The time has come for kale to pass off its crown to a new superfood – another green, also known as cannabis. In honor of today’s national hippy holiday, there is no better time to shine a spotlight on the increasing trend of cannabis in the foodservice industry.

Cannabis has the ability to impact nearly every aspect of the food industryClick To Tweet.

For medical card holders, health benefit seekers or simply canna-curious consumers, the foodservice industry is stepping up to meet this increasing demand. From fast food to fine dining, beverages to brownies, salads to post-dinner mint strips, cannabis has the ability to impact nearly every aspect of the food industry.

With a new generation growing up in states where cannabis is legal (approx. 20 percent of the U.S. population), the past negative perception of this formerly illegal drug is slowly becoming extinct. In fact, cannabis’ health benefits are increasingly gaining awareness as they exceed many other popular superfoods such as kale, turmeric or kombucha.

As acceptance grows, so does the exploration of cannabis in the culinary realm – because let’s be honest, is there a better match made in heaven than cannabis and food? In fact, cannabis even scored a spot on the Specialty Food Association (SFA)’s top 10 food trends to watch out for in 2018.

Top chefs who understand the delicate science behind cannabis cooking now offer fine dining meals, high-end pop-up dinners, private cooking classes and five-star culinary experiences across the country. I had the pleasure of interviewing several high-profile canna-chefs to hear their stories and learn more about their roles in exploring and celebrating cannabis, while making it more accessible and enjoyable for consumers.

JEFFTHE420CHEF – Formerly a Vice President at Ketchum, currently dubbed “The Julia Child of Weed,” JeffThe420Chef is the only cannabis chef in the world that specializes in tasteless canna-butters and canna-oils.

Jeff discovered his talent for cannabis cooking after his friend’s mother was diagnosed with cancer. He started baking cannabis-infused treats for her, though the grassy taste didn’t fare well. Thus, Jeff’s challenge and soon-to-be secret weapon was born. He started experimenting with small-scale canna-cooking to help other non-stoner cannabis consumers who also didn’t like the taste of cannabis but were seeking its medicinal relief. Through his experimentation, he developed a process that eliminated the odor and taste of cannabis – a process now patent pending. This new cannabis called “Freeleaf” catapulted him to canna-celebrity.

In true one-for-all mentality, Jeff believes cannabis is a gateway to a better quality of life and making it more approachable is key. His mission is to teach anyone who wants to cook with cannabis, to do so easily and responsibly. Traveling to medicinal and recreational states, Jeff teaches patients, caregivers, home cooks and other chef’s the art of cooking with cannabis and how to properly prepare and dose edibles. Further, Jeff uses his popular platform to raise awareness and help other canna-chefs get their name out there and highlight who they are and what they do. Lastly, Jeff gives canna-chefs and canna-consumers one more reason to be excited about 4/20 – today celebrates the launch of his new venture, The Cannabis Cooking Channel.

Photo Credit: Joseph Viles

CHEF PAYTON CURRY – A graduate of the Culinary Institute of America Hyde Park, Curry is a veteran of Michelin-starred kitchens, including Quince and the late Ame in San Francisco and Martini Bar in St. Helena. Further, he’s taken his skills to the classrooms and taught at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Scottsdale.

Raw cannabis juice is Curry’s bread and butter. In his eyes, cannabis is a vegetable first and foremost. In fact, Curry explained to me that cannabis is actually a nightshade – in the same family as eggplants, tomatoes, potatoes, etc. Seeing the beauty and possibilities in all parts of the cannabis plant, Curry’s passion is to appreciate and fully utilize all these parts to their maximum potential. In doing so, he discovered raw cannabis juice. Raw? Yes. Juice? Yes. Cannabis leaves are high in the raw cannabinoid THCA (THC acid), but because the cannabis has not been activated through a process known as decarboxylation, ingesting the leaves does not result in the feeling of being stoned. Thus, the non-psychoactive juice won’t leave your brain fuzzy, but may in fact benefit your body. Curry claims the phytonutrients, live pollen and essential oils in its raw state may restore your body back to homeostasis. Anti-inflammatory response, hormones balanced, stomach acid alkalized, heart burn decreased, sleep improved, better nutrient absorption – just a few of the health benefits Curry proclaims. Today, Curry goes across the country showing cannabis farmers how to juice their materials, reduce waste and bring in more revenue for their farms. He believes that everything is medicine, what we do with it is our own responsibility.

Photo Credit: CannabisNow.com

CHEF MICHAEL MAGALLANES  – Founder of The Opulent Chef, Magallanes’ culinary career led him to the kitchens of San Francisco Michelin-starred restaurants Mourad and Aziza. From private dining, pop-up dinners and private workshops, Magallanes’ cuisine is a fusion of molecular gastronomy + NorCal vegetarian, including cannabis and non-cannabis feasts.

From citrus, tangerine, grapefruit to grainy, grassy, herbaceous flavors, Magallanes specializes in highlighting the flavor profile of cannabis in a perfectly crafted multi-course menu. Similar to wine grapes, the flavor profile of cannabis varies widely depending on the strain, in addition to when, where and how it was grown. Taking diners on a journey of the senses, Magallanes believes cannabis makes the food appealing all around – looks better, smells better, tastes better. Not only do guests have a great time eating, Magallanes says they also appreciate the food more when they’re high versus when they’re drinking. For chefs, Magallanes encourages experimentation as cannabis is still very unexplored ingredient on menus. This novelty is rare and opens doors of opportunity for a virtually unknown ingredient to many consumers. Magallanes recommends starting from scratch and seeing where the ingredient takes you. While there are many “rules” for chefs in fine dining now, the rules of cannabis-infused fine dining are nearly nonexistent – as he says, you’re creating new rules.

Photo Credit: John Korkidis, @chronvivant

RACHEL BURKONS – The Cannabis Editor at The Clever Root magazine and Co-Founder of Altered Plates, Rachel proclaims CBD is the superfood of the future! Mark her words, people.

Wait, what’s CBD? CBD or Cannabidiol is derived from hemp and marijuana plants, but unlike THC, it’s completely non-psychoactive so it won’t make you high.

When Rachel isn’t predicting canna-trends, testing canna-products, interviewing canna-chefs and writing canna-articles, she is working with her brother Chef Holden Jagger at Altered Plates. Started in 2016, Altered Plates is unique in its interpretation of “cannabis-infused” meals. Unlike the other culinary experience mentioned above, Chef Holden uses a unique pairing technique similar to a wine tasting dinner. In this case, diners receive a small joint paired with each course. Rather than “sneaking weed into the food,” Holden pairs the flavors of the natural cannabis with the flavor profiles of the ingredients in the dish. Holden then provides pairing notes to walk diners through how the cannabis relates and enhances the dish. Rachel also says this format makes the dinner more interactive – despite having your own personal joint, guests meet and mingle over some puffing and passing.

In Rachel’s perspective, the key to increasing cannabis on menus is diner education. It’s essential for people to take the time to educate themselves and their staff, garner a better understanding of what the dish or product is, how to use it and how to translate that opportunity to the guests. Just like acai or quinoa – guests didn’t even know how to pronounce it and now you can find hundreds of quinoa products in Walmart. Who knows, maybe we’ll find an aisle for cannabis in Walmart soon!

Photo Credit: Altered Plate

Before closing the canna-book, I’d be remiss to exclude the beverage side of the menu. With an increasing acceptance and availability of cannabis, consumers trends show they’re increasingly choosing cannabis over alcohol for occasions they would otherwise imbibe. Leading to a surprising flat to declining per-capita alcohol consumption. Gasp.

51% of the millennials said they would be open to substituting cannabis for alcohol altogetherClick To Tweet

OutCo, a CA-based cannabis company, partnered with Monocle Research to conduct a study on cannabis’ possible effect on the alcohol industry. For those in the beverage industry, the findings may be alarming:

• 51% of the millennials said they would be open to substituting cannabis for alcohol altogether. One in five Generation Xers agreed, and just 8 percent of Baby Boomers.
• Beer was the most popular substitution, with 34% of millennials saying they will opt for cannabis over beer.
• 18% of millennials will substitute cannabis for wine.
• 14% of the millennial population will substitute cannabis for spirits.
• But why the substitution? Most survey responses fell under perception of safety, cost and health.

As some say, the bigger the challenge, the bigger the opportunity. Or at least that’s what President and CEO Rob Sands of Constellation Brands may be telling himself. Recently named “Executive of the Year” by Beverage Industry Magazine, Sands is making sure Constellation (owner of popular brands like Corona, Modelo, Black Box Wines and Svedka vodka) is prepared for this shift in demand.

Following these canna-consumption trends, Constellation recently invested $200 million in a marijuana grower, with plans to develop cannabis drinks. And they’re not the only ones. Cannawine combines the best of wine-making industry with the exuberance of CBD in a glass. In Sonoma County, Rebel Coast Winery has rolled out its premium Sauvignon Blanc, dubbed the “world’s first legal cannabis-infused, alcohol-removed wine.” And for the beer lovers out there, the former CMO of Anheuser-Busch InBev just anointed weed the new craft beer. Case-in-point, the brewer of the beloved Blue Moon is launching three marijuana-infused beers that promise intoxication without the alcoholic headache. Though for restaurants, on-premise canna-cocktails can be a bit sticky. Nevertheless, Gracias Madre in West Hollywood is certainly a trailblazer with their “High Vibes” beverage menu featuring a “Stoney Negroni” made with gin, orange bitter aperitif, sweet vermouth and CBD.

Photo Credit: Gracias Madre

While many are pioneering the unchartered canna-territory, the biggest challenge remains that cannabis is still illegal at the federal level making scaling-up difficult, if not cost-prohibitive. Despite these perceivably-formidable challenges, this superfood vegetable continues to grow in popularity with increasing speed. Is cannabis the superfood of the future? Is the age of cannabis before us?

And lastly, for those looking to celebrate the superfood of the future, check out USAToday’s “high-priority list” of restaurants and fast foods chains celebrating 4/20 with special menu items and deals.

For more insights on communication and brand strategy, industry trends and more, subscribe today to the Weekly Buzz here.