Thursday, November 18, 2010

Bhang, Bliss: Pot Brownies Go Upscale

By David Downs
Thu, Nov 18, 2010 at 5:02 PM

In the land of hard core foodies just south of the Emerald Triangle, it was only a matter of time. The holiday eating season is upon us, bringing with it some seasonal innovations in edible medical cannabis, as well as new regulations and professionalism in the maturing industry.

Month-old Oakland chocolate company Bhang pulled off a stunning victory, debuting at number one in the edibles category of the San Francisco Medical Cannabis Competition November 13. Bhang's Dark Chocolate bar joins such regional delicacies as the Bliss Vanilla-Mint Chocolate Cupcake, which won the High Times Medical Cannabis Cup a few months back.

Bhang is the brainchild of New Mexico emigrant Scott Van Rixel, a European-schooled master chocolatier who runs an eight-year-old, non-medicated chocolate company called The Chocolate Cartel out of Albuquerque, New Mexico. Cramped by the desert state's rules, Rixel opened up a five-man concern in Oakland, where he says 32 sweets will come out over the next couple years.

First off is the award-winning Bhang Dark Chocolate Bar. It's 73.5 percent dark cocoa from South American beans harvested by farmers in a coca-to-cocoa program. Each bar has sixty milligrams of active pot ingredient THC and just under two milligrams of pain-relieving CBD and CBN. One whole bar has four segments, and each segment is comparable to a dose of prescription Marinol. The upcoming Bhang Milk Bar, out for the holidays, will be twice as strong. They retail for between $10 and $12 for the Dark and $12 and $15 for the Milk at The Green Door, The Divinity Tree, and the Norcal Dispensary.

Most people boil butter with plant material, strain, then cook with the THC-infused butter, Rixel says. But Bhang uses a proprietary technique to extract THC from plant matter without nearly any of the grass taste, and does its own on-site potency testing. Bhang is elevating the production, consistency, and packaging of chocolate pot to professional levels, he says, and they're growing to fourteen employees by spring.

“People will be hard-pressed to compete with our product. It's miles away from what's going on,” Rixel says. “I'm one of the first mainstream business people who is taking another business and applying it to the cannabis business.”

Another transplant living the California dream making edibles is Diedra Bagdasarian. She and her husband moved from Arizona in September 2009, and rapidly established themselves by elevating baked pot goods to Tartine-levels. A longtime caterer and cake baker, Bagdasarian founded Bliss Edibles and took her products from dispensary door to dispensary door — eventually ending up with twenty dispensaries including Coffeeshop Blue Sky dispensary in Oakland. Bagdasarian also landed teaching jobs at Oaksterdam and sister pot college Unicann.

The Bliss Vanilla-Mint Chocolate Cupcake took first place at the High Times Medical Cannabis Cup this summer. This holiday, Bliss will again add its seasonal Sweet Potato Pecan Praline Pies, which serves eight, to its list of delectable morsels.

Pot foods have come a long way since that natty Seventies tray of grassy-tasting brownies, Diedra says. The best bakers have found ways to almost completely mask the pungent taste of pot. The ends no longer justify the means, she says. Pot food has to actually taste good and be good for you.

For example, Bliss candy bars start with infused shortbread cookies. The pot taste jumps out of the shortbread, so Bliss adds toffee chips, drenches it in homemade caramel, sprinkles on toasted peanuts, and then dips the whole thing in chocolate.

“San Francisco is the perfect place for weed and for food. It's both. It's so known for its foodie community and its artisanal baked goods and wine and cheese and all these amazing whole foods. We try to be special like Tartine is: with boutique-quality stuff that's really artisanal and handmade and loved and beautiful and tastes good.”

The edibles industry is undergoing a rapid transformation, as competition comes to the space, and historic regulations take hold, says Green Cross dispensary owner Kevin Reed. San Francisco's first edible regulations take effect this week and food handlers must get certified for the first time. Industry standards for preparation and packaging have started to emerge. San Francisco mandates edibles be wrapped in opaque packaging, and labeled as medicine to avoid being confused with candy. Reed says to look for now-mandatory expiration dates, dosage amounts, and allergen warnings. If treats lack such information, don't eat them.

Accidental ingestion of pot foods is generally non-toxic, but can be scary for the uninitiated, especially in the Bay Area. Diedra says the Bay's high tolerance for THC forced her to up her recipe potency four times. Accidental ingestion is also a leading cause of pet visits to the ER.

The mere possibility of accidental ingestion by kids is fueling bans on edibles in Southern California cities and in San Jose, Bagdasarian says. The San Francisco Health Dept. had also considered banning all but three types of edibles, says Reed. And edibles are still illegal under federal law. San Francisco Senator Dianne Feinstein has championed new mandatory penalties for makers of drugs that look like candy. While Feinstein's office has assured dispensaries the new, harsher sentences would not apply to medical edible makers, industry members say the law's wording is vague enough to bust the Bay's busy new bakers. So, consume and bake with care this Thanksgiving.


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