Eating well has always been my jam: Kale in my salads, chia seeds in my smoothies, coconut oil subbing in for canola, the list goes on. This isn’t trend-driven for me—it’s just the way I’ve always tried to eat in order to be my best self. But there’s a new, buzzy ingredient popping up in healthy restaurants and on social media that I’m really feeling: cannabidiol, or CBD for short. The non-pyschoactive compound found in the cannabis plant, CBD has been getting serious props in recent years for its wellness benefits.
Of course, you’ve probably heard that CBD is having a high time in the spotlight—your baby boomer parents likely couldn’t have predicted the sticky stuff they toked in the ’60s would be the much-lauded plant it is today. Known to be a potent anti-inflammatory (I mean, Mandy Moore is rubbing her stiletto-weary feet with CBD-infused oil), it’s also said to enhance your sexual pleasure, increase productivity, and tame anxiety and insomnia for some people.
CBD making its way onto your plate—and into your cocktail—is just the latest development. “There is an astonishing amount of research into CBD and THC [the mind-altering compound in cannabis] in regards to autoimmune disease, cancer, the whole spectrum,” says Zachary Clancy, horticulturist, herbalist, and “ambassador of CBD” at The Alchemist’s Kitchen in New York City. “Everyone is looking into this.”
It’s happening in California, of course, where cannabis was officially legalized in January. Los Angeles restaurant Spring recently started serving a $37 “CBD Power Lunch,” where diners can eat carrot-ginger soup, branzino with red quinoa, and vanilla panna cotta with mango and passion fruit coulis—all infused with CBD. Top Chef alum Preeti Mistry is also in on the action, having cooked a four-course CBD dinner at her Navi Kitchen outside of Berkeley, CA, last year.
“It was the pungent, earthy dirtiness that I was excited to play around with.”—Chef Gerardo Gonzalez
But since hemp-derived CBD is legal everywhere, its culinary cred isn’t just limited to states where cannabis can be purchased freely. Over in New York, one CBD-friendly chef is Gerardo Gonzalez, owner of Lalito—a California-via-Mexico-inspired, vegetable- and health-focused restaurant (there’s even moringa on the menu!) on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. Gonzalez has been experimenting with CBD by cooking special dinners hosted by the cannabis culture magazine Gossamer. He says he was most excited to work with CBD in his food because of its flavor profile, which he describes as “dank.”
“It tastes like marijuana,” he says. “If you’ve ever encountered a fresh marijuana bud, it’s very fragrant. It’s spicy, bitter, sweet, grassy…It was the pungent, earthy dirtiness that I was excited to play around with.”
For the Gossamer dinner menus, CBD was mostly used to “finish” dishes. The chef topped a cucumber salad with water-soluble CBD and crafted flan with pomelo, tarragon, and CBD-infused olive oil. “It rounded out each dish,” he says.
Gonzalez says he first got interested in CBD because he heard it could help him with his sleep difficulties. “A lot of my friends were recommending it to me because I have a history of sleeping problems,” he says. “It very much calmed me down. It does this thing—it’s just a body high—it kind of relaxes you.”
At Inday, a fast-casual, Indian-inspired eatery with three locations in Manhattan, customers will soon be able to opt for a CBD-infused ghee “add-on,” which can be applied to any menu item. “We want it to be accessible to everyone,” says culinary director Viraj Borkar. “The balance of ghee with CBD elevates the flavor, [while] the CBD acts as a heavy fortification in the sense of calming the mind and body.”
Clancy is quick to point out that CBD isn’t necessarily “a sedative in and of itself,” but that it can help bring the nervous system into a parasympathetic state that promotes calm. Indeed, some swear by the relaxing qualities associated with the compound, and certainly there are times when all you need is the power of suggestion. “You can be high on health, and if you’re calm, thats a high in and of itself,” says Borkar, who found success the first time he took CBD. “I woke up nice and fresh and I had a peaceful night’s sleep. I assure you, I have a high-stress life!”
And it seems that in addition to the health benefits, the actual taste of CBD is perhaps the next driver of attraction to the cult of cannabis. “If you go beyond the medicinal properties of it, or the recreational, funny properties of ‘Oh, we’re eating marijuana,’ at the end of the day, it expands the palate,” says Gonzalez. “If you just treat it as an ingredient with its own profile, I kind of feel like the possibilities are endless.” So prepare to see a blaze of restaurants experimenting with the substance in the near future.
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