Craig Letowski, kitchen operations manager at Wellness Connection of Maine in Gardiner, adds THC extract to chocolate. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Sometime soon, probably early next year, there’s going to be a new ingredient in a lot of Maine kitchens: cannabis.

Maine voters legalized recreational marijuana in 2016, but only now is the state getting close to finalizing the details that will make plants and edibles available to anyone over the age of 21. Cannabis in the kitchen cabinet, in whatever form, could open up a whole new world for home cooks and bakers.

This culinary genre does not include your parents’ pan of pot brownies, made by stirring the raw plant – including seeds and stems – directly into the batter. Today, cannabis users rarely use the raw plant; instead, they typically reach for THC-infused oils, extracts and butters when cooking.

People who prepare medical marijuana products in Maine are as creative as any chef in the state’s celebrated restaurant scene. Greg Gould, owner of Silverchild Confectionaries in Portland, makes artisanal truffles and pâte de fruit (jelly candies) with ingredients from local farms. Keri-Jon Wilson, owner and general manager of Pot & Pan Kitchen in Portland, is working on hot sauce. And Matt Kenney of M&M Mediculture in Sanford has made everything from barbecue ribs to lobster ravioli with cannabis-infused butters and sauces.

There’s a lot more to come. “We’re in a foodie town,” Gould said. “You’re going to see some really amazing stuff.”

Who better to turn to for advice for making edibles at home than the folks who have been doing it for years?

“People should be very cautious and experiment (at home) with their eyes wide open,” said Patricia Rosi, chief executive officer of Wellness Connection of Maine. “I would really advise people to come to us, not necessarily to buy, but to have a conversation and ask questions. The web is fabulous, but there’s the good, the bad and the ugly on the internet, so don’t rely just on Google. Try to talk to people who are used to doing it.”

Companies like Wellness Connection use their kitchen and quality control lab to create recipes that provide accurate, consistent doses of THC, the active compound in marijuana, in their edibles. (The industry typically considers 10 milligrams of THC to be one dose, according to Rosi. A microdose is about half that.) These are harder to measure in home kitchens, but it can be done with patience and some experimentation.

An array of foods made with THC by the Wellness Connection of Maine in Gardiner. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Figuring out the dose that’s right for you can be time-consuming, if you’re cooking or baking with the plant itself rather than infused oils, extracts or concentrates. “It’s all math,” Gould said. “And it’s an inexact science for a home cook.”

If you are starting with raw plant material, it first has to undergo a process called decarboxylation. That’s a mouthful, but all it means is the THC in the plant needs to be activated by heat before you do anything else with it. (Decarboxylation happens naturally when smoking pot.) Wellness Connection recommends coarsely grinding the plant material and spreading it on a sheet pan. Put it in the oven at a very low temperature.

“It’s hard to know when it’s done, but generally 250 degrees for flowers (or buds), for about an hour, will give you a pretty potent starting material,” advises Maureen Pease, manager of product innovation and quality at Wellness Connection. “Once the flowers are out of the oven, you put it in either butter or oil.”

Some medical marijuana providers suggest that if you’re growing your own plants at home, you should send samples to a lab to be tested. (Kenney, who grows his own certified organic weed, says it costs about $60 for full-spectrum testing, and he expects that price to go down considerably once retail sales are underway.) Testing will tell you how much THC is in the plant material, Kenney says, and from there, figuring out dosing is a matter of simple math.

Another tip from Kenney for finding a dosing baseline: Buy a packaged cake mix. First, steep a quarter ounce of cannabis in 1 cup of oil on the stovetop for 15 minutes at 240-250 degrees. Strain out the plant material and, following the package instructions, use the infused oil to bake the cake. Each serving should have about 10 mg of THC, or one dose.

“And guess what?” he said. “It tastes really good. You don’t have to pick any weed out of your teeth.”

Pease recommends experimenting and writing down everything, making adjustments to recipes along the way. “And if you’re working with a specific strain (of cannabis), write that down,” she said.

One of the downsides of starting with the plant instead of an infused oil or extract is lingering color and taste, Rosi said.

“If you start from the raw plant matter, your recipe might be very green and have a cannabis flavor which can be very strong,” she said. “I can view that, actually, as potentially a good thing because that would deter any kids from having a bite or being too interested.”

Using cannabis concentrates, which list the THC content on the label, may be a much easier way to go, or buying infused oils, extracts, butters and other products where the math has been done for you. Wellness Connection recently started selling 75-milligram containers of THC-infused sugar for people who like to put a teaspoon in their coffee or tea, and they are also considering making a larger size that will be part of a line of baking products for people to use at home. “We’re trying to make it easy and more formulaic for people to experiment in their kitchen,” Rosi said.

Greg Gould makes his Silverchild Confectionaries edibles at Fork Food Lab in Portland using ingredients from local farms and businesses, such as chocolatier Bixby & Co. Photo by Brianna Lueck

The number of these kitchen-ready products is likely to explode once edibles are truly legal to sell, and they don’t typically smell or taste of cannabis. They can affect texture, Gould says, “but it doesn’t make too much of a difference. I’ve noticed some ganaches come out a little tackier, but that’s it.”

To cook with cannabis, simply replace some of the the oil or butter in a recipe with correctly-dosed, cannabis-infused oil or butter, Gould said. No other changes are necessary.

“You’re just adding an ingredient,” he said. “So instead of adding cumin or soy sauce, you’re adding a little cannabis somewhere in your recipe.”

The only product he’s found that doesn’t work well with cannabis is puff pastry. Pastry made with cannabis-infused butter won’t rise, he said.

As long as whatever you’re making contains some kind of fat for the THC to bind to, “the only limit is your imagination,” said Craig Letowski, kitchen operations coordinator for Wellness Connection’s facility in Gardiner.

The last bit of advice is perhaps the most important. One of the biggest mistakes people make, edibles experts say, is consuming too much cannabis too quickly. That may happen because the THC is not spread homogeneously through a batch of cookie dough or cake batter, say. If the ingredients aren’t mixed well, Rosi said, “you might have one little corner of your brownie pan that is fully potent, and the rest absolutely not. You might be in for a bad experience.”

Also, edibles tend to “kick in” later and last longer than do the effects of smoking pot. So be careful how much you eat when you first start cooking or baking. Less is more.

“It is a very common mistake that people have a bite of an edible and they maybe don’t wait long enough,” Letowski said. “They take a little bit more, and they’re expecting it to set in, and suddenly it’s more than they’re really comfortable with and they’re on that ride for a few hours at least. The thing always to go back to is take your time, start small, go slow, experiment so you can understand the potency that you’re dealing with.”

Or, as Gould puts it: “You can always eat more cookies, but you can’t stop once you’ve taken them.”

CANNABUTTER

Recipe from Greg Gould, owner of Silverchild Confectionaries in Portland. To cook with cannabutter, replace some of the ordinary butter in your recipes with an equal amount of properly-dosed cannabutter. No other changes are necessary. Each tablespoon of cannabutter made with this recipe contains 80 to 100 mg THC.

Yield: Roughly 6 ounces

1/4 ounce cannabis with 15% THC content

1 cup butter

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Line a baking pan with parchment paper and place the cannabis on the pan. Bake for 30 minutes. Grind up, or break up, the cannabis.

Put the butter and 1 cup water into a medium saucepan with the cannabis. Bring to a boil, then maintain at a low simmer for 2 hours. Strain the cannabis out of the mixture, preferably with a cheese cloth, into a 16-ounce glass container. Cool the mixture in the refrigerator. The cannabis butter will settle and solidify, and the water can be discarded.


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