Cannabinoids as Food Ingredients

CBD in food: Cannabinoids as Food Ingredients

You may be shocked to know that cannabinoids can be used in baked goods, beverages and even condiments being served at your next BBQ or picnic. In the food ingredient sector, CBD and THC are leading trends in new food ingredients. Marketing experts, product developers and food scientists are on the cusp of creating a new generation of CBD-infused food and beverage must-haves. (Did you miss our article explaining the differences between CBD and THC? Read it here.)

These products are being developed from three CBD-derived ingredients that are currently available to food companies. They are cannabis-infused butter, cannabinoid oils, and water-soluble cannabinoids. Each product has specific recommendations and uses.

The Science of CBD-infused Products

This next section will allow us to understand the science behind CBD-infused butter and oils. It may seem technical, but don’t give up. A little food science never hurt anyone!

CBD-infused butter is made by infusing decarboxylated cannabis compounds into butter under low heat for a specific period. It’s then strained to remove any non-essential leftovers or impurities. During the decarboxylation process, which includes heat, the molecular structure of THCA is changed, thus activating the psychoactive components of THC in marijuana. That’s why raw leaves are non-psychoactive. THCA requires heat to convert into THC’s psychoactive state.

But wait. What on earth is THCA? THCA is tetrahydrocannabinolic acid. It’s a cannabinoid that’s related to THC and can be technically described as the “precursor to THC.” Within the actual cannabis plant, THCA is produced before THC. It is then transferred through the decarboxylation process. This process includes heat, sunlight or even curing for an extended period. During this time the carboxylic acid – the A in THCA is removed, leaving behind THC.

Cannabinoid oils are produced through several methods linked together from start to finish. Once extracted from the plant, solvents are used to refine the product for the distillation phase. Here, the product is separated, purified and isolated to the desired components. Afterwards, these components undergo a decarboxylation step and are then dissolved into pure cannabinoid oils. In this state, product developers can fine-tune oils that contain THC, CBD or terpenes into their product formulas.

CBD in Food

Water-soluble cannabinoid products are created through oil-in-water emulsion. Not only can water-soluble cannabinoids broadly diversify the use of cannabinoids in the food industry, but they also increase absorption rates in the body. Powders using water-soluble cannabinoids could be used in producing ready-to-mix powdered products because powdered products have a low water activity, which retards microbial growth.

Milks and powders derived from hemp are being used in products today ranging from personal care and beauty products to food, fiber and fuel in some states. It’s important to note that the uses of CBD and THC are approved in some (but not all) states for infusion into products like salves, balms, beverages and condiments. In other states, they are illegal and thus not approved for uses in any food or beverage product.

Like any novel food or ingredient, nationwide public acceptance will take time. In the interim, an increased attention on food safety will be at the forefront of cannabinoid technology in the food and beverage industry. So, if you’re so inclined, get in line and hop on board as the CBD food and beverage market continues to grow more mainstream.

This blog post was written by Rhiannon Gonzales, MS Food Science (12/19), New Mexico State University