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Cooking with CBD oil is only worth it if you keep these 4 rules in mind

We’ve officially reached peak CBD obsession. Short for cannabidiol, CBD is a non-inebriating compound in cannabis believed to soothe anxiety and pain, as well as facilitate sleep, among other benefits. CBD oil has emerged in a myriad of food products—not only your classic gummies and chocolate bars, but even salad dressing, pizza, and tacos. Whether it works, especially in the small doses that go into food, is still up for debate. Still, you can hit up countless dispensaries and eateries for CBD-infused bites, and you can also whip up your own. As with any ingredient, though, there are a few cardinal rules for cooking with CBD.

Henry Lu, executive chef of Loosie’s Kitchen in Brooklyn, and Gabe Kennedy, cofounder of cannabis wellness brand Plant People and the Season 3 winner of ABC’s primetime cooking competition, The Taste, dished advice on how to cook with CBD oil to ensure your CBD-spiked dishes are not only delicious and responsibly sourced, but also retain the compound’s potential efficacy.

Do your research

Treat CBD as you would any ingredient, and investigate how it was sourced. In general, CBD extracts fall into three categories: full-spectrum oil, broad-spectrum oil, or isolate powder, Kennedy explains. Full-spectrum oil contains high levels of CBD and less than 0.3% THC, the compound that gets you high. (CBD and THC are cannabinoids, compounds that act on the body’s endocannabinoid system, hypothesized to help regulate pain, mood and other biological functions.) CBD oil also contains other cannabinoids, terpenes (compounds that give cannabis its smell), and phytonutrients. Broad-spectrum oil contains high levels of CBD, no THC, and lower levels of other cannabinoids and terpenes than full-spectrum oil, while CBD isolate consists almost entirely of CBD.

Plant People, for example, uses full-spectrum oil. “From our perspective, the closer to the whole plant, the better,” Kennedy says. Indeed, some research suggests that THC and other compounds in cannabis act synergistically to yield its various biological effects, which Kennedy likens to how whole foods offer greater nutrition and other benefits than dietary supplements.

He also suggests checking a product’s lab results to ensure that it contains what the company claims it contains, and that it doesn’t contain heavy metals, herbicides, pesticides, or residual solvents from the extraction process, which may also be harmful. Many companies publish lab results on their website, and some product labels display quick response, or QR codes that direct you to them.

Start low, and go slow

Everyone responds differently to CBD oil. Kennedy suggests limiting yourself to 10 mg of full-spectrum oil to start out. If you feel good, add a slightly higher dose the next time around. And if you have any questions regarding dosage, consult with a medical professional.

Don’t overheat it

Don’t cook CBD oil over direct heat — don't even saute with it, and definitely don't deep fry with it, Kennedy says. Lu agrees, and also recommends not heating it above 120 degrees Fahrenheit. “It’s not a very good cooking oil," he says. "It gets really bitter.” Overheating the oil could also cause the CBD to lose its potential efficacy. Lu likes blending it into vinaigrettes or using it as a finishing oil.

For hardcore culinary geeks, he suggests poaching with CBD oil at very low temperatures using an immersion circulator, a device that allows you to cook food slowly, with precise temperature control. Try poaching tomatoes, which are in season now, in CBD oil. “Get them nice and tender,” Lu says. Add herbs like rosemary and thyme into the oil for extra flavor.

Let its natural flavor shine

Although flavor varies from one brand to the next, generally speaking, CBD oil tastes like “a very earthy, aggressive olive oil,” Lu says. “There’s a very distinct smell and flavor to it, almost like cut grass infused in olive oil.” It may not be a flavor you’re used to, but that doesn’t mean you need to mask it. Lu's philosophy? “If you’re going to use something, let it shine." You can add a pinch of salt and a spritz of lemon before drizzling it over a dish, but you don’t need to.

If you’re worried about CBD oil overpowering an entire dish with its robust flavor, create balance by spreading it out over multiple parts of a dish, Lu suggests. Not only does he incorporate it into, say, aioli, but he also dresses salads with it and uses it as a finishing oil. There’s a wide array of CBD-infused olive oils on the market, which may have lower concentrations of CBD than CBD oil, but are easier to use in cooking. Plant People and Vireo both sell CBD-infused extra virgin olive oils that can be more user-friendly than straight CBD oil when you’re using it in food or drinks.

Cooking with CBD oil may seem intimidating, but, again, think of it as just another ingredient in your pantry. Check out this mouthwatering pesto recipe from Lu (which is amazing slathered on roasted cauliflower, fyi), plus a refreshing hemp smoothie recipe from Kennedy and Plant People, to get you started:

Cilantro Cashew Pesto

Courtesy of Evy Pittstoller
  • 1 cup cashew or your choice of nut, chopped
  • 1 cup cilantro, chopped
  • 1 bunch scallions, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 3 tablespoons honey
  • 1 tablespoon apple vinegar (or any vinegar available in your kitchen)
  • 3 tablespoons CBD-infused olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Whisk ingredients in a bowl.

Nourishing hemp smoothie

Courtesy of Plant People
  • 1/2 cup almond milk
  • 1 teaspoon maca powder
  • 1 teaspoon matcha powder
  • 1 teaspoon almond butter
  • 1 banana, frozen
  • 10 mg plant people CBD drops
  • Optional toppings: bee pollen, coconut, cacao nibs

Blend all ingredients until smooth and top with garnishes.