Cannabis food, drinks to be 2019's hottest dining trend, top chefs say

CBD Food & Drinks is the "In Thing" Now

DENVER – Sprinkled on donuts, mixed into milkshakes or infused into olive oil, make no mistake: Cannabis is coming to a kitchen near you.

Chefs across the country say cannabis-infused food and drinks are the top two dining trends they expect to see unfold in 2019, although we’re not talking about food that will get you “high" – these are products made with "CBD," a non-psychoactive compound extracted from cannabis plants that enthusiasts say offers health benefits while tempting the palate.

"I'm telling you, 75 percent of my clientele is doctors, nurses and lawyers," said Josh Schwab, 45, whose Denver-area Glazed & Confuzed donut shop makes a CBD-frosted doughnut topped with a candied hemp leaf, selling upwards of 30 each weekend day. "You get all the relaxation without the head high. It kinda just takes the edge off."

Jonathan Eppers, 35, has seen the rocketing CBD interest firsthand: Launched just a year ago from LA, his CBD-infused Vybes drinks are now available in 19 states, including New York and Florida, in flavors such as blueberry mintand blackberry lavender.

"I was tired of living every day anxious. I wanted to be more present and calm. That’s what CBD does for me," said Eppers, whose fledgling company sold more than 1.1 million bottles last year.

The survey of chefs was part of an annual poll conducted for the National Restaurant Association, which checked with more than 650 professional chefs. Of those, 77 percent said CBD drinks are the No. 1 trend they see for 2019, followed by CBD foods.

Zero-waste kitchens were the third top trend identified by the chefs, who are all members of the American Culinary Federation, and who have previously singled out artisanal cheese, house-made condiments and savory desserts.

And heads-up: These same chefs say pretzels in desserts are on their way out.

Hudson Riehle, 65, the restaurant association's senior research director, said it's still too early to tell if CBD is just a fad or will fade into history like molecular gastronomy or meals served in mason jars. U.S. restaurants are an $850 billion industry that employs about 15 million people, and the daily conversations chefs have with customers help inform the survey, said Riehle.

"Ultimately, what the consumer wants comes to fruition," he said.

Because CBD products are often derived from hemp, which is usually imported but legal nationally, you can expect to see CBD on menus across the United States, although specific regulations vary.

And while there's relatively little peer-reviewed research available on CBD's health benefits, its fans say it can help treat insomnia, anxiety, pain and seizures. Others say it provides mild relaxation without intoxication.

At Colorado's The Cereal Box, where customers can add a taste-free $3 scoop of CBD powder to their cereal, coffee or milkshake, co-owner Lori Hofer said she spends a lot of time explaining the difference between CBD and THC, the marijuana compound that gets you high.

She said Colorado customers tend to know more about CBD because the state's been at the forefront of marijuana legalization for so many years.

"We have to tell them, this is not something you're going to get high from," said Hofer, 40. "But you get a moms group in here with a bunch of kids and she might want some CBD."

The Food and Drug Administration says anyone making specific health claims about hemp-derived CBD products must first submit them for review, and it says marijuana-derived CBD products remain illegal at the federal level, no matter whether they're legal in states. CBD is short for "cannabinoidol," one of the many compounds contained in both hemp and marijuana plants, which are collectively known as cannabis.

Federal uncertainty aside, today you can buy CBD products like JuJu Royal's $50 infused olive oil, Stillwater's Clockwork Coffee, and Coalition Brewing's Two Flowers IPA. 

Marijuana research firm Greenwave Advisors anticipates the CBD industry could reach $3 billion by 2021 and eventually well over $200 billion in the U.S. Many experts say the new Farm Bill, which legalized U.S.-grown hemp, will fuel CBD industry growth in the coming years.

At LA's Otium, bartender Chris Amirault makes several drinks with CBD, including the "Pineapple Express," which is based on a Negroni, and the "Blue Dream," a spiked Mai Tai. While many CBD products are made with odorless, tasteless powder, Amirault, 30, uses CBD oil, which he says gives an unmistakably "herbaceous" taste: "Guests are all about it. They’re extremely curious."

Longtime CBD evangelist Joel Stanley, 39, said he's watched for years as CBD has slowly gained recognition, first for treating seizures in children and then more broadly for aches and pains, relaxation and anxiety. Many pet owners also champion CBD products for aging animals struggling with joint pain.

"We're just at the tip of the iceberg of what CBD and cannabinoids can offer," said Stanley, the chairman and co-founder of Colorado-based Charlotte's Web, which was featured in a 2013 CNN documentary for its work with a young girl suffering with severe seizures. "We're going to find out what all these tools can do after being prohibited for so many years."