Cannabis’ aroma, textures power new dishes

cannabis aroma
The “Bitter Lettuce” Salad, at “Norman”, which contains Hemp leaves. June 5, 2017 – Brooklyn, NY: . SOURCE: Cole Wilson


When Jim Furman, co-owner of Black Hammer Brewing, agreed to brew San Francisco’s first infused beer with the cannabis extract cannabidiol (CBD) in partnership Cafe Flore in the Castro, the brewer discovered that the CBD extract he originally wanted to use had no odor or flavor.

Even though CBD won’t get you high like pot’s main active ingredient, THC, Furman wanted to ensure that anyone tasting his Tokeback Mountain would know what it contained. It might add to the quasi-illicit appeal — and besides, the resiny aroma of cannabis, the brewer thought, would be great in beer. A chemist at Level Blends, a local lab, brought Furman in to smell the cannabis extracts he could use as a flavoring. “We found one that was fruity and a little floral that would go with hops,” Furman says.

For many years, the last thing that many people wanted to taste in their pot brownies was the pot, especially when the flavor the marijuana contributed was overly grassy, resinous or flat-out dank. But as Americans get used to the idea of legal cannabis — whether medical or recreational — cooks, distillers and brewers are incorporating the plant’s many complex aromas into food and drink. Sometimes titillation is the goal. More often, though, the flavor itself is the appeal.

Some of these non-psychoactive ingredients, like the baby hemp leaves grown by JD Farms in Upstate New York, or the cannabis juice that chef Payton Curry, of Flourish restaurant in Arizona, makes for clients, treat Cannabis sativa as just another vegetable.

Others, like Tokeback Mountain, are flavored with terpenoids, the aromatic molecules that make pot smell like pot. These extracts take advantage of decades of plant breeding that have yielded an astounding diversity of cannabis strains, as well as flowers with elegantly complex aromas.

In addition, more precise extraction methods allow laboratories like Guild Extracts in San Jose to isolate pot’s aroma molecules without the high and to distill them into a liquid byproduct that resembles an essential oil.

“Cannabis has a very broad spectrum” of aroma molecules, says Claudio Miranda, the lab’s director of marketing. “You have this range of really interesting flavor and aromatic compounds, and you can be precise in how you mix them in” for flavor pairings. The aroma molecule myrcene, for example, is a compound dominant in indica strains — and ripe mangoes. Other terpenes evoke lemons, pine needles, lavender and even blueberries.

Jason Eisner, beverage director at the Los Angeles branches of Gracias Madre, says that he chooses aroma extracts from various strains to flavor each of the vegan Mexican bar and restaurant’s CBD cocktails. The Sour Diesel extract, he says, smells like fresh-cut grass and Japanese green tea. His favorite extract comes from the pot varietal called OG Kush.

“It’s pine forward and mixes with amari (Italian digestifs) and Fernet,” he says. “It’s super cool to make reductions with it and cola syrups.”

Almost all of these products are only available in their local area. Although terpenoids should theoretically be legal, and eating raw leaves won’t make you stoned, the only cannabis-flavored product to be distributed outside its home city is Humboldt’s Finest Vodka.

Not everyone uses marijuana in their marijuana-flavored foods. Furman has ditched the terpenes in Black Hammer Brewing’s newest CBD beer release, Frankie Says Relax, relying on hops that smell particularly dank. Hops and hemp are biological cousins, he says. San Francisco’s Bi-Rite Creamery has approximated the same effect in its new Summer of Love ice cream by using a combination of fennel pollen and hemp seed oil.

Miranda of Guild Extracts has big plans for his terpene extracts, which he considers “100 percent legal and safe,” though he hasn’t submitted them to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to consider for its list of food additives the agency considers “generally regarded as safe.”

“We’ve been playing around with terpene-infused ice cream and cocktails,” Miranda says. “It’s mostly for fun at this time, but it could blossom into an interesting partnership.”

Jonathan Kauffman is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: Twitter: @jonkauffman

Cannabis-flavored foods and beverages that won’t get you high

Stoney Negroni
Available at Gracias Madre, 8905 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood,, and Cafe Gratitude, 1617 Westcliff Drive, Newport Beach (Orange County),

Gracias Madre became the first California restaurant to openly serve CBD cocktails last summer when bar director Jason Eisner introduced three, including this one. He mixes Union gin, Contratto Aperitif and Carpano Antica vermouth, flavoring the mix with orange oil and Green Crack terpene (“it’s really upbeat and smells like a sativa”), then carbonates the cocktail. The $20 drink does contain 10 milligrams of CBD, which Eisner says is one-third of a medical dose.

A sight for sore eyes ☺️ @dwd40

A post shared by Gracias Madre (@gmweho) on

Baby hemp leaves
From JD Farms,, available soon at select restaurants in New York City, $N/A

Last year, JD Farms became licensed to grow industrial hemp on its organic upstate New York farm, and discovered that its baby hemp leaves, which contain no THC, deliver a bitter but herbaceous kick. The farm began distributing them this spring to New York City chefs. “They’re incredible,” says Andrew Whitcomb of Restaurant Norman in Brooklyn, who is beginning to use them in salads. “Very floral and herbal. They don’t smell like weed. They smell like an herb field.”

cannabis aroma
Andrew Whitcomb. Photo: Cole Wilson

Psycho Donuts’ 420 Doughnuts
Sold for special occasions at the Guild, 2943 Daylight Way, San Jose,, $N/A

For the April 20, 2017, 420 celebrations, Claudio Miranda of Guild Extracts commissioned the popular experimental doughnut shop Psycho Donuts to make 800 vanilla cake doughnuts frosted with icing flavored with caramel and the aroma of the cannabis varietal called Train Wreck to give away at the lab’s associated dispensary, fhe Guild. Webster Granger, owner of the doughnut shop, says he loved the minty, clean flavor of the extract. Unfortunately, he doesn’t yet have plans to stock the 420 variety in his shops.

Humboldt’s Finest
Humboldt Distillery, Fortuna (Humboldt County,; available at bars and liquor stores across the country, $29.99

People have been joking with Abe Stevens, owner of Humboldt Distillery, about making cannabis vodka since he founded his business four years ago. Last year, he located a Northern California farm growing legal, food-grade hemp leaves, so he began infusing them into organic vodka. He has produced 1,400 cases. “If someone’s asking for a recommendation on how to use it, I would suggest they try it in place of gin,” he says. Bartenders appreciate its complex aroma, and so do drinkers, particularly in states with no legal cannabis, such as Georgia and Mississippi.