Mixed into pasta and flour, incorporated into meat preparations or infused into olive oil; make no mistake: Cannabis is coming to a store near you.
Story: Vana Antonopoulou with additional reporting from Eleni Donou & Elizabeth Papouliou
Experts across the world say cannabis-infused food and drinks are the top two food trends they expect to see unfold further in 2020, although we’re not talking about food that will get you “high” –these are, actually, products made with CBD, a non-psychoactive compound extracted from cannabis plants that enthusiasts say offers health benefits while tempting the palate. And Greece is no exception. In fact, Greece has gained ground in growing medical cannabis over the other European countries, and ever since the legalization of both medical cannabis and industrial hemp, foodservice companies have been getting on the cannabis bandwagon at full speed.
So, whether it is as a functional ingredient in foods and beverages or as a wellness enhancement in health, some form of cannabis will be a part of consumers’ daily routines within the next decade, according to a new report from Euromonitor. While the global market for both legal and illegal cannabis stands at $150 billion today, the legal market is projected to grow to 77% of total sales, reaching almost €150 billion by 2025.
It is worth noting that in Greece industrial hemp crops across the country were 24 hectares in 2016 and increased to 295 hectares in 2017, while in 2018 it has been estimated that they have exceeded 1,000 hectares. As Greek experts in the field explain, “industrial hemp is a valuable annual crop that allows us to engage in many economic and productive sectors, attract investment due to Greece’s ideal climate and create many thousands of new jobs. Cannabis is a precious ‘tool’ for the sustainable rural development and the regeneration of the countryside.”
CBD and its manufacturing process
Cannabis oil is obtained by cold-pressing the seeds of the plant. It has a nutty flavor that can be consumed raw in salads and vegetable or rice dishes. It should not be heated and used in foodstuff with over 35°C temperature, for it will lose much of its nutritional value. The process’ sub-product (pulp) is the peel of the seed where cannabis flour comes from. Cannabis seeds are also edible and can be consumed either shelled, slightly sautéed or peeled in salads and sweet preparations. Today, many products made or infused with industrial hemp, such as beer, salt, cheeses, honey, chocolate, pasta or breads are marketed in Greece.
Cannabis in food: From cheese to meat products
Apparently, pairing cannabis and cheese is a thing. And Greek producers are keen to infuse the plant into a plethora of traditional offerings, such as Kasseri, Graviera, etc.
“Our Graviera cheese with cannabis is part of a range of specialty dairy products infused with herbs, spices and seeds. This product came about as part of an effort to create cheeses with supefoods,” says Ms Christina Kabaki, third generation owner of Tseligas Delicatessen, a gourmet cheese and dairy production company. “The salami with cannabis was launched later on, after we saw the strong customer response to the Graviera.”
Apparently, technically there is no particular difficulty in the production of cheese as the addition of cannabis does not substantially change its making process. The difficulty lies in getting the necessary certifications from the relevant services, because, as far as Greece is concerned, the legislation and the provisions for cannabis in food have not been clearly adopted yet. Things, however, are progressing at a fast pace, and approximately half a dozen companies are currently producing cheeses infused with cannabis.
“There is definitely strong interest. And the word cannabis alone is enough to spark consumer curiosity,” explains Ms Kabaki. “The real paradox is that while we expected the interest to come mainly from young consumers, older people are the ones who usually are more adventurous and willing to try our cannabis products!”
Cannabis flour is gaining traction
As far as Greek restaurants and bakeries are concerned, there are several businesspeople that dare to innovate and use CBD in many creative and original ways, such as Mr Babis Ananiadis, owner of Mystic restaurants in Athens. In fact, Mystic participated in the first Greek industrial cannabis cultivation in Boeotia back in 2016 and Mr Ananiadis estimates that industrial hemp products will continue to rise in the coming years. That is why in his restaurants, he also sells rusks and flour mixtures with cannabis, while, at the same time, he is trying to integrate these products into other restaurants all across the country.
“I started reading about cannabis in 1999 and discovered that its flour has been a mainstay in many cultures since antiquity,” he asserts. “At the time, in Greece, cannabis products were not allowed, as the law stated that it was an indirect way of advertising drugs. However, I was able to secure some cannabis flour from abroad and started making testing dough in a lab in Thessaloniki.”
Flour from cannabis is more expensive that other flours and is available in many forms, such as cannabis seeds, mixed cannabis flour and cannabis mixture. Its price fluctuates between €4.50 to €28 a kilo!
In Komotini, a city in Northern Greece, Mr Kostas Mavridis is selling bread and other bakery products at his family business. “I have never stopped experimenting with new flavors and products,” he states. “I have read about about cannabis flour and its health benefits and decided to give it a try. We started using cannabis flour is September 2018. I read about it in trade magazines, I saw in the news that some bakeries in Athens started using it and, after doing an internet search, I found a producer that could provide me with the raw material and made the first batch.”
Coffee and beverages take the cannabis route
It’s 2020, and alcohol companies want in on legal pot. One by one, the largest beer businesses in the world have announced their intention to create drinkable marijuana products. In fact, cannabis infused beer continues to account for leading shares of the market, approximately 80%, which can be attributed to the strong perception of leading beer brewers that intersection between cannabis-infused functional beverages and beer makes a good business sense. According to the latest market forecast, global sales of cannabis infused drinks are expected surpass US $200 million in 2019, propelled by growing efficiencies in the delivery methods of drinkables, along with increasing discretion and social acceptance of the consumption method, in contrast to smoking cannabis.
Besides your “regular” energy drinks and beer with cannabis that have already appeared in the local market, coffee with cannabis is also a thing in Greece. In fact, Canna Bar in Thessaloniki (the second largest city in the country) is welcoming –ever since December 2018– the impressive crowds flocking to taste the now famous cannabis infused coffee. Using a blend from Golden Greece Cannabis, Canna Bar owner Dionysis Sharmazanidis expresses his excitement about this venture that is causing a sensation.