How to start cooking with CBD (plus, recipes for infused pesto and dark chocolate truffles)

Everything you need to know about how CBD responds to heat, how to mask (or work with) its flavor and so much more

By Ashlie D. Stevens

Food Editor

Published April 20, 2021 6:00PM (EDT)

Oil and leaves of hemp (Getty Images)
Oil and leaves of hemp (Getty Images)

CBD has gone mainstream. The marijuana compound was federally legalized for most sales in 2018, and as a result, there are generic CBD-spiked sodas at the supermarket alongside specialty brands that make artisan infused chocolates. Hell, you can even buy CBD oil at most gas stations (though I wouldn't vouch for the quality). 

It's one of those ingredients that's been embraced by many wellness-minded chefs for its purported benefits, but how do you cook with it in your own kitchen? Here's everything you need to know to get started:

What is CBD? 

The cannabis plant contains at least 80 chemical compounds called cannabinoids. The one that most people are probably familiar with is THC, the primary psychoactive compound that leads to the effects people closely associate with smoking or ingesting marijuana — a slowed perception of time, mood elevation, and you know, the munchies. 

CBD is one of the other cannabinoid compounds found in marijuana. It's non-psychoactive, so you won't get "high"; however it can provide benefits like relaxation, decreased inflammation and reduced anxiety. 

Additionally, CBD can be found in cannabis sativa, or traditional "weed," as well as industrial hemp. As of December 2018, hemp — which is used to make textiles, as well as produced into now-trendy food products like hemp hearts and hemp milk — was federally legalized. This means that hemp-derived CBD (which contains less than 0.3% THC) can be sold even in states that haven't legalized marijuana. 

Does it have a flavor? 

Sometimes! Many commercially available, hemp-derived CBD oils use either olive oil or hemp oil as a base. Olive oil tastes like, well, olive oil, whereas hemp oil has some toasted, nutty undertones (which I'd liken to roasted sunflower seeds). So — that's your carrier oil and starting flavor. The hemp extract itself has a grassy, verdant flavor that can sometimes veer a little tannic or even acrid depending on the quality of the product. 

What other forms can I buy it in?

If the naturally-flavored oil isn't your thing, there are a number of tinctures that come in bespoke flavors like cinnamon, Creamsicle, lemongrass-ginger and mint. For cooking, I'm also a fan of flavorless CBD powders like those by Caliper and Golden Apple. 

How does it respond to heat? 

The boiling point of CBD is between 320 and 356 degrees Fahrenheit. Baking or heating above this point for a prolonged period of time can destroy many of the active compounds in CBD, meaning its potency and effectiveness can be diminished.

Put another way, we're not looking to braise anything with CBD oil. It works best when incorporated into dishes while cool or slightly heated. Baking CBD-infused cookies in the oven for 10 minutes truly won't be the end of the world — there's a reason that weed brownies are such a thing — though the CBD will likely maintain more potency if mixed into some icing that's smeared on top. 

What about dosing?

If you're new to CBD, experts recommend starting "low and slow," meaning that you should begin with a very low dose and give yourself plenty of time between use. Many standard, single-serving CBD edibles — like gummies or chocolates — begin at 5 to 10 milligrams of CBD, which isn't a bad place to begin in your home cooking. 

Remember: Divide the total amount of CBD used in a recipe by the number of servings to figure out the potency of each serving. 

How should I start cooking with it at home? 

If you're using flavorless powders, you can really add them anywhere. I've dissolved them into iced coffee, stirred them into yogurt and whipped them into no-bake cheesecake bites. 

However, if you're using traditional CBD oil, you get some of that chlorophyll-y taste, which doesn't mix as effortlessly into all dishes. In my mind, you can either work with that taste or attempt to mask it — both of which can be done fairly well.

So, let's say that you want to work with the natural taste. Put on your wine tasting hat for just a second, and make note of the flavors in the oil. Grassiness, bitterness and earthiness are probably at the top of the list. There may be some citrus notes, sometimes an occasional spice or nuttiness. 

Use those base sensations as a starting point, and make them pop with ingredients heavy in the same flavors. For instance: woody herbs, lemon zest, fresh black pepper or toasted nuts. To me, that list absolutely screams pesto, but it may mean spark something totally different for you. 

If you're looking to mask some of that grassy flavor from CBD oil, hitting it with dark chocolate, fat and sugar is a solid way to go. One recipe that I love making is dark chocolate avocado truffles.


If you're interested in making some CBD-infused pesto, here's my go-to recipe.

Recipe: CBD-Infused Pesto 
Serves 4 (5 milligrams of CBD per serving) 

  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves
  • 4 tablespoons of roughly chopped rosemary
  • 4 tablespoons of lemon zest 
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 3 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 20 milligrams of CBD oil 

1. In a food processor, place the basil leaves, rosemary, lemon zest, garlic, pine nuts and grated Parmesan. 

2. Whisk the CBD oil into the olive oil. 

3. With the food processor motor running, add the oil mixture in a steady stream until the pesto is emulsified. This can be stored in an airtight container for up to one week in the refrigerator. 


Thanks to the avocado (which you don't even taste), these truffles are a simple, easy-to-portion treat that won't have you baking your CBD. I like rolling them in cocoa powder and topping them with sea salt, but feel free to get creative with toppings like crushed pistachios, miniature chocolate chips, powdered sugar and sprinkles.

Recipe: CBD-Infused Dark Chocolate Avocado Truffles 
Serves 12 (10 milligrams of CBD per serving) 

  • 1/2 cup of mashed avocado
  • 2 teaspoons of sea salt, plus more for topping 
  • 2/3 cup of dark chocolate chips 
  • 120 milligrams of CBD oil
  • Cocoa powder 

1. In a food processor, pulse the avocado, sea salt and CBD oil until completely smooth. Set aside. 

2. Place the chocolate chips in a microwave-safe bowl, and heat for 20 seconds. Stir, then heat for an additional 20 seconds. (You can also use a double boiler for this, but in an otherwise quick recipe, I don't mind using the microwave.)

3. Drizzle the chocolate into the avocado mixture, and pulse again until combined. It should almost look like a thick brownie batter. Spoon this into a bowl, and place in the refrigerator for 30 to 45 minutes. 

4. Remove from the refrigerator, and use a tablespoon to measure out 12 truffles on a piece of parchment paper. Roll them individually into smooth balls. Dust with cocoa powder and a few flakes of sea salt. Store in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to one week.

By Ashlie D. Stevens

Ashlie D. Stevens is Salon's food editor. She is also an award-winning radio producer, editor and features writer — with a special emphasis on food, culture and subculture. Her writing has appeared in and on The Atlantic, National Geographic’s “The Plate,” Eater, VICE, Slate, Salon, The Bitter Southerner and Chicago Magazine, while her audio work has appeared on NPR’s All Things Considered and Here & Now, as well as APM’s Marketplace. She is based in Chicago.

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