Cannabis Cuisine Is Back In Thailand
Image Credit: Cannabis | Image Credit:

We're sure you've had your fair share of Thai fare. From the quintessential pad thai to the fiery Thai red curry, Thailand is never one to disappoint when it comes to food. The country's many chefs continue to innovate on traditional fare today, and their latest obsession is one that is sure not to disappoint: cannabis cuisine. Yes, you read that correctly; you can enjoy the best regional fare in the country, laced with devil’s lettuce. Read on to learn more about this phenomenon that is rapidly defining Thailand’s food scene.

Cannabis has been a cornerstone of traditional Thai medicine for centuries; however, its use declined in the late 20th century when the country passed strict laws that made its possession and sale illegal. These laws were enforced in urban areas for the most part; rural areas continued to use the plant for both medicinal and recreational purposes. In a historic first for Asia, the Thai government removed cannabis from the controlled substance list in 2018, making the possession of cannabis and its derivatives, including hemp and hemp oil, legal for medicinal and recreational purposes. This opened the door for the revival of cannabis cuisine in Thailand. As the benefits of cannabis became more widely known and accepted, cannabis-infused dishes began to reappear on restaurant menus and at private events.

You'd be disappointed if you were seeking to get high on these preparations; the law forbids publicly sold food or cosmetics from containing more than 0.2% THC. Moreover, the part of the plant that has the highest concentration of THC, the flower, is not used in the country’s cuisine, which puts the cuisine sold across the country well within legal limits. Chefs use just about every other part of the plant, including the stems, leaves, and root. The reasoning behind incorporating the plant into the country’s many staples is twofold: for medicinal benefits and as a flavor enhancer. There is credible research that supports the medicinal properties of cannabis, from reducing inflammation to inducing calm. Science also proved that parts of the plant are rich in glutamic acid, a natural flavor enhancer that is the precursor to MSG. The leaves are said to have the highest concentration of glutamic acid, in a percentage that beats out several other foods that naturally contain the compound, such as parmesan cheese.

The first restaurant to serve dishes that contained the plant is Ban Lao Reung, a homey, traditional family restaurant located in Prachinburi province. The restaurant serves several cannabis-infused preparations, using the plant’s leaves for the purpose, either fresh or in the form of a dried powder. Although there are traditional Thai recipes that center around the plant, most Thai restaurants today use the plant as a flavor enhancer, in a manner similar to how other Asian cuisines use MSG. The part of the plant used for the task depends on the preparation. Stocks or noodle broths use the stems or roots of the plant; the leaves are used either as garnish or as a standout ingredient. Popular Thai dishes that are flavored with cannabis include noodle-based preparations like pad thai, fried rice, spring rolls, soups, omelets, and Thai curries.

There are also several other contemporary dishes and products sold across the country that feature hemp extract, from cannabis-infused boba tea to cannabis pizza. You can even buy these items on e-commerce platforms across the country. Several Thai dispensaries infuse terpenes and CBD into several edible items, such as popcorn, gummies, non-alcoholic RTDs, etc. It's interesting to note that these dispensaries sell these 0.2% THC products alongside potent strains of cannabis flowers and pre-rolls with THC levels exceeding 11% on their websites. The revenue of the legal cannabis market totaled USD 80.3 million in 2021 last year, with experts estimating the number to almost triple this year, in conjunction with the predicted compound annual growth rate of 58.4% from 2022 to 2030. 88.4% of this market is dominated by hemp-based products, which include everything from CBD tinctures to the hemp plants used in the country’s cuisine. While these numbers are impressive, even more so considering that the country is the only one in Asia to even have a legal market for the plant, advocates of the plant remain unsatisfied, stating that the rewritten laws still have many caveats. Thai citizens and businessmen are lobbying for the complete legalization of the plant since the 0.2% THC cap on edible and cosmetic products that feature the plant severely limits the market's potential.