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While walking the Fancy Food Show floor this week, I was curious to see how many companies would use one of the trendiest products of 2019: cannabidiol (better known as CBD). While the number was surprisingly few (no more than three or four), I did see a few companies incorporating CBD into things like tea and chocolates.
Azuca wasn’t exhibiting at the show, but the startup was certainly there to make a splash. Started two years ago by Ron Silver, a chef at NYC’s Bubby’s restaurants, the company turns CBD (and THC) into water-soluble dry flakes that can be easily incorporated into any sort of food or drink product. They do this through a process called “dehydrofractalization,” (DHF for short), which allows them to put oil-based CBD molecules into water.
“Fundamentally, our products are a technology,” Jonathan Teeters, General Manager of Azuca’s CBD Division told me. In fact, they have three patents pending on their CBD technology.
This tech gives Azuca a few benefits. First of all, it allows them to infuse CBD into a wider range of products. Traditionally, THC and CBD (which are fat-soluble molecules) had to be dissolved into oil, which limited the ways they could be consumed. By making the molecules water-soluble, they can go into pretty much any food or drink item imaginable.
Secondly, Azuca’s products take effect much more quickly than edibles of the past: usually within 15 minutes, as opposed to several hours. And lastly, Teeters told me that their products are consistent and easy to dose (each serving contains 25 milligrams of CBD).
So far, Azuca has several CBD-infused products on the market: chocolate discs, granulated sugar, and sugar and stevia syrup. The company’s decision to put CBD in sugar/sugar syrup is interesting. It makes it super easy to add a hit of CBD to any sort of baked good or beverage, without worrying about dissolving it into baking oil (which is how edibles have been traditionally made in the past).
Azuca sells their sugar products wholesale to other edibles companies and direct to consumer online, but is also working with coffee shops who offer the CBD syrup as an add-on to everything from lattes to mochas. You might wonder why people want a hit of calming cannabidiol with their morning jolt, but it’s actually quite popular — I’ve even seen it in a few coffee shops in Seattle.
The products retail for roughly $5 per serving. That’s certainly more expensive than straight-up CBD tinctures, or other chocolates on the market. But according to Teeters, “you’re paying more for taste and tech.”
With so many new competitors in the market, taste and technology are the two main ways that brands can differentiate themselves. Azuca isn’t the only company making water-soluble CBD meant to give people a high-end edible experience — far from it. Companies like Tarukino and Stillwater have also developed technology to put both THC and CBD into everything from teas to wines to chocolates.
There’s still the teeny, tiny issue that CBD isn’t approved as a food ingredient by the FDA. But that hasn’t stopped dozens and dozens of companies from producing and shipping cannabidiol-infused products around the country. Teeters says that Azuca is just trying to stay as compliant as possible, though they have clearly taken a few steps to not rock the boat: for example, their labels read “hemp extract” instead of CBD. While technically true (as long as they use hemp-derived CBD), it could also be slightly confusing for those not in the know. But it all just goes to show how tricky it is to navigate the murky waters of CBD as edibles. Eventually, Teeters guessed the FDA might label CBD a supplement and regulate it as such.
Until then, he’s pushing to get the word out about Azuca’s CBD products and make them as consistent, reliable, and accessible as possible. “If it’s not accessible, it’s easy to take away,” he told me.
So far, Azuca has raised a seed round for $1 million. They gave me a bottle of CBD-infused simple syrup to try out, which I haven’t cracked open (yet). But maybe I’ll put a few drops in my morning coffee.