COOKING WITH CONCENTRATES IS EASY
It’s really exciting to add new ingredients to cooking and nothing is more exciting than cooking with cannabis. Sharing a delicious cannabis treat you made yourself always feels extra special and friends will always be appreciative and talk about it for a long time. The good news is that using cannabis concentrates to make these goodies is incredibly easy. No special recipe is required, you can simply combine the concentrate with the fat, oil, or butter (fat) portion of your favorite recipe and continue preparing the dish as usual. It’s best to remember that the foundation of all cannabis concentrates are the essential oils of the cannabis plant and are not water-soluble. This means the concentrate will separate from water-based contents, but their oil composition makes them perfectly suited for combining with all kinds of fats. To combine the concentrate and fat you simply gently heat the fat portion, add the concentrate, stir, and concentrate should easily melt and combine uniformly. There is debate about which fat provides the most bioavailability, and there is science behind which fats are absorbed faster or deeper, but for my purposes in cooking, I choose the fat that fits the recipe best and has never really noticed much of a difference. Sunflower lecithin is an emulsifier that claims to deliver a higher bioavailability so it might be worth checking out, I typically don’t bother with it and won’t include it further in this discussion. For now, let’s just keep it simple.
Knowing the potency of your creation is very important so when sharing your delicious creation no one has an underwhelming nor overwhelming (scary) experience. Using concentrates to cook provides a clear idea of the potency and cannabinoid content being added directly into your recipe so there is no question about how much of the cannabinoids made it into your creation like when using an infusion or cannabis flower which is impossible to know and is a crapshoot at best.
DOSAGE IS A CENTRAL TO PREPARATION
Understanding the amount of THC you are working with is probably the most important consideration in preparing anything medicated, especially if you plan to share with others. Controlling the potency of the final product is important because you don’t want anyone consuming more THC than planned and having an unpleasant experience, turning them off to our life changing medicine. The dosage of an edible is determined by how many milligrams (mg) of THC is contained per serving. A ‘standard’ dose defined by many recreational cannabis regulations is 10mg so it’s a good benchmark to work from. For first-time edible experiences, starting with 5mg and working up from there slowly is a good idea. For the inexperienced it’s very important to understand that the onset of an edible’s psychotropic effects can take up to 2-hours, so patience should be exercised and 2-hours should pass before increasing consumption. The effects will take a while to build and they will last for several hours so prepare accordingly. Experienced edible consumers might consume 100’s of milligrams at a time so be careful not to blindly follow what someone else is consuming, be confident and cautious with your own consumptions decisions.
THC edibles purchased at a dispensary will have the dosage clearly labeled with premeasured portions. When doing this at home we have to do a little planning, a little estimating, and a little math, but luckily it’s pretty easy. It only takes a few steps to determine the final product’s per serving THC content in milligrams (mg).
STEP 1: Determine the total amount of THC in the concentrate.
For dispensary concentrates the potency will be labeled, you should see THC, THC-A and “total possible THC.” Total possible THC is estimated to be THC + (THC-A x .87). So, after decarbing the concentrate that’s the amount of THC available to work with. If you make your own concentrates and have access to testing you will have a very accurate measure of the THC content you are working with. From here you can move to Step 2.
Most of us that make our own concentrates we don’t have the luxury of testing and have to rely on estimation. People often ask about buying home testing units and I can’t say strongly enough, don’t waste your money because to the best of my understanding they are all completely useless. Our best estimation will get us pretty close considering that the best lab testing is +/- 15% accuracy and I’ve had conflicting lab results using the same material much wider than that. To roughly estimate my concentrates this is how I look at them.
Color Before Decarbing THC % after decarb weight
Super dark green/black 50-60%
Light brown and murky 60-65%
Light brown and clear 65-70%
Amber to golden and clear 70-75%
Absolutely perfect 75-85%
Estimated THC percentages are based on the post-decarb weight of a concentrate. Multiply the THC percentage by the total weight of the concentrate in milligrams for the total amount of THC in the concentrate.
STEP 2: Determine the THC content per volume unit of carrier.
If you plan to use all the concentrate from step one in a carrier and use all the carrier in your recipe you already know the total amount of THC you are working with and can skip to Step 3.
To split batches of medicated carrier, using some now and some later, or using it in multiple dishes it’s important to know the dose contained in each unit of volumetric measure. For carriers to be stored and used at a later date labeling the container with the contents and dosage per measure is highly recommended for safety and peace of mind.
To calculate the THC content per unit of measure divide the total THC determined in step 1 by the carrier volume being used.
If after doing the calculations you decide you’d prefer it to be more or less potent just reduce or increase the amount of carrier and recalculate.
STEP 3: Determine the per serving THC content of the end product.
End product dose per serving calculations requires four pieces of information: 1. Volume of the medicated carrier 2. THC per volume unit 3. Number of servings being prepared 4. What’s being calculated for: THC per serving or how much carrier to use for a desired dosage.
TIPS AND TOOLS
Using cannabis concentrates in your cooking is as easy as I’ve described but handling small amounts of sticky concentrates can be troublesome. With a couple of simple tools and a little experienced knowledge, these frustrations can be easily avoided. To help with the accurate measurement of a recipe’s potency a small unit scale is very useful. When working with just a gram or so of concentrate most scales won’t be able to recognize such a small weight, so having a scale capable of measuring small weights is important. If you have premeasured concentrates, you can put straight into the fat with no problems. When dealing with a larger amount of concentrate you may find a silicone mat or unbleached parchment paper useful to set concentrates or tools on. You can quickly become a sticky mess and get sticky concentrate in places sticky concentrates aren’t supposed to be. Concentrates become very sticky when they are handled and they begin to warm, they will even cling to a silicone mat and any non-stick surface. These sticky situations can be managed by using heat, cold, or fat depending on what the concentrate is stuck to.
If you have concentrate stuck to a metal utensil that can withstand heat, you can hold a lighter to the clinging bit of concentrate and it will very quickly turn to a liquid that will drip off or loosen enough to be stirred into what you’re making. If the concentrate is a sticky glob stuck to a mat or parchment paper, stick the mat in the freezer for 1-2 minutes to stiffen up and it’ll be easy to remove. Be careful with this, if you leave it in the freezer too long it will become like glass and shatter into little shards all over the place losing valuable concentrate and to add to the pain, you’ll be picking tiny sticky pieces off everything for a week. If the concentrate is an unmanageable mess smeared on a mat and you’d like a more uniform, easy to handle shape: fold the mat in half with the sticky concentrate stuck to itself, put in the freezer for 1-2 minutes with something holding the mat folded over onto itself, remove folded mat from freezer and peel away one side of the mat. Repeat the fold, freeze, peel steps as many times as needed to get the desired shape. Lastly, if the concentrate is smeared on a surface, side of a bowl, utensil, finger, skin, hair, or whatever, use a little fat and the sticky bit will soften for easy removal.
The final piece of advice about handling concentrates and general cannabis cooking is a caution in handling the utensils while you’re cooking and putting them in the sink. I have a habit of tasting things that look yummy on a utensil before cleaning them. This habit led to the saying in our Facebook group, “beware of the spoon” and it’s a real warning. Sometimes you lick the spoon without thinking and all of a sudden a couple of hours later you’re standing in the grocery store and BAMM, you’re super high out of nowhere! Beware of The Spoon~~~~
COOKING WITH CONCENTRATES CONSIDERATIONS
When cooking with cannabis I focus on including the core ‘desirable’ components of cannabis in my culinary activities. The ‘desirable’ components of cannabis are the cannabinoids (i.e. THC, CBD, CBG), terpenes, and flavonoids. These desirables almost exclusively reside in the trichome of the cannabis plant that exists on the surface of the plant material, so the trichomes are our primary target for collection with extraction and the components we want to include in cannabis cooking. Other ‘undesirables’ components of the plant are the lipids, waxes, chlorophyll, and cellulose that provide no real benefit warranting inclusion in the culinary arts. While the lipids and waxes aren’t desirable, they aren’t a serious problem when it comes to cooking, however, chlorophyll is the enemy. You will see a lot of old schoolers and internet groups encouraging people to “get everything out of the plant,” but the truth of the matter is known science tells us there are distinctly two, and only two, types of chlorophyll on the entire planet in all plants and algae, which means the chlorophyll in cannabis is not unique. Most importantly, chlorophyll is what causes the swampy odor and terrible flavor in poorly made edibles, causing belching nastiness and gastric distress for many. When it comes to chlorophyll in concentrates, avoid it as much as possible but if you need the health benefits of chlorophyll it’s far better to include raw sources like spinach, kelp, and microgreens into your diet.
The necessity of decarboxylation is one of the most important considerations when cooking with any form of cannabis and concentrates. To decarb, or not to decarb, that is the question! This is a big topic so if you are unfamiliar or interested in different techniques to decarb at home I encourage you to read my post on decarb Decarboxylation 101 Basic Understanding and at Home Method Comparison. The cannabinoid usually targeted for cannabis cooking in its natural state when not-decarbed is THC-A, then once decarbed becomes THC. The THC-A will not get you “high” where THC will. For cooking with THC-A it will have to be incorporated into a recipe that will not be exposed to heat, like a salad dressing, sauce, dip, spread, and those types of dishes. The vast majority of cooking with cannabis is for the psychotropic and/or medicinal effects of THC so decarbing before incorporating any form of cannabis, including concentrates, will usually be necessary before using it to cook. An unfortunate consequence of decarbing is the loss of the light and volatile terpenes in the process, it’s unfortunate and unavoidable right now but I am working on a solution so stay tuned.
While thinking about the temperature and time impacts on changing THC-A into THC also keep the idea of cannabinoid tendency toward conversion, degradation, and evaporation with every increased increment of heat and duration of exposure. To keep it simple let’s just think of cannabinoids trying to begin vaporizing at around 300°F then accelerating as we get closer to and past 400°F. The idea to keep in mind here as you begin to experiment is that if the concentrate is already decarbed keeping the introduction of heat as low and as short as possible is best. The incorporation into the fat and a recipe is going to protect the cannabinoids from any real adverse effect in most cases. Problems are going to arise at higher temps like in a very hot pan or under a broiler, when the concentrate has nowhere to hide, like naked medicated butter thrown onto a smoking hot pan. There is a balance but don’t stress over it too much, just keep it in mind when planning your dish and keep the heat application within reason.
To cook with cannabis a concentrate, an infusion, or the plant itself can be used. Concentrates are far superior than anything else to use in cannabis cooking. Using the cannabis plant material itself makes food smell bad, taste bad, leaves chewy plant matter in the end product and can cause stomach discomfort and gastric distress. It does take the least amount of effort but it shows in the very low quality of the finished product. Infusions are quite popular and can work but they’re inferior for cooking because it’s impossible to even guess at the potency and the voluminous amount of carrier needed to deliver the necessary amount of cannabinoids can be too much for many recipes. Concentrates are superior to cook with because you can see exactly what you are working with, make a close estimate of potency and the know the amount to include for your desired dosing. The thing I love about cooking with concentrates is the control of how much you include in any volume of fat. You simply use the original recipe for what you are making and incorporate the exact amount of concentrate you desire to use, super easy. So, what concentrates are the best to cook with? I am an extraction guy, so I like cooking with concentrates I craft myself using food-grade alcohol and the Quick Wash Ethanol (QWET) extraction method. Crafting the concentrate myself provides comfort in knowing exactly what’s in it and I can use very low-cost material to make perfect cooking concentrates. Several concentrate forms can be used for cooking, they all have unique advantages and disadvantages.
CONCENTRATES FOR COOKING
RSO/FECO (approximately 50-55% cannabinoids)
Rick Simpson Oil (RSO) and Full Extract Cannabis Oil (FECO) are heavy black concentrates most often crafted at home. Old schoolers may start jumping up and down about equating RSO to FECO because RSO originally used naphtha as the solvent, then later isopropyl, but I think those days are gone and most people are using or should be using, food-grade ethanol for the extraction so I accept these terms as being interchangeable at this point. For those unfamiliar with the term “food grade ethanol,” it’s just a fancy way to say grain alcohol. A great advantage of using RSO/FECO is it’s typically already decarbed and ready to go. All you have to do is decide how much THC you want to include in the recipe, melt the concentrate into the fat portion of the recipe and carry on preparing the dish as you normally would. The main disadvantage to these concentrates is the chlorophyll that causes its black color and can result in unpleasant aroma, flavor, and stomach or gastric discomfort.
(This blog post explains more about making RSO/FECO if you would like more information RSO & FECO Using the Source Turbo: Home Healing)
QWET (60%-80% cannabinoids)
Quick Wash Ethanol (QWET) is similar to RSO/FECO but without the undesirables. This is the form of concentrate I use most often and craft myself using decarbed cannabis and the QWET process. QWET is a form of ethanol extraction using frozen cannabis material and ethanol brought below freezing temperatures to create a tincture for extraction and a transparent light brown to amber concentrate absent of undesirables. By eliminating the undesirables, the potency increases dramatically and there is no swap like smell or taste from chlorophyll. The great advantages are it’s already decarbed, high potency, great aroma, agreeable taste, and you can use low quality starting material or trim to make it very affordable. Since decarbing is required for cooking there is absolutely no reason to use good quality starting material to make QWET bound for cooking. There are no disadvantages to using QWET for cooking.
DISTILLATE (90%-98% THC)
Distillate is produced by post-processing concentrates, referred to as “crude”, through fractional distillation to increase the THC potency into the high ninety percent range. Distillate is the hotdog of the cannabis industry, made with all the scraps, out of date concentrates, low-quality materials and about anything with THC in it. Distillate by definition is a fully decarbed concentrate with all undesirables and desirables other than THC removed. The main advantage of using distillate is it’s flavorless, scentless, and completely ready to be incorporated into the fat component of your recipe. The disadvantage is that all other cannabinoids and desirable cannabis components have been purposefully removed. Any synergistic and entourage benefits contained in full-spectrum oil are not present in distillate and many would argue that it’s less medicinal with a lower efficacy. The importance of THC working in conjunction with other cannabinoids and terpenes has been the topic of many studies where it’s been shown that the effectiveness of THC can be as much as 10x higher in the company of other desirables than on its own.
BASIC DISPENSARY CONCENTRATE FORMS (65% – 85% cannabinoids)
BHO, Rosin, Live Resin, Sauce, Sugar, Shatter, Wax, Crumble, Pull-N-Snap, Sap and such that you find in a dispensary are mostly intended for smoking/vaping. These concentrates will have unbelievable aroma and flavor because the oil is in its natural full spectrum form with all the desirables intact and undesirables removed. All of these concentrates can be used to cook with, but it could be wasteful because they must to be decarbed (instructions below) and when decarbing the lighter, fine quality desirables that make them glorious will mostly be destroyed. Having said that, if you have some of these concentrates that are old or low-quality, get your game on, decarb that junk, and get to cooking. Often you can find low quality or old concentrates on sale for a good deal that will work well, and you can buy them in advance when they are cheap saving them for later use because maintaining top quality isn’t a priority. The only advantage of using these concentrates is if you find some on the cheap you don’t have to make them yourself. The disadvantages are the need to decarb and these concentrates are normally too high-quality and expensive for the job.
Decarbing Concentrates: Decarb is the chemical reaction of breaking off a carboxyl group, hence the word decarboxylation, to turn THC-A into THC. The application of heat accelerates decarb and can be done with a hotplate, a magnetic stir hotplate if you’re fancy, or a double boiler using oil instead of water in the heating vessel. Water only gets to 212℉ at sea level and lower temp at increased elevation, hence the need for using oil to achieve higher temperatures. An oven or toaster oven can also be used in a pinch, they’re just harder to maintain access for stirring. Place a silicone cupcake mold or a small Pyrex dish containing the concentrate on the heated surface and bring the temp up to about 240℉-260F°. Decarb works on a sliding scale, meaning lower heat is slower and higher heat is faster. The rate of terpene loss, oxidation and conversion gets kind of messy so we can skip that for now but if you want to experiment you can use temps from 220℉ – 290℉. At these temperatures the concentrate will turn into a water-like viscosity and tiny CO2 bubbles will form from the carboxyl group breaking off and turning each THC-A molecule into a smaller THC molecule. It’s very important to note, the oil may expand in volume by 10 times or more during decarb so make sure you have a lot of extra space in the container you use. Stirring as continuously as possible will help the decarb process along and reduce bubble volume. There will be a peak when the bubbling is at its most active, then it will taper off until it bubbles no more. When the bubbling stops completely, we can consider it fully decarbed. After decarbing, any of these concentrates will be essentially the same as the decarbed QWET regardless of the concentrate’s original quality. The concentrate is ready to combine with the fat portion of the recipe and complete your culinary creation.
KIEF (50%-60% THC)
Kief is the original cannabis concentrate, a collection of trichomes that have been harvested from the cannabis flower. Trichomes are covering most of the cannabis plant but when we speak of ‘kief’ it’s most often a reference to the richest trichomes in the area of most abundance, on the flower. Like dispensary type concentrates, good kief is almost too high-quality to cook with, but that doesn’t mean you can’t. Kief comes in different levels of quality depending on the material it came from, storage, and the amount of green plant material it contains, so lower quality kief from trim can be reasonable to cook with. Kief also requires decarbing before being used for cooking, and as we already know decarbing ruins the finer qualities of cannabis so it’s no problem at all to use lower quality kief. It’s best to use kief with the least amount of ground plant material, but it’s not a deal breaker. There are a few ways to make kief and if any of them are performed too aggressively, especially if a grinder is used, a lot of green plant material will get mixed in. Like with RSO/FECO, the green material will negatively affect the aroma and flavor of the end product so it’s best to use kief with the least amount of green possible. Cooking with kief is similar to cooking with the cannabis plant material, it requires decarb (instructions below) then to steep in fat so the contents of the trichomes will release into it. Many recipes say to add the decarbed kief to the oil or butter over light heat and mix until the kief is dissolved, then add to your recipe. That works, and if you’re in a hurry it’ll have a good outcome, but there are a couple more things you can do to improve it and take it to the next level. Recipes often mention kief ‘dissolving’ even though they can’t actually dissolve, the cellulose husks that formed the trichome and housed the desirable cannabinoids and terpenes remain intact. The inclusion of the husks adds two minor complexities. First, they don’t release their contents that easily, so they need some time to soften and fully loosen to let go of all the goodness they contain. To do this, you combine the kief with the fat and simmer on low heat for 15-20 minutes then allow it to rest overnight and simmer for 15-20 minutes again the next day. Second, the fibrous cellulose husks don’t dissolve and will leave an unwanted texture in some recipes. By using a fine wire mesh coffee filter to strain the fat after the second simmer time the husks can be separated and the medicated fat ready for cooking.
Decarbing Kief (simple): Put kief on a Pyrex dish, cover with foil, and place it into a well-preheated oven at 240℉ for 60 min or 260℉ for 40min. Some people reduce the time by 20% for kief because there’s no extra plant material in the way and the cannabinoids receive more direct heat. Experiment with both methods and see which works best for you. This method keeps it quick and easy, there’s a more complex method, but it takes a lot more effort that may or may not be worth the hassle and depends on the time you have.
Decarbing Kief (complex): Decarb kief in a preheated sealed canning jar, in a preheated oven, again at 240℉ for 60 min or 260℉ for 40min. The jar will trap the evaporating terpenes that will settle and condense on the jar’s glass after removing from the heat and the jar cools. Don’t open the jar until it’s completely cooled or the evaporated terpenes will escape into the open air. Next, heat the chosen fat, load it into the jar and use it to collect all the invisible terpenes condensed on the inside glass surface, then allow to set overnight. Lastly, remove the contents of the jar (you may need to heat the jar slightly to get it all out) and simmer the contents for 15-20 minutes. While the fat is still warm and loose strain out the husks using a fine wire mesh coffee filter, and your medicated fat is ready to cook with.
There are an unlimited number of recipes you can easily combine with cannabis concentrates. You can melt decarbed concentrate in butter and combine it into ready-made mac ‘n cheese, chili, creamed spinach, pasta, or whatever you can imagine. Use your favorite recipe and turn it into a medicated wonder, stretch your boundaries and experiment.
I have mentioned the importance of terpenes and how they should be considered a desirable component in our concentrates. The bad news is we evaporate off or convert the most delicate terpenes irreparably with decarbing and cooking. The good news is we can now buy isolated or strain-specific profiles and use them in our cooking to help achieve onset effects, aromas, and flavors. Terpenes must be added at a point where the dish will not have heat applied again and there is time to air out and mature a bit. Terpenes are a little tough to work with because they are so strong you only need a very small amount. I would advise working with them a bit before including in a large dish for the first time.
EASY AND FAVORITE CONCENTRATE COOKING
I know I said, in the beginning, you can only combine the concentrates with fats, but there is an exception I use in one of my favorite recipes that I talk about all the time. I started making an espresso-vanilla-cannabis cotton candy that’s incredibly fun and yummy. It has a light adult flavor, coffee house aroma, nice caffeine kick, and a cannabis edible high to it. The problem is it’s sugar-based and there are no fats in the ingredients, but there’s an easy way to overcome this. Use food-grade ethanol to thin the concentrate to a loose liquid state similar to the same consistency of the ethanol itself, then slowly combine with the sugar, stirring in just a little at a time so you don’t liquefy the sugar. Once it’s mixed well, spread the sugar in a thin layer on a cookie sheet and allow it to dry overnight, stirring it once in a while when you walk by. This sugar will be very stable as is, but if you combine it with water-based liquids, like to sweeten a drink, the oil will separate when the sugar melts so think about your application well ahead of time so you don’t waste your sugary goodness. To make the espresso-vanilla-cannabis sugar I use for making the cotton candy I do the same thing I detailed with the cannabis but with espresso and vanilla extracts. I make my own espresso and vanilla extracts for the most amazing flavors, but if this isn’t an option you can just as easily use pre-made versions. Lastly, I combine the sugars well and have medicated amazingness. I use the sugar to make the cotton candy, top the whipped cream on my chocolate-espresso lava cake or eat as is because it’s crazy good!
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