The culinary applications of hemp shouldn’t be overlooked

Why chefs across the country are increasingly turning to hemp to bring their dishes to new highs

by Amy Paturel



hen Michelle Matthews starts playing with food, she focuses on nostalgic confections that feature natural ingredients. Favorites include raspberry chocolate mocha fruit leather, coffee-flavored suckers and cotton candy, and chai latte flavored gummies. She likes coffee coupled with childhood favorites. The unexpected common ingredient in each of these confections: Cannabis.

Matthews is not the only gastronomic mastermind playing with this ingredient. The plant is poised to make a huge impact on the culinary scene. In fact, according to the National Restaurant Association’s annual “What’s Hot” survey of ACF members, three out of four chefs named CBD and cannabis-infused foods as a hot trend for 2019.

“We’re starting to see the diversity that hemp can provide our society, from CBD to making rope to clothes to houses made out of hemp bricks to pellets that can be burned and used as fuel,” says David Cunic, PT, MSPT, founder of UCS Advisors in Morristown, New Jersey. “Hemp is the first major commodity to hit the market in over 15 years.” 

But let’s get some things straight out of the gate: Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD) are NOT the same thing. Both come from the cannabis plant, but their effects vary greatly. Any cannabis plant that has less than 0.3% THC is “hemp.” Plants with 0.4% THC or more are considered marijuana. CBD doesn’t have psychoactive properties and comes in powder, tincture, or isolate form. THC, on the other hand, can get folks high and is typically found in butters and oils.

“I liken it to the difference between a therapeutic massage and a massage with a happy ending,” says Matthews, an infusion specialist in Sandusky, Ohio. “With hemp, you get the benefits of CBD, including anti-anxiety and anti-inflammatory properties, without the psychoactive components.” 

Even in states where recreational cannabis is legal, most chefs stick to the THC-free variety of CBD when it comes to recipes. While it’s too soon to tell whether cannabis is a passing fad or a culinary mainstay, there’s no doubt this plant-based ingredient is hot right now. 

The Hemp Advantage

One of Michelle Matthews’ hemp-based dishes

In an attempt to appeal to the health-conscious consumer base, a growing number of chefs are exploring whether CBD may play a role in their signature dishes. Hemp is rich in protein, fiber, and a slew of plant nutrients, both known and unknown. Plus, anecdotally, people report CBD-infused foods help them relax and unwind. 

“It reduces anxiety, lowers cortisol levels, and inevitably helps people lose weight, sleep better, and look better,” says Matthews. While THC-free hemp and CBD won’t produce it euphoric high, it still has to be treated with respect. 

When you’re working with hemp, it’s important to know your flavor profiles and how the herb fits in. “Hemp is a plant. You have to treat it like a plant and focus on how to make the most of its benefits,” says Matthews. That may be one reason why restaurants that offer CBD-infused products tend to start with beverages. Depending where you live, you can get CBD-infused lattes, no-alcohol beverages, and even CBD-spiked smoothies. Some coffee houses serve CBD almost like espresso: $2 for a 5-milligram serving. 

Unfortunately, CBD is fickle, depending on the strain and sourcing. “If it’s infused in oil, you’ll get an earthy note,” says Matthews. “It’s a little bitter, a little grassy, and very green tasting.” Those aren’t flavors people are accustomed to, so when it comes to CBD, less is more. Some restaurants even serve CBD oil in pipettes so guests can drizzle it on foods like grilled shrimp or guacamole. 

Working with Hemp

Pizza with hemp baked into the crust at Burattino Brick Oven Pizza

Including hemp-based dishes on your menu drives up cost. “It’s not an inexpensive ingredient,” says Matthews, and it can be difficult to try different recipes and CBD proportions when experimentation is pricey. In many cases, chefs are navigating uncharted terrain and coming up with formulas on the fly. 

Take Lee Kim, at Rancho Palos Verdes’ Burattino Brick Oven Pizza, for example, who turned to hemp in an attempt to meet the demand for dough that is not only healthy but also tasty and unusual. “Making dough is tricky,” says Kim, who searched online for promising recipes suggesting different proportions of hemp. “Ultimately, I used common sense and daily experiments. It took me about a week to figure out the right consistency and proportions.” 

In the end, Kim settled on a dough that boasts 30% hemp flour, an ideal canvas for Burattino’s eclectic toppings, including carefully curated meats that are essentially greaseless (think wild boar pepperoni, bison sausage, and duck prosciutto). 

“It tastes a bit like dough made from Hawaiian sweet potatoes,” says Kim. There’s a hint of hearty whole grain and wheat. The texture is both crispy and chewy. And there’s a nutty pop that tickles the palate. What throws some people off though is the color. Kim’s dough has a deep purplish hue. 

Some chefs argue hemp should never be heated above 125 degrees. Others say you can heat hemp like any other ingredient. But all hemp connoisseurs agree that if you want to use hemp in your cooking repertoire, you should always source from the best growers. “Make sure the farmer is growing it properly, get a third party to test it, and ask for the copy of the report,” says Cunic.  


Recipe: Infused Smokey Goat Cheese Mousse

Courtesy of Michelle Matthews

goat cheese tartServes 4 // CBD dosage of 20-25 mg per serving


5 oz. good quality soft goat cheese
3/4 tsp. alder wood smoked sea salt
1/2 tsp. fresh chopped rosemary
White pepper to taste
1 tsp. fresh Meyer lemon zest
1/2 tsp. of 100 mg CBD oil
1 cup heavy cream


  1. Soften goat cheese to room temperature.

2. Whisk together all ingredients except the cream and smoked salt, until smooth.

3. Whip cream with smoked salt to firm peak consistency. Fold gently into goat cheese mixture.

4. Pipe into tart shells, or glasses, and chill.

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