Trends in Flavors 2021: Consumers Seek Comfort, Novelty, & Functionality

Trends in Flavors 2021: Consumers Seek Comfort, Novelty & Functional Health

Who will drive the flavor trends of 2021? Chefs? Food writers? Product designers? Flavorists? The answer is the consumer. If 2020 has taught us anything, it is that the consumer is ultimately the arbiter of what flavors will be successfulwhat trends will become mainstays, and what trends will be short-livedThe impact of consumer preference and behavior is evident in the flavor trends we saw emerge in 2020 and the trends we see coming in this new year. 

Nostalgia with a Twist 

When looking at flavor trends, it’s important to consider how consumer habits have changed in the last year; there’s been a major shift in how much time we’ve spent cooking in our own kitchens versus dining out. It’s natural for people to gravitate towards flavors that are familiar to them – flavors from their childhood or from their favorite travel destination  and create an eating experience that evokes a sense of nostalgic comfort. That said, younger consumers have shown they’re not afraid to balance their comfort food with flavors that are new, exotic, or something they might experience in a foreign country.  

Food with a Function 

 In the wake of COVID 19, many consumers are seeking out natural, holistic ways to improve their health through nutraceutical benefits, particularly in terms of boosting immunity, finding relief from stress and anxiety, and improving quality of sleep and gut health. Consumers are researching CBD, adaptogens, probiotics, prebiotics and botanicals and are looking for products that not only provide benefits but also taste good. Most consumers would prefer to get their daily dose of functional ingredients in as few items as possible, as opposed to taking multiple pills a day.  

 Consumer demand for functional ingredients impacts a product’s flavor profile. Take, for example, products built to boost immunity – they will likely feature Vitamin C, Vitamin B, Ginger, Turmeric, or Ashwagandha. Because Vitamin C occurs naturally in citrus, it is relatively easy to pair with other flavors, whereas an ingredient like Ashwagandha has a very unique flavor profile in that it is earthy and bitter, but pairs well with the flavors of nuts, chocolate, and honey. 

Enthusiasm for Fermented Foods 

Today’s consumers are gravitating towards natural, healthy products that are processed without additives and preservatives. A food category that emerged in 2020 for their floral, tart, slightly sweet and robust flavors were naturally fermented products such as drinking vinegars, kombucha, and kimchi. Today, you can purchase products such as apple cider vinegar gummies, kombucha tea, and kimchi-flavored potato chips, and even kimchi-flavored sodas. Fermented products particularly resonate with younger consumers who have been exposed to international flavors and are not afraid of new tastes and textures.  

Tested, Tried, and True Flavors

There are some flavors that consumers can’t get enough of and that never seem to go out of style, like berry, citrus, apple, and mint. Most people have been consuming fruit products since they were young; hence, these flavors are familiar to us and we know what to expect from a product featuring that flavor. In the confectionary world, strawberry remains very popular with consumers world-wide. Today, we are also seeing more of these flavors combined with botanicals to give products an added level of complexity – for example, basil paired with strawberry, mint paired with cucumberor lavender paired with lemonIn line with consumers seeking functionality, botanicals offer their own health benefits. Basil is a great source of vitamins A, C, and K, as well as Magnesium; mint offers antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties; and lavender has been used to treat insomnia and nausea. 

Up and Coming Fruit Flavors

There is no shortage of products on store shelves featuring citrus and berry, but there are some varieties to pay attention to this year, including Marionberry, Yuzu, Blood Orange, and Makrut Lime 

Marionberry: Marionberries are a variety of a blackberry grown mostly in Oregon; they are both sweet and tart with a rich, earthy flavor  similar to eating a raspberry and blackberry in the same bite. In terms of product development, products featuring marionberries are mostly found on the west coast, because the berry itself is too delicate to ship.  

Huckleberry: Huckleberries resemble blueberries but are smaller in size and have a dark purple skin when ripe. They are tarter and juicier than blueberries, which means their flavor packs a punch in food product or beverage. Huckleberries are not a domesticated fruit; they are mostly picked by foragers in the northwestwhich makes them somewhat harder for a product designer to access  

Yuzu: Haling from China and used widely in Japan, Yuzus are about the size as a tangerine. The rind is highly aromatic and sweet with floral notes, while the juice of the fruit is extremely sour and tart. Products on the market featuring yuzu are varied, from marinades to marmalades. 

Blood Orange:  A blood orange is slightly smaller than a navel orange with slightly thicker skin. What makes the blood orange unique (and subsequently products that feature its juice) is the deep red, maroon color of the interior flesh. Flavorwise, blood orange juice is a bit sweeter and less tangy than classic orange juice.  

Makrut LimeMakrut (aka kaffir) are in the lime family and derive from Southeast Asia; they are a staple of Thai cooking. Compared to a western lime, the texture of the rind is bumpy, and when ripe, it’s yellow as opposed to greenThe zest of the rind is often used in curry paste, and its leaves are added to dishes for fragrance. Makrut lime juice is quite bitter and sour, so it needs to be paired with other flavors that can stand up to it and balance it out.  

As consumers continue to feel the impact of COVID in 2021, product producers can anticipate that functional ingredients including CBD will be top of mind when people look for new health and wellness products to add into their daily routines. While it’s evident that consumers are seeking a balance in familiarity and novelty, data shows they are also highly focused on their health and well-being. When designing products for the consumer in 2021, companies need to focus on creating great-tasting products that feature functional ingredients that provide some nutritional or health benefits, from boosting immunity to improving quality of sleep. 

 If you have an idea for a product to bring to market in 2021 featuring functional ingredients, the team at SōRSE can help you create a flavor profile that will resonate with consumers.  


5 Steps for Taking Your CBD Edible from Concept to Commercialization

5 Steps for Taking Your CBD Edible from Concept to Commercialization

In the past few years, consumers’ curiosity and interest in CBD has grown at a rapid rate, and a result of that is an influx of food items and beverages infused with the cannabinoid. From marshmallows to protein bites, from fruit-flavored gummies to popcorn, the array of sweet and savory edible CBD products on the market is ever-expanding. For consumers who are curious about incorporating CBD into their daily routine but don’t love the idea of ingesting a tincture, CBD edibles offer a great alternative. 

If you have a great idea for an edible and are wondering how to turn it into a viable product that will land in the hands of the consumer, here are 5 Steps to Building an Infused CBD Edible from the producers themselves.  


Mainstream vs Unique Concept 

The first thing that you need to know when building a successful infused edible is that a simple, mainstream concept will be easier to execute than a unique concept that is not on the market. That said, if you are determined to create a product that no one has seen before, try to find its mainstream, CBD-free equivalent so that you can understand what it will take to execute production. The process of taking an edible from concept to commercialization typically takes nine to twelve months, so thinking through your timeline from start to finish and being realistic when setting expectations is extremely important. 

Needs & Challenges 

In the early stages of planning, it’s also advisable to identify your needs and potential challenges. Aside from having a great concept, you’ll need ingredients, including CBD; production equipment (like forms or molds); a production facility; packaging; and marketing materials. If you have never created an edible before, some of the challenges you might foresee could include: A key ingredient not being available; a piece of equipment being expensive to purchase; figuring out how your packaging will impact shelf life; or working with a co-manufacturer. 

What’s Important? 

Any product will be more successful when you are excited about the idea and believe the item will add value to a consumer’s life. Your product should reflect what is important to you — clean label, flavor profile, quality of ingredients — and what you can bring to the marketplace. Think about what your niche is, and how you are going to differentiate your product while reaching as many consumers as you can.  


When developing your culinary concept, you will need to identify your audience — who is going to buy your edible, why they want to buy it, and where they will buy it. The profile you create of your target consumer should be as specific as possible. You should be able to picture what that person is like in your head, from what they do for fun to the clothes they wear. 

To develop an infused edible that will bring your customer back time and again, you have to do a lot of research on consumer behavior to find out what the buyer is looking for in a company and in a product. You’ll need to consider what the consumer will find appealing about your product, what they might be doing when they are eating your edible, and who they might be with. The better you understand what your consumer wants and needs, and how the product will fit into their lives, the more successful you will be. 3.


When it comes to edibles, there are a variety of options on the market. In the “Sweet” category, we have gummies, chocolate bars, energy bars and cookies, to name a few. In the “Savory” category, you can find crackers, jerky, chips, amongst others. As you think about where your product will fit in, you need to continue circling back to these key questions – What does my consumer want? Are they looking for a discrete consumption method? How much do they care about the sensory experience? Is this something they will eat on-the-go or in the comfort of their home? How much does the consumer care about a product’s visual appeal? 

When thinking about where your product will fit in in the marketplace, examine other items your consumer might purchase and what the packaging looks like. Packaging and labeling is the first level of engagement a customer has with your product, so visual appeal is key. Is your consumer drawn to natural products? Do they avoid plastic packaging because they are concerned about the environmental impact? Do they like to be able to see the product through the packaging? Your label and packaging should reflect your company’s culture and values and what makes your product unique.  


The next step is to create your formula, including its flavor profile and CBD dosing. Some of the current trends in the consumer marketplace are: Global flavors like espresso, tropical fruit, and coconut; natural ingredients; earthy flavors like mushroom; sugar alternatives such as agave, maple syrup, honey, and stevia; herbs and spices; and tart and sour tastes. 

When considering your product’s flavor, you also need to think about how the flavor of the CBD will work with the other ingredients, especially if your product is in a small format like a tablet or gummy. An isolate would be a good choice if you want an edible with a clean, specific flavor profile. If your consumer appreciates botanical, herbaceous products, a Broad Spectrum CBD might play well with the other flavors. Some consumers specifically seek out Broad Spectrum products because of the terpenes (aromas and flavors) that accompany the CBD.   

Currently, there are a wide range of CBD dosages in the products available. Here are some of the average dosages currently on the market:   

  • Gummy: 10-25mg 
  • Mint/tablet: 5mg 
  • Chocolate bar (1.7oz-2.11oz): 80-200mg 
  • Cracker or pretzel: 2mg 

 To determine dosage, consider when the consumer will be eating your product, identify the desired effect you want the consumer to have after eating the product, and also think about how many pieces they might be inclined to ingest. For example, some people can eat a whole chocolate bar in one sitting, while others might only want a portion of the bar.  

When adding active cannabinoids to your product, you will also need to know what parts of the process create waste or evaporation, because both need to be factored into dosing. When you’re doing trial batches of your product, you may need to initially overdose the recipe/formula to achieve an accurate final dose.


Once you’ve tested your formula, determined dosing, and chosen packaging, it’s time to prepare for scaling up and production. The key to a successful scaling up is identifying and securing your strategic partners in this process, such as your suppliers and a manufacturer. 

Consumer safety should be your #1 concern when making an infused edible, To ensure the highest quality CBD for your product, make sure the CBD supplier that you work with shares documentation like a Certificate of Analysis, Product Data Sheets and Safety Data Sheets. For more information on what to look for when choosing a CBD supplier, please reference Section 4 of our blog entry, “5 Things You Need to Know to Create an Infused CBD Beverage.” 

Next, find a co-manufacturer who understands CBD as an ingredient and has experience producing other CBD edibles will know how to work with it. Being able to do batch testing is critical because it will let you adjust your formula if you need to. It’s also worth noting that the scale-up process may take a few runs over a few months’ time, as at that stage, there can be changes in the equipment that can affect the product. Ideally your producer will allow you to be on-site for the first few runs so that you can feel confident in the process of how your edible is being produced. 

If you want to sell to an audience in a specific state and there is a manufacturing center in that state, you’ll save a lot of money by producing it as close as possible to your target market area. Also, if there is a facility producing a product similar to yours and it’s considered a turnkey process for them, you will be more successful commercializing your product because they already have experience making something similar.   

The journey you will take bringing a CBD-infused edible to market will be an exciting one – especially if you really believe in your concept; just know that the process will require planning, patience, flexibility, out-of-the-box thinking, problem-solving and collaboration. As you try to get your product to market, you might be thrown some curveballs along the way, but if you work with a CBD supplier and co-manufacturer who has experience working with cannabinoids, they will be able to partner with you throughout the process. 

At SōRSE, our R&D team of 30+ employees is well-versed in edible production from concept to final product and welcomes the opportunity to help bring your dream to life and your product to market. Schedule an exploratory call today with SōRSE to get started on your infused CBD edibles journey! 

Webinar: How to Build a CBD Edible

SoRSE webinar

Presented by SōRSE Technology’s Director of Culinary, Stacy Primack, and Director of Technical Services, Hilary Brown

Learn everything from culinary conceptualization through commercialization from the culinary masters themselves!


Webinar: 5 Things to Know When Creating a CBD Beverage

SoRSE webinar

Co-hosted by SōRSE Technology and Prepared Foods

Presented by Michelle Sundquist, Director of Product Development

CBD has been the hottest beverage trend of the past decade, and the demand for CBD and other cannabinoids has continued to soar in 2020. CBD has also proven to be a tricky functional ingredient when added to a beverage. Before you rush a beverage to market, learn 5 pro-tips from SōRSE!

SōRSE on Bon Appétit: How To Find a CBD Product That Works

SōRSE on Bon Appétit: How To Find a CBD Product That Works

Imagine this scenario—you’re scanning the beverage aisle at your local grocery store. Between the cold brew coffee and sparkling waters, a new drink catches your eye with “CBD” emblazoned on the front. You remember hearing a lot about it and the purported health benefits. You’re curious, but you don’t really know where to start when it comes to understanding why or how you should be using CBD.

If you need some guidance, take a look at our feature in Bon Appétit on “How to Find a CBD Product That Works.”

SōRSE on Bon Appétit: How To Find a CBD Product That Works


5 Things You Need to Know to Create an Infused CBD Beverage

5 Things You Need to Know to Create an Infused CBD Beverage

Jacob Schweppe. Dr. John Pemberton. Caleb Bradham. Perhaps only one of these names sounds familiar to you — Jacob Schweppe — because you can find his last name in every grocery store on bottles and cans of ginger ale, club soda, and tonic water. Schweppe first began selling seltzer in Geneva 237 years ago in 1783, 30 years after carbonation techniques were developed. The other men created two of the most famous beverages in the world: Pemberton invented Coca-Cola in 1886, and Bradham developed Pepsi-Cola in 1898. 

Beyond being the founders of three iconic beverage brands, these gentlemen had something else in common, something they share with people who are creating beverages today — their drinks started with an idea and inspiration. Perhaps you, like them, want to make an infused beverage, perhaps inspired by a drink you loved as a kid, a drink that you had on vacation, or a drink that you concocted in your kitchen for fun. How do you take that idea and turn it into a viable product that you might find on a store shelf?  Here are the Top 5 Things You Need to Know to Create an Infused CBD Beverage from three SōRSE producers themselves. 


The first thing you need to know is that a product is more successful when you are passionate about an idea. There are a lot of really good ideas out there, but good ideas are only successful when they happen at the right time and the right place. Ask  yourself why you want to do it and what you can bring to the table. What is your niche, and how are you going to differentiate yourself and excel?  

In the idea generation phase, you need to identify your audience — who is going to buy your beverage and where that person would buy it. The profile of your target consumer should be as specific as possible. You should be able to picture what that person looks like in your head; you should know what kind of clothes they shop for, what kind of cereal they would buy, and where they would buy it. You have to get in their head and see the world through their eyes. You need to know what is important to them.  

When you do market and consumer research, do a deep dive on all the different things your consumer is attracted to, all the while focusing on how your product is going to appeal to them AND be different. When you market to a consumer, you can talk about all the positives of your product, but you have to talk about what makes yours unique. One of those positives has to be something that no other producer can talk about. 

Product development is like any other sort of idea generation — you need to do tons of research to really know your audience.  When you are creating an infused beverage with CBD or another cannabinoid, the narrower you can make your consumer, the more successful you will be. You want to create a beverage that someone will stop to buy in the middle of the day somewhere; you want that repeat customer. Your drink being delicious isn’t enough — you need to create a need in your customer so that they will keep coming back.  

It’s also important to visualize what your consumer is doing when they are drinking your beverage. This will help you create a marketing focus which will then tie into the format you choose, your packaging, the color palette for your branding, and the words you use to draw attention to your product. When someone sees your product in a store, you want them to wonder what it is. Once you hook them in with the look of your product, your flavor will keep them there.   


When looking for where your product will fit in in the marketplace, it’s best to examine other products your consumer might purchase and what the packaging looks like. Packaging and labeling are the first visual and tactile interactions a customer has with your product, so that first level of engagement is important. Is your consumer drawn to natural products? Do they buy glass over plastic because they are concerned about their environmental footprint? Do they buy products with fruits and vegetables on their labels? Your label and packaging should reflect your company ethos and what makes your product different.  You should also consider how your consumer takes in information about products and how they digest it. Where the products they are buying are being advertised — on social media? In print? Is the product being handed out at events?   


Adding CBD to a beverage formula that already exists is relatively easy, but if you are starting the process from scratch and creating something new, you can begin by looking at food trends. Those tend to start at boutique, culinary restaurants. Eventually they can trickle down and show up in other places and then be transferred into color palettes, clothing, ice cream flavors, all the way down to the fast food level — the highly accessible level.  Microtrends are ones that are just emerging, mainstream trends are ones that appeal to a lot of people, and then there are trends that are on their way out.  

Today, national and global travel is relatively easy — so people are exposed to new flavors and are generally open to trying other cultures’ flavors. That said, it helps to use a base flavor that is transferable and versatile in almost any recipe. The secondary flavors are the ones that might be more out there — one that you wouldn’t expect to see paired with the base flavor. For example, citrus is a common base flavor, and it pairs well with other secondary flavors like mint or berry.  

When it comes to choosing the type of CBD you want to infuse in your drink, you have a few options. If you want a beverage with a clean, specific flavor profile, use an isolate. If you know that your customer will prefer the flavor of cannabis and will appreciate the nuances of the botanical flavors, then you would choose a broad spectrum. Broad spectrum adds another layer of complexity which some see as a perk and premium.  

You will also need to determine how many milligrams per serving of your cannabinoid will be in your beverage. If you are making a recovery drink, then you might offer 25 mg to the consumer; if you are creating an herbal tea for the evening, then you might choose 10-15 mg per serving.   


When making an infused beverage, consumer safety should be your #1 concern. That means that your label claims need to be accurate, that your beverage is shelf stable, that the product quality has been tested, and that the consumer experience is a positive one. Take the time to find a CBD supplier who has extremely high standards, who are offering the best product on the market.  

The company supplying your CBD should be following regulatory protocols, supplying documents that verify product quality, offering the appropriate solution for your beverage, and offering implementation support. Look carefully at the types of CBD the supplier offers — water-soluble solutions, oil-based solutions, and emulsions — and work with them to find the best solution for your product. You will also want to work with a lab that can independently test your product and that is open to communication with your CBD supplier. 

If you are working with a company that offers an emulsion, make sure that the emulsion is their priority and not simply an add-on offering. Look for an emulsion that is stable in its raw form and in the letdown, as well as one that has been tested for shelf life.  If the company cannot supply documentation on their product like a Certificate of Analysis, Product Data Sheets and Safety Data Sheets, it’s time to find a different supplier! 


Figuring out who your consumer is is also tied to where you are going to produce your product. If you want to sell to an audience in a specific state and there is a manufacturing center in that state, you’ll save a lot of money by producing it as close as possible to your market area. Also, if there is a facility producing a product similar to yours and it’s considered a turnkey process for them, you will be more successful commercializing your product because they already have experience making something similar.   

When you are ready to produce your beverage, look for a co-manufacturer who has produced other infused beverages. A company that understands CBD as an ingredient and has produced other CBD beverages will understand how to work with it. Doing test batches is key because it will allow you to tweak your formula if you need to. 

Creating a product for consumer use is an exercise in creativity, analysis, problem-solving, flexibility and collaboration. You might hit bumps in the road along the way of getting your CBD beverage to a grocery store shelf, but if you work with a CBD supplier and co-manufacturer who has experience working with cannabinoids, they will be able to collaborate and work with you throughout the process. At SōRSE, our R&D team is well-versed in beverage production from concept to final product and welcomes the opportunity to help bring your dream to life and your product to market. Schedule an exploratory call today with SōRSE to get started on your infused CBD beverage journey! 

5 Common Mistakes People Make When Stepping Into the Cannabis Market

Professional struggling at work in office.

The appeal of the cannabis industry is powerful: Financial success while doing fundamental good in the world. Entrepreneurial opportunity for those traditionally excluded from the business world. Fame and prestige for industry leaders. The opportunity — and indeed the demand — to innovate.

It’s not a surprise that everyone wants to be a part of it. We are an industry growing in both scope and legitimacy, and there are a lot of new members. Veteran members have a responsibility to help them avoid the pitfalls. Here are the five most common mistakes companies make when entering into the cannabis market:

1. Thinking it will Operate like Other Markets

Over the years, I’ve spoken with a lot of entrepreneurs eager to jump into the cannabis space, and they all have made the reasonable assumption that the fundamental rules of other industries will be at play here. Unfortunately, the regulatory landscape, particularly as it pertains to THC, is like nothing else in the American economy. No other ingredient is federally labelled Schedule 1 — reserved for highly addictive drugs with no medical value — yet is legal medicinally, recreationally, or both on a state level. Not only is it regulated differently from state to state, the regulations are constantly changing and are inconsistently enforced. The cannabis industry gets called the Wild West for a reason. 

CBD companies are prohibited from making any medical claims, which can be frustrating since most customers interested in CBD are looking for therapeutic effects. Because of this, euphemisms come heavily into play in branding. Some companies employ a compliance officer to review all customer-facing verbiage.

If you are working with THC, you will not be able to write off any of your standard business expenses on your federal tax return. This leads companies to fractionate their businesses, with separate companies handling payroll, marketing, and retail, which adds complexity and more paperwork. Similarly, THC products can never be shipped across state lines, even from one legal state to another, since interstate commerce is federally governed. That means that every state in which you operate must have its own THC license, processing facility, and distribution network, even if the product being sold is identical. Not only is this unreasonable, it is also impractical and expensive. Depending on where you’re setting up shop, you will have different packaging limitations for text size, package size, even the colors you can use. Requirements for redundant and/or childproof packaging are wasteful and, again, expensive. 

The other thing that differentiates the cannabis market from other markets is its demographic diversity. People from all walks of life, all ages, races, genders and income levels enjoy cannabis. Previous categorizations can be a guide, but often customer profiles don’t match the real world. You may be surprised by who buys your product–and who doesn’t. 

2. Not Getting it in Writing

Because of the limited regulation of the cannabis industry, it’s tempting to seal deals on a handshake. That’s a mistake in any business, but the ramifications are amplified in this tumultuous landscape. When — not if — one of your partners fails to deliver on their commitments, it’s hard enough to enforce a contract to begin with, let alone in this transitional market. There’s not usually a lot of money to spare for legal battles, either. Take the time to write out the terms of your agreements, and spend the money to have them reviewed by a contract lawyer. 

3. Not Embracing Redundancy

Sourcing is one of the biggest hurdles facing CBD companies. In the face of limited or non-existant regulation, choosing a supplier to provide consistent, clean cannabinoids can make or break your business. Even partners that start out looking great (spoiler: they all do) may end up failing you though logistical insufficiency or a change in leadership integrity. Redundancy is your insurance policy. CBD companies must find not one reliable supplier, but several. Don’t accept an exclusive relationship at the outset; work up to it through years of consistent performance.

4. Disregarding Institutional Knowledge

In a bid for legitimacy, many startups are hiring from industries outside the legacy cannabis market. That can be very useful for expanding the scope of cannabis applications and form factors, but without a holistic understanding of the plant, innovation can be dangerous. Accrued generational knowledge from growers and pre-legalization formulators can help you avoid costly formulation mistakes and contraindications. As a successful cannabis industry friend of mine puts it, “Always make sure you’ve got at least a couple old hippies on staff.”

5. Relying on Hype

CBD is hot as can be right now, but it doesn’t take a prophet to know that at some point the bubble has to burst. Don’t worry, CBD will be around for a long time and likely become a health and wellness staple! That said, the buzz can’t sustain this volume; products cannot be successful long-term on the basis of the inclusion of CBD alone. Thoughtful formulations that look to ingredient synergy will still have something to pique consumer interest after the hype dies down. Look to the bleeding edge of the THC market to see what will trickle down to the CBD world in the next two years: terpenes, flavonoids, fresh frozen extractions, and herbal blends. Of course, this could all be nullified depending on the speed of the now all-but-certain rescheduling of THC. Cannabis is certainly not an industry for the faint of heart.

What Would Development Look Like Without a Water-Soluble Solution?

Water droplets falling from ceiling.

Cannabinoids are lipophilic, meaning they dissolve in oils. For this simple reason, oil-based cannabis products have dominated the cannabis industry until very recently. Prior to legalization, they have been the only option; in an illicit market, the massive amounts of money, expertise, and time it takes to create a water-soluble emulsion is prohibitive. Given the nascent state of the legal industry, it’s only natural that oil-based products would be the norm. However, that is changing. 

One way to look at the advantages of a water-based formula is to review the development hurdles that must be overcome without one. A water-based solution is not appropriate for any consumption method involving heat, such as vaping or smoking, so we are going to focus on edible, tincture, and topical formulations. One way to look at the advantages of a water-based formula is to review the development hurdles that must be overcome without one. A water-based solution is not appropriate for any consumption method involving heat, such as vaping or smoking, so we are going to focus on edible, tincture, and topical formulations. 

Several product subcategories are impossible right out of the gate. Beverages, in which water is always the largest ingredient, are commercially untenable with oil. When you mix oil and water together, they rapidly separate, with the oil rising to the top of the liquid. Because of this, many products on the market need to be shaken up before drinking, which is not ideal for the producer or the consumer. The only way to create a stable beverage with oil is to infuse it into a high-fat base that contains natural emulsifiers, such as dairy or coconut milk. 

From the start, direct infusion into any oil comes with its own suite of problems. If you are using dried, cured cannabis flowers for your infusion, many flavor and smell components in the plant material will come along as well, and the resulting oil will have a strong cannabis flavor. That may not be a problem if you are making brownies in your home kitchen, but it is not acceptable at scale. To make matters worse, this flavor will vary from batch to batch; even the most consistent grows are subject to the whims of nature. Trying to guess the flavor profile of any given batch of cannabis-infused oil is like trying to guess the amount of Vitamin A in any given carrot. There is a likely range, but each plant has its own unique composition. 

To create edibles without the characteristic herbaceous notes of the cannabis flower, it is necessary to remove as much of the chlorophyll, lipids, flavonoid, and terpene content as possible. This can be reasonably and inexpensively achieved with CO2-extracted cannabis concentrates, but ideally done with a more neutral (and pricier) distillate. However, when working with these extremely low viscosity extracts, dispersal becomes a challenge. The cannabis oil must first be heated gently with a carrier oil; that carrier oil must be completely evenly dispersed into the final product, otherwise dosing will be uneven. In baked goods, the amount of mixing involved can result in a tough, dense crumb structure. 

To insure that  the oil has dispersed evenly, producers must then test the final product. That said,  it is much harder to test a cookie, for example, than a batch of cannabis oil. The complexity of the ingredients and unreliability of results have led many producers to extrapolate from limited and/or non-randomized samples, and as a result, uneven dosing plagues the legal market.

There may also be consumer education considerations when choosing oil. My largest area of expertise is the development of cannabis topicals for sexual enhancement and relief. However, oil-based topicals are incompatible with safer sex barriers such as latex or polyisoprene condoms — a massive sexual health risk of which most buyers and customers are completely unaware — and they can cause irritation in some people. Moreover, the sensory profile of cannabis is, shall we say, less than sensual for many people. My primary impetus for developing Velvet Swing was to offer a neutral, gentle, barrier-compatible option, so that customers don’t have to rely on their budtenders for being informed and willing to dispense sexual health information.

Fortunately it’s no longer necessary to be bound by the limits of oil. It’s the first rung on the ladder, the easiest path to take, and still the wisest choice for some applications. However, if you are developing a beverage, tincture, or topical, consider what water-based formulation can help you do — and what it can help you avoid.