R&D Director Keith Woelfel, and Senior Scientists Drew Hathaway and Joycelyn May all have extensive backgrounds in food science and flavor development. But they’re also serious foodies who love to try new products and bring more flavor excitement into their eating and cooking. When it comes to making predictions about what’s going to be flavoring tomorrow’s cannabinoid-infused CPG products, they’re a dream team!
Here, they share their insights on what’s trending, what’s disappointing–and what they expect the future to bring.
What food and beverage applications for cannabinoid-based ingredients are exciting you most these days, in terms of their novelty, or potential to be game-changing?
Drew: I’m excited about the unique functional ingredient combinations that are starting to become more common in the cannabinoid space than any singular application type. We’re already aware of the unique synergistic benefits that different cannabinoids have with each other and with various terpenes, so I’m eager to see how additional functional ingredient combinations with cannabinoids can continue to evolve the space to better meet various need states (such as CBD + THCV + caffeine for focused energy, CBD + CBN + melatonin for improved sleep, and THC + CBD + ashwagandha for relaxation).
I’m eager to see how additional functional ingredient combinations with cannabinoids can continue to evolve the space to better meet various need states.
Keith: I think we’ll continue to see increased interest and demand for “use-based” cannabinoids to drive consumer benefits to target relaxation, pain management, anxiety and sleep. We are seeing two different approaches to achieve this. In the first approach, a range of cannabinoids and terpenes are infused into the products for functional benefits. For example, THC + THCV for energy and weight loss are getting a lot of interest, while THC + CBN + CBG is another combination for relaxation, with added terpenes like limonene, myrcene, caryophyllene, linalool, and pinene added for additional relaxation benefits.
With this approach, I’m more interested in the range of cannabinoids, rather than the addition of terpenes, as we know from our clinical research that we can already effectively deliver highly bioavailable cannabinoids. Bioavailability of terpenes, when delivered in functional foods (vs. inhalation), is still unproven, and therefore it’s unknown if consumers will actually get the functional benefits of terpenes in edibles. For example, when consumers ingest terpene-rich foods like orange juice, why do they not report the effects of the naturally-occurring myrcene, humulene, caryophyllene or pinene?
In the second approach, cannabinoids are the foundation of the product, and other functional ingredients are layered on top. For example, a product that gets energy or cannabis sativa-like uplift with a combination of THC, CBG and THCV, plus with the additional infusion with natural sources of caffeine, such as green tea extract or matcha. These “bolt ons” also may include addition of “tried and true” B vitamins (B12 in particular), or adaptogens such as L-theanine or Rhodiola rosea root.
One more trend that we are expecting to continue through 2022 is “fast-acting” cannabinoids. This trend continues to gain popularity on a macro scale and fits in very well with our core technologies and expertise.
When manufacturers formulate with cannabinoid ingredients, what are some of the biggest flavoring issues they face?
Joycelyn: Cannabis aroma and bitterness are definitely two of the most challenging aspects of incorporating cannabinoid ingredients into food and beverages. Choosing the right combination of flavors, masking agents and sweeteners are certainly options manufacturers should explore as they work to optimize the flavor profile of their products.
Drew: Bitterness and green/grassy cannabis flavor notes can be especially challenging in products with a small serving size (say, putting 25mg CBD into a 4-ounce health shot). There’s not much room in those products to add ingredients that can specifically mask those off-notes.
Joycelyn: Solubility of cannabinoid ingredients in applications like beverages is also something manufacturers must watch out for. You can have homogeneity and separation issues that cause the cannabinoids to become concentrated in one area of the product.
Drew: And a poor quality water-soluble emulsion can separate to the top of a beverage, for example, making the first sip taste terrible. That’s why it’s important to work with high-quality ingredients like Caliper’s when developing new products. Caliper Ingredients were developed to be easy to use and soluble in water, making them ideal for manufacturers to incorporate in their end products.
A poor quality water-soluble emulsion can separate to the top of the beverage, making the first sip taste terrible. That’s why it’s important to work with high-quality ingredients like Caliper.
What flavors seem to be an ideal match for cannabinoids like CBD and CBN?
Drew: From a functional/development perspective, strong and vibrant citrus and fruit flavors work nicely, along with flavors that are already congruent with back-end bitterness, like grapefruit, dark chocolate, and mint. As consumers we expect, and actually want, a little bitterness with those flavors.
From a marketing perspective, though, one of the biggest trends that I expect will continue into 2022 is the combination of fruit and floral/herbal flavors for cannabinoid-infused food products such as peach elderflower, yuzu basil, and blueberry lavender.
Keith: I also expect some of the stronger flavors that help mask cannabinoids will continue to rise in popularity, like peanut butter, hazelnut and pecan.
When it comes to the current crop of trendy new flavors, what hasn’t worked for you?
Drew: Those fruit and herbal combinations I described may be hot right now, but I’m not a fan of lightly flavored and lightly sweetened products. There are a few on the market now that I flat-out dislike, since there’s not enough flavor there to cover some of the cannabinoid off-notes. I prefer strong and bold flavors.
Keith: Some of the higher-dose cannabinoid products we’ve seen have been poorly executed when it comes to flavors, particularly some of the beverages now in the marketplace. Typically we see THC-infused products with too much grassy/skunky off notes overpowering the characterizing flavor. For CBD-based products, “back-end” bitterness is often an issue, especially with more delicate flavors like blueberry or strawberry.
For CBD-based products, ‘back-end’ bitterness is often an issue, especially with more delicate flavors like blueberry or strawberry.
Drew: Lightly flavored or even unflavored cannabinoid-infused products can work, but to do that requires extra attention and effort to mask and minimize any off-flavors coming from the cannabinoids. Luckily, our unflavored cannabinoid formulations can be added to anything.
Can you give us an example of a particular flavor, or a flavor pairing, that you’ve been working with that has surprised you?
Drew: One of my favorite flavors I’ve worked with lately is a Mango Chili Lime QuickStick that we launched at our sister company, Ripple, for a limited-time summer seasonal option in Colorado. I love a complex flavor with multiple notes that are distinct from each other and hit at different times. That one starts with a nice fresh juicy mango flavor before switching to a slightly spicy chili note that keeps you on your toes, then it finishes with a subtle and sublime lime flavor.
Putting your CBD flavor maven hat on, what do you think will be the next great beverage flavor? Why?
Joycelyn: Beverage consumers tend to be a little more adventurous these days in terms of exploring new and unique flavor combinations. With the continued interest in functional beverages, flavors that impart a sense of health support or well being should be popular. Flavors like cardamom-ginger, or lemon-hibiscus could be especially enticing to beverage consumers.
With the continued interest in functional beverages, flavors that impart a sense of health support or well being should be popular…like cardamom-ginger or lemon-hibiscus.
Drew: I would love to see a fruit-flavored RTD tea, or kombucha with CBD in it emerge as a top new product in the space this year. Maybe a CBD-infused Peach Mango Green Tea, or Watermelon Yuzu Kombucha? Both would get consistent repeat purchases from me.
How about the next great CBD gummy flavor?
Drew: I expect flavors like elderberry and açai to continue riding the popularity of “superfoods” associated with immunity benefits, and they’d taste great together. And you could add some vitamin C and zinc in there for an additional immunity boost, for a winning combination all around.
Joycelyn: Typically traditional flavors such as berries, and orange or other citrus, are ingrained into gummies flavor development. I believe consumers still expect to see some of these familiar flavors–but maybe with a twist of something more unique or exotic added to them. For example, instead of a plain berry flavor, what about a guava berry?I believe consumers still expect to see familiar flavors–but maybe with a twist of something more unique or exotic…instead of a plain berry flavor, what about a guava berry?
Keith: I think seasonal, limited-edition flavors that bring in warm, comfort flavors, such as apple or lemon pie, or pumpkin spice are a solid bet, as well as combinations of cinnamon, ginger, chai and cardamom.
What would be your ideal cannabinoid-infused food?
Joycelyn: The sky’s the limit for incorporating cannabinoids in foods, especially with companies like Caliper whose ingredients are easy to use in any food application. Nowadays even chefs are starting to incorporate cannabis into their creations, infusing THC and CBD in their ingredients in a number of ways.
Foods that are typically considered healthy, such as yogurt, oatmeal, fruit chews or even bone broth are a few products that could use a dose of CBD for that added benefit. Personally, I’m a fan of a powdered latte drink product that contains turmeric, ashwagandha, and reishi mushrooms–and I would love to see CBD included in the blend.
Drew: As someone who enjoys snowboarding and mountain biking I’m always trying to find unique products that help my body recover after a long day of activity. While CBD and THC are both already part of my normal recovery routine, I’ve yet to find many cannabinoid infused food products that are designed specifically for that use case.
So out of my own personal selfishness, I’d love to see a high protein recovery bar or drink mix with cannabinoids infused into it, along with other functional ingredients. Make it Peanut Butter Milk Chocolate, flavored with freeze-dried banana chunks, and I’d be a customer for life.