A Brief History of the Cannabis Kitchen

The return of the cannabis kitchen was inevitable. For nearly as long as humans have existed socially, we’ve been experimenting with our food and the ingredients of our recipes.

The Emergence of Restaurants

The first restaurant in the United States was Delmonico’s in 1837, about 50 years after the U.S. became sovereign. It was founded in New York and you can read more about the steak restaurant here.

delmonicos new york
Delmonico’s is famous for being the first modern restaurant in the United States. Image by Albert Sterner, 1898.

For the historical foodie, some would claim France’s Monsieur Boulanger was the grandfather of the modern restaurant. Regardless if this is true, Mr. Boulanger’s cuisine of sheep’s feet in white sauce has gone down into restaurant legend.

Restaurants Since Recorded History

Southern Sung Dynasty, China

Stepping back to about 1123 A.D. within the country of China, the city of Hangzhou was booming with over a million people. Hangzhou’s economy was strong and its people were skilled and creative when it came to food.

The Southern Sung Dynasty offered the region a wide range of menu items and was home to early restaurants. By Li Song, 1190.

Chinese chef’s offered menu’s of noodles, pork, rice wine and more. In our opinion, the restaurant industry was alive and well during the Southern Sung Dynasty!

Ancient Greece

As we stretch further back to before 79 A.D, ancient Greece, thermopolia were popular. Thermopolia were akin to our modern day fast casual experiences. Several stone bowls were built into stone counter-shaped placement, where locals could come choose from ready-to-eat dishes such as baked cheese with honey and “herbs”, lentil dishes and wine.

Fast-casual restaurants offered meals – cooked and ready to eat – for the people of Herculaneum, Italy. Image by Jebulon, Public Domain

Whether it was the wine or the crowds drawn by a thermopolium, it was typical for skirmishes and “bar-fights” to break out. Good times.

Besides the advancing technology supporting commercial cooking, the premise and ingredients of food-lovers have largely remained the same. And we’ll point out, the Cannabis Kitchen isn’t a new development. Rather, it’s a return to normal.

The Emergence of Medicinal Cannabis

Although medical cannabis has been recorded on stone tablets showing its use in ancient Egypt and as one of 400 other substances listed in the Assyrian pharmacopoeia, we’ll skip ahead to its entrance into western medicine.

But first, it’s important to mention one of the first cannabis-infused drinks was in the form of a tea brewed in 1500 BC, China. That was over 3,500 years ago. In one form or another, the cannabis kitchen has always been with us.

Modern Cannabis Kitchens Start with a “Bhang”

Around 1000 BC, Hindu texts identify cannabis to be one of five sacred plants. Cannabis was cultivated in India to produce “Bhang,” a cannabis-infused drink that can be found in modern India even today.

The medicinal and soothing uses of cannabis would continue in India for centuries until very recently.

Medical Cannabis Travels to the West

Bartolomeo Platina, Italy

Millenia passed but people and their love of food remained. With Cannabis picking up steam as a growingly popular ingredient along with other herbs and spices, enter the well-educated Bartolomeo Platina in 14th Century AD. Bartolomeo was a soldier, tutor, and librarian.

Bartolomeo Platina
Bartolomeo Platina is credited for writing the first modern cookbook. It included a cannabis-infused recipe.

In 1465, Platina wrote the first recorded cookbook, On Honourable Pleasure and Health. Although not the first written recipe, it was the first printed cookbook that brought together a rich collection of recipes. These included Renaissance era cuisines, some of which included cannabis as an ingredient.

It’s important to remember that the early cannabis kitchen wasn’t seen as abnormal in any way because cannabis-infused recipes had existed for thousands of years prior.

Dr. William O’Shaughnessy, Ireland

Pushing forward to the 1800’s, William O’Shaughnessy was a doctor of medicine in London. During his esteemed career in India, he is widely credited for bringing medical cannabis to Europe.

In 1840, Britain published O’Shaughnessy’s interest in the uses of cannabis, referencing its wide and common use in Egypt, Africa, Asia and India.

William O Shaughnessy and the Medical Cannabis Kitchen
Dr. William O’Shaughnessy worked extensively in India where medical cannabis was commonplace. He is credited for bringing medical cannabis to Europe.

Not only were his European comrades accepting of his desire to advance medicine, they couldn’t wait for others to implement the new, effective treatment for convulsions and tetanus. (Among many other things.)

O’Shaughnessy went on to expand on medical cannabis for nearly 25 pages within his published Bengal Dispensatory and Pharmacopoeia, documenting a host of medical substances, their affects and how to use them.

Cannabis Sails to the United States

Now popular nearly world-wide, hemp found its way across the ocean to a young America, where the benefits of cannabis were used in both tinctures and edible forms. (Not to mention hemp’s critical role as rope for naval ships.)

hemp rope
Rope woven from hemp stalks were great for maritime applications due to it’s natural resistance to saltwater and decay. This made hemp important to the colonial economy.

Beginning around the mid 1800’s, cannabis had grown from its modest days as infused tea in China, to a world-wide treatment for a host of medical conditions and stress-relieving properties.

The Dark Age of Cannabis

In 1937, America enacted a Federal prohibition on cannabis, degradingly nicknaming it “Marijuana.” Cannabis becomes taboo. The hemp plant was now lumped into a list of hard drugs, while opioids were touted as a better remedy for pain and the mental distress of dying patients. This was one of the earliest catalysts of what’s referred to now as the “Opioid Crisis.”

Marijuana prohibition spread East. Even in India where the plant was considered sacred and taught to Indian pharmaceutical students as published in the Homoeopathic Pharmacopoeia of India, western nations required India to accept the terms of their “Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act.”

In 1985, all forms of Cannabis were outlawed in India per request of the Western treaty. (Although Bhang is still legally and illegally consumed during the spring festival of Holi.)

Cannabis Kitchens vanished. Chefs and medical professionals around the world ceased their use of medicinal cannabis or went underground. Misinformation was spread at an alarmingly fast rate, and the benefits of medical cannabis would be nearly forgotten.

The Fight for Cannabis Legalization Begins

Fortunately, the dark ages of cannabis were short lived. The hemp plant’s roots proved stronger than the politics that banned it. No more than 20 years after prohibition, in 1954 a cookbook was published called, The Alice B. Toklas Cookbook, which included a recipe for cannabis brownies.

Around 1990, a San Francisco General Hospital volunteer by the name of Mary Jane Rathbun (or Brownie Mary), became known for defiantly baking cannabis brownies for cancer and AIDS patients to ease their suffering.

Mary Jane Rathbun's Cannabis Kitchen Brownies
In the 1980’s, Mary Jane Rathbun (or “Brownie Mary”) baked thousands of cannabis brownies for AIDs and cancer patients.

Some esteem Mary Jane Rathbun as a hero and one of the strongest advocates of medical cannabis legalization. She passed in 1999 and eventually died a patriot for both medical cannabis as well as reinvigorating the cannabis kitchen. She passed having witnessed California becoming the first state to legalize medical cannabis in 1996.

The Cannabis Kitchen Returns

And the rest is history, or rather, our future. Here we are on the forefront of an industry suppressed for nearly 80 years. While the story of this simple plant lay in hiding for decades, the food service industry thrived as it always has. We can try delicacies from around the world. Our restaurants drive around on wheels. Our cooking, refrigeration and storage technology has advanced significantly.

If there was ever a time to re-introduce cannabis infused drinks and cuisine – it’s now. We’re excited and we hope it shows. The reunion between cannabis and the foodservice industry is long overdue, and yet it wasn’t long ago that it was embraced around the world.

Supporting Modern Cannabis Kitchen Innovators

At Omega, we want to share both our experience, as well as what we’ve learned with this amazing community. And in turn, we can’t wait to see what you, as pioneers in cultivation, processing, manufacturing and retail will offer the world in the near future.

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