High-dose CBD beverages are the coming wave of the cannabis industry. But in the age of craft beer, coffee, kombucha, etc, we’re entering into a game where the bar has already been set high. People demand more than just a nutraceutical product that makes them feel great—they want to tickle their tastebuds and delight in every sip along the way. Not only that, but given the huge variety of products on the market, customers are willing to put in the work to find those mythical “unicorn” beverages that can do it all.
What does that mean for ambitious pioneers like you who are crafting the novel high-dose CBD beverage?
It means it’s important to get the recipe just right from the start. And as cannabis food scientists, we’re here to help.
What is the market potential for high-dose CBD beverages?
The global CBD market was valued at $6.4 billion in 2022, so CBD-infused products are not new news anymore. However, the potential for CBD beverages to explode, emerging even on the scene of mainstream drinking culture, has never been higher.
Gen Zers, the newest members to the population of drinking-age adults, are drinking 20% less alcohol per capita than millennials did at the same age. Generation Z members say they’re drinking less alcohol than previous generations because of concern for their health and an aversion to experiencing hangovers—two irrelevant concerns when it comes to CBD beverages.
A 2020 poll found that 1 in 3 adults in the US reported using CBD products. This uptick in the use of nutraceuticals coupled with the love of craft beverages and disinterest in alcohol that is emerging among young people, reveals the vast potential for high-dose CBD beverages to make their way into lots of college pantries and beyond.
How much CBD is used in high-dose beverages?
Most of the CBD drinks currently on the market contain about 10-30mg of CBD. This lower dose is intended to make it easier for people to consume more than one beverage at a time—acting as an alcohol-replacing easy-sipper in social settings.
However, a high dose of CBD is up to about 1500mg. So compared to what’s been done in the market so far, it seems like the sky’s the limit for high-dose CBD beverages. With that mission in mind, the question becomes:
How do we create a high-dose CBD beverage without the bitterness of the cannabinoids knocking the socks off our consumers (and not in a good way)?
How to Counteract the Bitterness of CBD
Alas, it’s time to get down to brass tacks.
Cannabinoids are bitter, and bitterness is not delicious. One of the main reasons that our tongues and brains have evolved to recognize bitterness is to make sure we don’t eat plants that could potentially be poisonous. Meanwhile, plants have been evolving to become more and more bitter to make sure they don’t get eaten (sorry, cannabis plants, but it won’t stop us!).
So how do we counteract thousands of years of evolution to achieve the mythical high-dose CBD beverage that tastes amazing and leaves our customers wanting more?
Well, like many things in life, it’s a chemistry problem. Our tongues, noses, and brains work together to tell us whether we like the taste of something. So in order to manufacture the “yum” response, we have to trick the tongue (or really the brain) into enjoying the beverage even with its high dosage of bitter cannabinoids.
Perfecting the flavor of your high-dose CBD beverage isn’t about choosing the single perfect ingredient—it’s about finding the right blend of tastes, textures, and aromatics that, when combined just so, becomes a scientific masterpiece of flavor.
Imagine a team of white-coated chemists in the lab, tinkering and fiddling with fizzing, boiling, steaming concoctions. That’s us—cannabis food scientists. We took our nerdy, scientific approach to the world and applied it to our love of culinary perfection to create this list of ways to reduce bitterness in your high-dose CBD beverage. You’re welcome!
3 Ways To Counteract Bitterness
The three basic ways we’ve found to counteract bitterness in CBD beverages are: 1.) Incorporating the bitterness with complementary flavors so that your brain interprets it as a pleasant experience, 2.) Masking the bitterness with other potent flavors so that your brain doesn’t notice it and 3.) Interfering with the bitterness by creating a barrier between the food and your taste receptors.
Incorporating the bitterness of the cannabinoids in your high-dose CBD beverage can be achieved by adding complementary flavors and aromatics to your recipe. And by incorporating the flavor of CBD with other flavors that are similar in profile but more palatable to our picky tongues, our brains become more willing to overlook the otherwise offensive bitterness.
There is a reason that some flavors show up together so often. Think of citrus in IPAs or coffee beans in chocolate. Sometimes two bitter flavors, when used to complement one another, trick our brains into enjoying what should for all intents and purposes be an overload of bitter-bleh.
Some examples of ingredients that could complement cannabinoids and counteract the bitterness include:
- Aromatic compounds
Masking the bitterness of CBD can be achieved by interfering with your brain’s perception of the bitter flavor. This is accomplished by incorporating ingredients that “distract” your brain from the bitterness. This method can become a long process of trial and error if you’re new to food science because while there are infinite combinations of ingredients that could counteract the bitterness of CBD, there are just as many that yield an equally unappetizing product.
Coca-Cola is a good example of a company that has mastered the art of masking bitterness, and they did it using a delicate balance of sugars and salts. Caffeine, like CBD, is an inherently bitter ingredient but the $40B revenue the company brings in every year hasn’t seemed to notice.
Some examples of masking ingredients include:
- Nutritive Sweeteners
- Tapioca syrup
- Maple syrup
- Sweet fruits
- Non-nutritive Sweeteners
- Natural options like stevia leaf or monkfruit
- Artificial options like aspartame or saccharin
- Sodium chloride
- Magnesium sulfate
- Various zinc salts
The two ways to interfere with the bitterness of CBD in your high-dose beverage are to either coat the tongue or coat the bitter cannabinoid molecules so that the bitter flavor is never received by the tastebuds.
A good example of this method is adding cream to your coffee. Yes, cream is simply delicious so adding it to anything is almost guaranteed to provide an improvement in flavor. But there’s also a chemical explanation for it. The fat in the cream creates a partial barrier between your taste buds and the coffee which makes your tongue feel less harassed by the natural bitterness in your morning cup of joe.
A few examples of interfering ingredients include:
- Micro- and nano-encapsulation agents (read more)
- Gelling agents
- Cyclic sugars
Like we said, it’s a chemistry problem. There is no one “right” way to counteract the bitterness in your beverage to create that unicorn product that every consumer is dying to try. The right recipe for you will depend on your unique product, goals, and limitations.
Do you feel overwhelmed by the possibilities for crafting the perfect high-dose CBD beverage? Well, remember that mad scientist type we talked about earlier who spends all his time tinkering with cannabis recipes? He’s here to help if you need him. Schedule a free consultation with a Cannabis Food Scientist here.