without heat,” said Chris Boucher, chief executive officer, JuiceTiva, Laguna Beach, Calif.

JuiceTiva markets hemp juice powder made from fresh-picked, California-grown non-GMO hemp leaves. The hemp leaves are immediately packed into refrigerated trucks and delivered to the company’s processing facility where they are cold pressed into fresh, pure hemp juice.

“The final step is a proprietary process that creates crystalline hemp juice powder,” Mr. Boucher said. “Our process locks in the inherent compounds to deliver the maximum hemp superfood value.”

Research shows that CBDa is up to 18 times more bioavailable than CBD because it is not in an oil form. The JuiceTiva ingredient contains no THC but does contain vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids and cannabinoids mainly in the form of CBDa.

“CBDa gives you more bang for your buck as a CBD ingredient, allowing the body to absorb more of the nutrients and enzymes,” Mr. Boucher said. “Also, in clinical research, taking CBDa results in three times more cannabinoids reaching the bloodstream compared to CBD alone.”

Mainstream CBD ingredients are extracted from mature plants using heat. They are extracted as an oil, which limits their solubility. CBDa, on the other hand, is 100% water-soluble in liquid.

“When the raw cannabis plant is exposed to heat, the CBDa loses its acid molecule and is transformed into CBD,” Mr. Boucher said. “The final product contains a small amount of CBDa and a generous amount of CBD.”

Not all CBD is created equal, and not all hemp ingredients contain CBD. Further, not all non-CBD hemp oil ingredients contain the same nutrient profile. They vary in protein, fat, fiber and other nutrient contents.

“Some products such as hemp seed oil, hemp protein and hemp hearts don’t typically contain CBD. They are common food ingredients due to their beneficial nutritional content,” said Drew Hathaway, senior food scientist, Caliper and Ripple. “Hemp hearts and hemp seed oil are highly nutritious ingredients as they’re rich in two essential unsaturated fatty acids: alpha-linolenic acid (omega-3) and linoleic acid (omega-6). Hemp protein is emerging as a trendy way of adding sustainable plant-based protein to a variety of products and could work well in many products that already contain another plant-based protein such as pea protein, as they have similar functionality.

“They are a ‘safer’ bet for food companies that would like to participate in the trendiness of hemp without having to actually add CBD to their products,” Mr. Hathaway continued. “All of these hemp-derived ingredients benefit from existing trends within the food industry, such as sustainability, plant-based and clean label/natural ingredients.”

Still, many marketers, especially in states where marijuana is legal, want to include CBD for its purported health benefits. The good news, according to Mr. Hathaway, is that CBD is rather easy to work with in food formulations.

Caliper has conducted multiple pharmacokinetic studies with Colorado State University to understand how the absorption profile of its water-soluble CBD powders and liquids differ from oil-based CBD formulations.

“Through those peer-reviewed studies we’ve shown that our products have a much faster absorption and higher overall bioavailability compared to the oil-based formulations,” Mr. Hathaway said.

Kemin is launching two hemp CBD distillates under the Luxiva brand. The full-spectrum extracts contain a minimum of 60% CBD content with either a total THC content of less than 0.1% or 0.3%.

“They are USDA-certified organic and fully traceable to hemp farms in the Midwest United States,” said Tyler Holstein, global product manager. “Kemin ingredients conform to the law and requirements governing hemp to help customers get new products to market quickly. They provide the added benefit of certification by a credible source, something that CBD consumers look for when making their purchase decisions.”

CBD-infused baked goods and snacks require a close eye on temperature as this can have an impact on efficacy.

“Knowing the internal temperature of the baked good is key to knowing if you can retain the CBD content in your final product,” Ms. Brown said. “The other concern is the format of the CBD, whether it’s oil- or water-soluble. If you are making a cookie and are using butter, for example, then you could use a CBD oil. If you were to use a water-soluble emulsion, you would have to be mindful of the water content of the final product.”

Quality hemp starts with the seed

The non-CBD hemp industry, in general, is behind in breeding, as compared to corn and soy. There’s a lot of work on the agronomy side of the business, especially in CBD-void hemp ingredients that are used for nutritional purposes.

Hemp Genetics International helps farmers choose the best variety for a specific environment, end use and geographic location. This is critical to eliminating the bitterness often associated with hemp, especially hemp-derived CBD ingredients.

Marc van Burck, director of global business development, HPS Food & Ingredient Services, said that quality hemp comes from proper field management and processing. It’s all about seed variety.

“What we as an industry need are the right varieties for farmers to use,” Mr. van Burck said. “You need to use varieties bred for nutrition. And they must be harvested at the right time for quality.”

Crops must be commercially viable for farmers to grow on large-scale agriculture plots. This also requires consistent genetics that are easily harvestable.

Chad Rosen, founder and chief operating officer, Victory Hemp Foods, said that, up until now, the challenge in formulating with hemp-derived ingredients was their format. He recognized that the scale of this new sustainable, commodity crop would come if the ingredients “offer manufacturers compelling taste and performance advantages” in the plant-based space.

“We look at it as an oil seed,” Mr. Rosen said. “We fractionate them into oil and protein, and we do it in a way that doesn’t use harmful chemicals. We increase the functionality of the protein to fit into a variety of [food and beverage] categories.”

Hemp seeds are about one-third protein, providing all nine essential amino acids, which makes hemp a complete protein, much like soy and animal protein. Many hemp grain products are GRAS and exempt from food additive tolerance requirements.

Victory Hemp Foods developed a hemp heart protein that has high-water binding capacity. The V-70 ingredient may function as a healthier flour alternative in baking applications. It can be used to replace some or all of the more heavily processed, less nutritious all-purpose flour in some applications. It is produced after hemp seed oil is extracted from the shelled seed, yielding a protein-rich hemp powder. The end result is a clean, flowable powder with a smooth mouthfeel.

“The use of hemp flour in food formulations is increasing, largely because of its near-neutral taste and robust nutritional profile,” said Melissa Mitri, a registered dietitian working with Victory Hemp. “It can be added to any baked good recipe to create a clean label product with a more superior nutritional profile.”

Naturally vegan and gluten-free, it is also allergen-friendly. It blends well with starches, such as potato starch or rice starch, for gluten-free applications.

In general, it is recommended to replace 30% to 50% of the all-purpose flour in the original recipe with hemp flour. A higher percentage of flour may be replaced for muffins and cookies, while bread recipes work better at the lower end of this range.

The cannabis and CBD market is growing as these substances continue to gain consumer acceptance and the FDA sorts out their regulatory future. Ingredient suppliers are making progress on the agriculture and ingredient side so that when the dust settles on this volatile market, the baking industry can be ready to meet the growing demand.