Beyond pot brownies - elevating fine chocolate edibles with Woodblock Chocolate
Weed. Pot. Ganja. Pakalolo. Marijuana. Cannabis. Whatever word you use, we all know what we are talking about. Perhaps now more than ever, we are on a precipice when it comes to the use of cannabis, particularly in North America. Those associations of hippies from the 60s, or your brother’s dead beat college roommate who slept all day instead of going to class, are being traded for grandmothers using marijuana edibles to relieve pain, or maybe even just to relax. Cancer patients using marijuana to combat some of the debilitating side effects of chemotherapy. When you see an article called “Pot smoking moms are tired of being judged by wine drinkers” you know that there is a change afoot. People around the world swear by the healing powers of this plant. And with its new found legalization in many parts of the world, perhaps now more than ever, attitudes are changing about marijuana use.
With these new groups of consumers come new demands. Many people simply don’t like smoking marijuana, and edibles are becoming an increasingly popular category (as are drinks, and topical products). And the edibles of today are so beyond pot brownies. Chefs are preparing entire menus centered around cannabis ingredients. There are confections of every description from lollipops, to gummy bears, to caramels, and the list goes on. And of course fine chocolate.
If you don’t know very much about how cannabis edibles are made, here is a quick lesson. There are 3 main type of cannabis ingredients from which edibles can be made.
- Plant matter - this is straight cannabis that has not been altered by any other process. It can include leaf, buds or flowers, and trim.
- Concentrates– this can include waxes, shatters, oils and extracts, etc. Concentrates work well for chocolate-based edibles as they are primarily oil-based residues from the plant, and can blend very well into fat-based confections.
- Tinctures are made by infusing plant matter into alcohol or glycerine to obtain a water-miscible substance. These are best used in sugar-based confections such as marshmallows or hard candy.
The active chemical ingredients found in the cannabis plant are called cannabinoids. It has been suggested that over 100 types of cannabinoids have been identified, but the ones that have been most commonly used and are found in the highest concentrations are THC and CBD (their fancy names are delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol, and cannabidiol respectively). THC is the compound that is associated with the psychoactive effects of cannabis. While CBD is usually not associated with any psychoactive effects, it is thought that the interaction between the two compounds in various concentrations contributes to people finding the appropriate balance of the effects they are looking for without feeling 'stoned’.
Whether using plant matter, concentrates or tinctures, it’s incredibly important that the ingredients used in an edible are tested to determine their strength for accurate dosing. When consuming edibles, it can take longer to feel the effects of the marijuana because it must travel through your digestive system before it is released into your body. Responsibly produced edibles should give you a very clear understanding of how much cannabis you are consuming.
Typically, cannabis concentrates are infused into cocoa butter, which is then added to the chocolate itself, which is then molded into bars. Alternatively, the cannabis may be infused into a ganache type filling and then made into a bonbon or other type of filled chocolate.
Last year, Ecole Chocolat graduate Woodblock Chocolate released a line of cannabis infused bean to bar chocolate bars in collaboration with Serra. We asked Woodblock's co-founder Charley Wheelock to tell us more about how this collaboration came to be.
1) Why did you decide to create a cannabis chocolate bar?
We were considering it for a while, but did not make any effort towards actually doing it until we were introduced to the people at Serra and Groundworks Industries. We had a similar vision, and they had the resources to take the time we needed to develop a product that stood up to our standards on all levels. We saw an opportunity to be pioneers in terms of how cannabis is presented to mainstream America, as it is gradually becoming more accepted. We are far beyond making a brownie that will wreck your weekend. We are in the fortunate position to create a dynamic experience where the joy of consuming wonderful chocolate and the feeling it gives you are balanced, thoughtful and appropriate. We set up a chocolate finishing room at the Groundwork grow/extraction facility. We deliver bulk chocolate to the chocolate kitchen there, where it is infused and then cast the bars and bonbons all under the same roof. We have total quality control from seed to weed and from bean to bar. It is a pretty impressive set up that gives us the ability to be intentional in every aspect of production.
2) Can you tell us about the line of cannabis chocolate bars that you created in partnership with Serra?
Presently we have two bars, one dark chocolate bar (70%) and one dark milk bar (64%) The dark bar is made from Tanzanian cacao (Koko Kamili) and the dark milk is made from Peruvian cacao (Maranon). Our goal is to redefine the edible with the intention of creating a beautiful and balanced experience. We based our dosage on how much chocolate satisfies people, rather than how much THC we can pack into an ounce of chocolate. The result is a relatively low dose edible. Of the people I spoke to about this endeavor, probably 100% of them had a story about how they had ruined their weekend with an infused edible that was too strong. We are actively making a low dose chocolate to confront this issue. Matching the flavor profiles of the chocolate with the cannabis is another great advantage we have from working with Serra. Because the cannabis is grown and the oil extracted under the same roof as the chocolate kitchen, we get to experiment with the terpenes presented by the different strains of marijuana. Much like cacao, different strains of pot bring different aromatics to the game, making legitimate pairings possible. We are excited to see where this can go as we experiment more. Presently we only have THC infused chocolate but we are working on a CBD bar to be introduced soon. I am very excited about that.
3) What are some of the challenges about working with cannabis in terms of combining the flavor profile of the cannabis with the flavor profile of the beans to create a product that both tastes good, and delivers the result that people are looking for?
At this point, I am not sure if people know what they are looking for in terms of flavor. This is one of the exciting aspects of this project. In the past, due to the fact that pot was illegal, chocolate, among other things were simply a vehicle to get THC into your system. This was conducive to making edibles as strong as possible!! We have the luxury of looking at the whole thing in a different light. The chocolate is a much more integral part of our product, as our goal is to introduce the cannabis oil in terms of flavor and feeling.As I said above, because we have tight controls over every aspect of the marijuana we choose, how we extract the oil and how we introduce it to the chocolate, we are able to create thoughtful flavor combinations that are beyond what has been done before. If you have had the opportunity to go into a dispensary and smell the different pot strains, you will see the inspiration for different pairings and flavor profiles.
4) What are the laws in Oregon currently around making and selling cannabis edibles? Did you encounter any challenges in creating the product from a legal standpoint?
What do you mean by currently? The rules seem to change daily! It is a new marketplace and the rules and regulations are still being worked out. Groundwork actually has a full time compliance officer who keeps us apprised of labeling changes, dosing regulations and a myriad of related issues that arise. It has been a challenge to get this product to market but we are very proud of our efforts to support and follow the regulations as they evolve. We are hoping to be a pillar of the new cannabis culture.
5) One of the challenges in creating a cannabis edible is responsible dosing, so that people know exactly how much cannabis they are consuming when they are eating your product. How did you address this challenge during your production and on your packaging?
We have developed a very reliable system for introducing the pure cannabis oil to the chocolate. We have to! There are very rigorous testing processes we must go through before our infused chocolate ever hits the shelf. The acceptable tolerances are very tight and everything is under the microscope long before the public has access to it. We are very consciously making a low dose chocolate. The last thing we want to do is to spoil someone's evening. Other infused edible producers tend to max out the THC allowed by law. We chose to concentrate on the overall experience rather than making an infused chocolate that is as strong as legally sanctioned.It has also been an interesting challenge to maintain our brand aesthetic but make it obviously different from our non-infused chocolate. We made new molds just for the cannabis products. It has the similar woodgrain pattern in the mold but the bars themselves are square. The packaging and the shape of the bars in our cannabis line are distinctively different but maintains our brand. We also like to make it clear that there is no cannabis anywhere near our manufactory or shop. There is no chance that there will ever be any contamination of the infused chocolate because there are melters, tempering machines and molds dedicated to the cannabis chocolate at the Groundworks Industries location.
6) What type of feedback have you received from your cannabis bars?
We have succeeded in our goal so far! We have had great feedback. I was honestly more concerned about how it made people feel. The flavor is great! I was not concerned about that. I wanted people to tell me that it was not too strong and that they enjoyed the feeling as much as they enjoyed the act of eating the chocolate and that is what I have been hearing. I am very proud of our achievement. Even people who had expressed concern, based upon previous edible experiences, were very pleased with the results and are excited to enjoy it again.
7) There is some sense that the trend for edibles is on the rise, as many people seem to prefer to consume cannabis rather than smoke it. Who are your main customers?
I am not really sure. Presently we are only selling them in the three Serra stores. We are not the least expensive product on the shelf but I can honestly say that we are the best. We will be launching into other dispensaries in Oregon soon.
8) Are you planning to create more cannabis bars in the future?
Absolutely! It is really fun and we are with the right people. We are so excited to explore and refine flavor and feeling combinations that will continue to raise the bar for this burgeoning market. It was a big decision for Woodblock Chocolate to enter this arena and we did not take it lightly. That being said, we are so happy with how this collaboration with Serra is evolving. Honestly, the cannabis industry now has a lot in common with the craft chocolate industry of 15 years ago. It all seems new and better than ever before and the opportunity to do something that has never been done is in our wheelhouse. It is very exciting.
Thank you so much to Charley Wheelock from Woodblock Chocolate for taking them time to write such detailed answers to our questions about working with cannabis and chocolate!
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