In Colorado, edibles are becoming a fact of life. For those who can't or don't smoke, eating or orally ingesting cannabis is often the best way to get high. Gone are the days of dorm-fumigating brownies, crunchy with stems and seeds. With legalization came standards, and there are more inspired recipes for making edibles than baking a bag of schwag into a box of store-brand brownie mix.
One of the easiest ways to introduce cannabis into a recipe is by infusing it into butter, which serves as a versatile springboard into a new world of cannabis-infused cuisine.
First, some basic chemistry: THC, cannabidiol (CBD) and most other cannabinoids aren't water-soluble, but they dissolve readily in nonpolar solvents, such as fats and alcohol.
Most of the THC in the marijuana plant is tetrahydrocannabinolic acid, or THCA, which won't get you high. For that, it must be treated in such a way that a particular part of the THCA molecule breaks off to form THC. Heating the flower does the job, which is why smoking and vaping gets you high, but eating raw flower doesn't have much of an effect. Cannabutter is an elegant solution.
After research and testing, I settled on two recipes. The first is from Laurie Wolf, founder of Portland-based edibles company Laurie & MaryJane, who shares a seven-step recipe for cannabutter. I used a half-ounce of Good Medicine #1, an indica-dominant hybrid strain that contains around 10 percent THC and 10 percent CBD.
Wolf's recipe uses a half-ounce of flower and two sticks of butter, and she estimates she gets 75 to 80 percent of the flower's THC with her recipe. Based on that, and the fact that I used half the butter called for, my Good Medicine cannabutter has somewhere between 66 and 71 milligrams of THC per tablespoon.
The butter takes on a greenish hue, but there's no strong weed odor.
The flavor profile of the butter will change based on the flavors and aromas in the flower. Mine ends up very grassy, with a lingering aftertaste reminiscent of garlic salt and olive oil.
Texturally, it leaves something to be desired: The long cooking process drives the water out of the emulsion, and the milk solids stop playing nice with the fat. It's fine for any recipe requiring melted butter, but if your recipe calls for, say, creaming butter with sugar, you'll need to mix the cannabutter with more uninfused butter.
If texture or nutrition are important, there are a few alternatives to butter when it comes to cooking with cannabis.
Coconut oil is an option for vegans or the health-conscious. It can be subbed one-to-one for butter in most recipes. I tried Wolf's recipe again, swapping coconut oil for butter, and the result was impressive. (Note: Coconut oil tends to "pop" more when boiled, so I used a lid with this attempt.)
Coconut oil is firmer than butter when refrigerated, so the pastel-green puck that solidifies atop the water is much easier to work with. It holds the THC just as well as butter, but the grassy taste is mellower. The garlic-and-olive-oil notes are more pronounced, accompanied by a pleasant creaminess.
The Cannabis Kitchen Cookbook includes a recipe for another butter alternative, cannabis-infused ghee, which was submitted by Denver artist and chef Catija Redfern. This recipe results in pure THC-infused butter fat with a slightly nuttier character than regular clarified butter and a stronger pot flavor.
Both recipes are reprinted here as they were originally published and with permission from the original sources.
Makes about 2 cups
THC per cup: 106 milligrams
1 pound (2 cups) unsalted organic butter (cultured is best)
1⁄2 cup cured cannabis flowers or trim, finely ground
fine mesh strainer
cheesecloth Dutch oven Glass jars or containers
Put butter in a Dutch oven or ceramic pot with a lid over low heat, keeping it below a simmer. When butter starts to foam, reduce heat and leave uncovered for 15-30 minutes. Do not move. As water vaporizes, you will hear tiny pops and the butter will turn a clear golden color. Let ghee cool.
Preheat oven to lowest setting (170-180°F).
Line a fine mesh strainer with cheesecloth, flour sack, or hemp cloth and place over a bowl. Pour butter through to remove milk solids. Discard them.
Return butter to Dutch oven or ceramic pot, stir in cannabis, and cover with lid. Heat in oven for 2-3 hours. Remove from oven and let cool. Line fine mesh strainer with cloth and strain again, squeezing out as much oil as possible. When ghee is completely cool, pour into glass jars or containers and cover tightly. Label jars and store in a dry place out of sunlight for up to 6 weeks.
Step 1: In a medium saucepan bring a quart of water to a boil on the stove. You can vary the amounts, just be sure that the marijuana is always floating about 1 1/2 to 2 inches from the bottom of the pan.
Step 2: When the water is boiling, place the butter in the pan and allow it to melt completely. My recipe uses 4 sticks of butter to every ounce of marijuana, so if you're using a half-ounce of weed that's about 2 sticks of butter.
Step 3: Once the butter has melted you can add the marijuana. Once the weed is added the heat should be turned down, very low, to barely a simmer. I usually let the weed cook for around three hours. You can tell it's done when the top of the mix turns from really watery to glossy and thick.
Step 4: While the cannabutter is cooking, set up the bowl to hold the finished product. I like to use a heatproof bowl, and some people use a plastic food container. Place a double layer of cheesecloth over the top, and secure it with elastic, string or tape.
Step 5: Strain the marijuana butter over the bowl, carefully trying not to spill. When the saucepan is empty, undo the twine, pick up the cheesecloth from all four sides and squeeze out all of the remaining butter.
Step 6: Allow the cannabutter to cool for about an hour. Place in the fridge until the butter has risen to the top layer and is solid. The THC and other properties have attached to the butter, and you are just about there.
Step 7: Run a knife around the edge and lift the butter off. Place upside down on your work surface and scrape off any of the cooking water. Your cannabutter is ready to roll. Enjoy!