Cannabidiol: Food fad or here to stay?

Cannabidiol: Food fad or here to stay?

Products containing cannabidiol, also known as CBD, have been legal for sale in South Africa since May 2019. What’s the benefit?

Even if you have been hiding under a rock while social distancing, you’ve probably heard something about “CBD”, as the health craze for the product derived from the cannabis plant sweeps the globe. Chances are your mom, your greenie friend and your student nephew are probably already using cannabidiol (CBD) oil for various health reasons.

CBD won’t get you high. Instead, quite the opposite as one of its possible health benefits includes naturally improving sleep, along with reducing inflammation, pain, and anxiety, without any of the potential side-effects of big pharma.

Products containing CBD have been legal for sale in South Africa since May 2019, and besides its usage in a pure oil form, CBD can also be incorporated into foods and drinks, making products known as edibles. Stalls selling cookies, brownies and gummies abound at informal markets, but many of these store owners profess to actually be selling illegal THC-infused products which they say there is a bigger demand for.

South African restaurants have increasingly begun adding CBD into drinks, smoothies and onto pizza, but so far there is a dearth of savoury edible products which consumers can purchase to enjoy at home.

Johannesburgers Hugh Muller and Natasha Momberg, life partners of 19 years, saw the gap in the market last year, and when Covid-19 led to the cancellation of Muller’s contract in the telecommunications industry, the food-loving pair used lockdown to experiment in the kitchen. Eight months later, their still expanding range called Infuso Treats comprises sauces, dressings and oils, from sweet to hot, as well as a CBD infused chocolate gelato, with pasta and sauces to follow soon.

Infuso’s CBD infused butternut and sage stuffed ravioli. (Photo: Supplied)

“Cannabis edibles don’t only have to be sweets or confectionery,” Momberg said.

Their research began at a green market where they tried products on offer, but found the prices too high, ranges too limited and consistent adherence to guidelines lacking. “One cookie had a dosage of 100mg of CBD – the government’s maximum dosage allowance is 20mg. We thought that with our kitchen abilities that we could do better.”

Hugh Muller and Natasha Momberg of Infuso. (Photo: Supplied)

Muller started with the extraction of pure and natural fruit flavours using fresh fruit – oranges, strawberries, lemons, and passion fruit. Bottled, the colours of their sauces mirror the rainbow, but the colouring is entirely natural and preservative-free, the pair assured me, saying “CBD has antimicrobial properties which prolong shelf life”.

“We have developed a CBD-infused range which you can use to microdose yourself throughout the day – starting from breakfast with peri-peri sauce on your eggs, or one of our sweet fruit sauces like pineapple or strawberry over your yoghurt, crumpets or pancakes. You can add the lemon drizzle to your water and sip it throughout the day or put the balsamic reduction on your salad at dinner.”

An Infuso Treats range of CBD-infused pastas – a ravioli, fettuccine and tortellini as well as a vegan option, with marinara, arrabbiata and Alfredo and brown butter and sage sauces, were created for a ready-made Valentine’s Day dinner box, available for purchase through their website.

Infuso’s CBD infused stuffed tortellini with arrabiata sauce. (Photo: Supplied)

The couple use a high-quality CBD isolate imported from Europe certified to be 0.2% tetrahydrocannabinol, “classified as the purest CBD you can get,” Muller said. CBD doesn’t come cheap, at a cost of up to R300 per gram, depending on the exchange rate and purity.

“In its raw form, CBD is a coarse powder which doesn’t dissolve until mixed with cold pressed olive oil heated to below 70 degrees Celsius – this is so that you don’t damage the chemical compounds.”

Infuso Treats’ products have been created thoughtfully for ease of use. “One ml is equal to 1mg of CBD, so that you understand that four teaspoons is 20mg which is one dose,” Momberg said. Both Muller and Momberg claim to sleep better, have more energy and feel more tranquil since they started microdosing with CBD daily.

Infuso Treats’ fettuccini with marinara sauce. (Photo: Supplied)

Bigger companies are slowly starting to jump on the CBD food and beverages bandwagon, with Distell, Africa’s leading producer and marketer of spirits, fine wines, ciders and ready-to-drinks, recently purchasing a 20% stake in South African cannabis wellness brand, RETHINK brand.

Beating most others to it, however, was goodleaf, a wellness company dedicated to sharing the benefits of CBD, who first retailed its range of CBD products at its Buitenkant Street store in Cape Town in 2019 offering tinctures, skincare and vapes. Later that year, its line of CBD-infused sparkling waters was introduced and is now stocked at major retail outlets nationally.

Brett Horwitz, goodleaf’s Head of Beverages, said the four variants – berry hibiscus, mango ginger, peach geranium and aloe rose, all with 8mg of CBD – were seeing month-on-month growth, “with sales even doubling when compared with last year”. The products are sugar, preservative and colourant-free, and have only natural flavours derived from “African botanicals”.

Brett Horwitz of goodleaf. (Photo: Supplied)

Following hot on worldwide trends, the goodleaf flat white at Vida e Caffè was launched late last year, for coffee fanatics to get their fix with a dose of calm. “The water soluble CBD sachet proved so popular that we launched it in packs of 20 and now retail these separately,” Horwitz said. They can be added to any liquid, such as coffee, smoothies or tea. “Water soluble CBD has better absorption in the body than an oil because it absorbs more easily into the bloodstream, at a higher dose.”

Continuing to innovate, goodleaf will shortly launch their CBD-infused health food line, which includes a keto bar.

Besides a kiosk at the V&A Waterfront, they also have a store in Johannesburg’s Parkhurst, which ties into Horwitz’s assertion that their target market is “the yoga-goer, healthy food eater, vegan”. “CBD appeals to such a broad market, from stressed out students to elderly people who have pain or trouble sleeping. So we are aiming at anyone who is switched on and in tune with their bodies and who subscribes to a healthy lifestyle.”

A major issue facing the CBD market is misinformation, said Momberg. “People think it is cannabis, and as a result, it is mired in stigma.”

For those who want to take CBD for medicinal benefits, I was curious to see if experts believed its benefits would be tangible when used by the food and beverage industry.

Leandi van der Westhuizen, a Research & Development Scientist at the Cannabis Research Institute (CRI) of South Africa, says some consumers, rather than seeing CBD as a medicine to be taken at a set time daily, may find it more appealing to add CBD to their lifestyle by incorporating it into what they eat and drink.

“Taste can also play a factor, and the potential of improved palatability that CBD-infused foods can offer make it an attractive option for people who want the benefits, but without the strong taste which some CBD medicinal products have,” she said.

Van der Westhuizen said it was important that CBD was in a stable product format, both in a medicinal product or a product for use in foods or beverages. “The required dosage must be easily administered, such as by taking a capsule or by incorporating a set amount of a CBD-infused product into mealtimes. These qualities are more controlled in a pharmaceutical industry and medicinal products therefore have a better chance of meeting the requirements.”

“There is space in the market for scientifically formulated products with quality CBD ingredients and the CRI is currently working with a pharmaceutical company to develop a range. We do believe there is a place for CBD in the food and beverage industry.”

Dolloping Infuso Treats’ thick and flavourful peri-peri sauce over my scrambled eggs certainly feels more indulgent than swallowing a handful of pills, and if enjoying my food leads to better health, that’s perfectly okay with me. DM/TGIFood


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