Looking to add that special green ingredient to a home-cooked meal for friends? Perhaps your buddies are comfortable bud consumers, so no issues there. But what do you need to know about cooking with cannabis and what that means for taste?
The GrowthOp asked two Ontario chefs with a passion for cannabis cuisine for their best tips to make your next dinner party a smash: Jeff Kaminskas, a Toronto chef who has cooked with cannabis for decades and recently transitioned from food to craft vodka at Viritus Organics, and Reena Rampersad, a Hamilton, Ont.-based chef and owner of High Society Supper Club, a catering company that helps host upscale dinners and events for foodies who fancy a dash (or more) of cannabis in their cuisine.
Kaminskas and Rampersad wholeheartedly agree on a couple of critical points: There are multiple ways to work with cannabis flavours, and which ones yield the most delicious result is mostly up to the chef.
How does cannabis taste?
“It’s incredibly distinct,” says Kaminskas. “I’d say it’s got a nice sort of a spice, or provides a bittersweet additive, to whatever you want to cook with. It’s very much its own flavour,” he says.
“If you have your eyes closed, I’m sure that you could guess that it was likely a leafy vegetable, because I think you can taste a little bit of the chlorophyll. It’s a denser taste.” iStock / Getty Images Plus
“Cannabis is actually a very complex taste,” Rampersad suggests. “Once upon a time, people used to have single adjectives to describe it—but I guess, with us experiencing and exploring and discovering new strains—we’re finding that the taste is actually very full-bodied. I’d like to say that would be herb-y or dense,” she offers, but adds that “some strains taste very fruity, some taste very citrusy, some taste very piney.”
Both chefs agree the flavour is green. “You definitely know that you’re ingesting a plant, that’s for sure,” says Rampersad. “If you have your eyes closed, I’m sure that you could guess that it was likely a leafy vegetable, because I think you can taste a little bit of the chlorophyll. It’s a denser taste.”
Should the cannabis flavour be embraced or concealed?
Whether the flavour of cannabis is best as the star or relegated to a supporting role is a matter of personal taste. If cooking for guests who aren’t regular cannabis consumers, Kaminskas says the dish might go over better if the taste of cannabis doesn’t take centre stage. “A lot of the time, it’s better to try and cover it up because it is such a specific flavour,” he explains. If so, “you want to find other flavours that will contrast with or conceal it.” His recommendation? Playing with flavours such as chocolate, rosemary, garlic, or basil.
“You want to find other flavours that will contrast with or conceal it.” His recommendation? Playing with flavours such as chocolate, rosemary, garlic, or basil. iStock / Getty Images Plus
Kaminskas says experimentation is the best way to find a good culinary balance between the plant and the dish. “I really recommend trying different flavours that contrast or camouflage the taste.”
Rampersad offers a different approach, preferring to incorporate the flavour of the terpenes in the cultivar that she is working into her recipes. “If the terpene is humulene, for example, so it’s a little bit more woodsy, little bit more spicy. It resembles a nutmeg, cinnamon, spicy kind of thing all put together,” she says.
“Those [humulene-heavy cultivars] I find tend to go really nice with baked goods—if it’s a cookie or an earthier, flavoured type of batter, pancakes and things like that,” Rampersad says. There are also the piney and the fruity profiles, so “you also don’t want to hide the flavour.”
Are there natural food pairings?
For traditional pairings, such as fish, certain meats or even certain vegetable dishes “where you want a citrus punch, certainly that does apply as well,” says Rampersad.
But don’t just dump any cannabis in any recipe and expect it not to affect the dish’s taste; Rampersad recommends a bit of forethought and a bit of care to achieve a flavourful and complementary result.
“I find that when I do use a strain that has a lot of citrus tones, I will be able to detect that a bit in comparison to, say, a fish or any type of meat that gives a good contrast,” says Rampersad. However, if used in a dressing for a salad that has berries and peaches, those flavours might prevent the diner from picking out “the tones in that salad coming out of that strain.”
When making multiple infused courses or dishes, Rampersad likes to choose a flavour “theme” and stick with it to provide a coherent tasting experience. “I try not to put the same flavour profiles in the same meals with each other,” she says, adding she wouldn’t make a gingerbread cookie, which already has lots of ginger and spices in it, paired with a strain that has a lot of humulene. Or if the dish “had some floral tones in it, I might not use a strain that had linalool in it.”
Does it matter if you cook with cannabis oil, extract or flower?
The form of cannabis one cooks with is up to the chef, but Kaminskas advises against just throwing some dried flower into the recipe and calling it a day. Instead, he recommends trying infused oil or making canna-butter.
These butters “really go well into milk and fats,” says Kaminskas. “So, you could use that and, basically, combine the herb, if you will, into your fats.” The idea is not to dump “the actual flower itself directly into the dish. You just want all of the goodness contained therein.”
Kaminskas says that while infused oils may have a bit less of a taste, butters often put the cannabis flavour up front. “Once you actually combine the cannabis with the butter and you pressure cook that for hours and strain it out, by the end, you really get a lot of the actual flavour of the strain—so it’s really strain-dependent.”
And the more flavourful the cultivar, he says, the more it will affect the resulting butter. “When I cook, I like to use butter because they have so many different flavours across the spectrum. You could choose a really good strain that actually accents whatever else you’re cooking.”
A note on dosing: Optimal dosing of cannabis depends on both specific strains and the individual consuming them; questions should be directed to a healthcare professional. Any infused product should be handled with care, stored away from children and pets and clearly marked.