Bolstered by the coronavirus pandemic, sales of edibles – spearheaded by gummies – have skyrocketed to eclipse sales of marijuana flower, year-over-year, since 2020. Accounting for almost $1 billion in sales in 2020, the gummies market alone grew by a staggering 31% last year outpacing nearly every category of edibles.
What started with weed brownies, rice krispies treats, and cookies has expanded exponentially to include products like weed-infused beef jerky, pretzels, and potato chips. Lately, the industry has also turned toward mints, hard candies, and especially gummies.
Why are gummies popular?
First and foremost, they’re delicious. Who doesn’t like gummy bears or Sour Patch Kids? But looking beyond their snackability, there are a few reasons why cannabis gummies have enjoyed such a meteoric rise in popularity.
- Precision dosing – Because of their production methods, each gummy is exactly the same size and contains exactly the right amount of THC or CBD so it doesn’t get easier to accurately dose than with gummies.
- Convenience – It doesn’t require much appetite to eat a small piece of candy—but how often are you in the mood to eat a big fudgy brownie or chocolate-chip cookie? Especially for medical cannabis users, gummies are much more manageable.
- Longer shelf life – Baked goods, such as brownies or cookies, go stale and lose their decadent chewy texture over time. But a sealed piece of candy can last almost indefinitely.
- They travel better – Going to the beach with chocolate edibles is not going to end up well. Not only will the melting of the edible ruin the chocolate, but it also ends up ruining the terpenes and cannabinoids. Gummies, especially those made with pectin instead of gelatin, have a much higher melting point making them a much better travel buddy.
How cannabis gummies are made
Making gummies is not rocket science, but it is food science. At the most basic, all it takes is water, sugar, gelling agent (e.g. pectin), flavoring of some kind, and something to add color.
Mix it up, heat it up, and pour it into a mold.
Of course, making top-quality cannabis gummies requires a little more complexity. Temperature, pH, and various other factors need to be tuned just right. Otherwise you can wind up with a sloppy mess. But overall they’re easier to make than many types of edibles. Which means it’s not just consumers who love gummies—they’re also an attractive option for edibles producers as well.
When it comes to producing, let’s say chocolate bars, the amount of time and labor involved is exponentially greater than making gummies. Working with chocolate is a very hands-on process that requires training in the science of chocolate and pastry arts.
Unlike gummies, chocolate needs to be tempered, using precise temperature controls. By heating, cooling, and reheating the chocolate, the chocolate maker can create a product with a delicate composition, uniform structure, and well-rounded flavor, along with the expected shiny exterior.
As far as mass-production is concerned, an effective manufacturing set-up could produce tens of thousands more gummies in a day than one crafting fine chocolate bars.
But before you jump up to sweep the gummy market off its feet, there are several things to consider. Should you use flavor extracts, essential oils, or fresh fruit purée for your gummies? What about pectin vs. gelatin or agar? And what are the best flavor combinations?
Fruit purees vs. extracts for cannabis gummies
Like most things in life, there’s an easy way and a hard way when it comes to making gummies. Using extracts or essential oils may reduce your overall food costs, but by sacrificing flavor and quality you may be alienating a large portion of your customer base that is looking specifically for high-quality edibles using fresh ingredients.
Now, not all fruit purées are created equal. Most recipes will specify which brand of fruit purée to use for cannabis gummies, since the sugar and acid levels vary from fruit to fruit. A kilo of passionfruit purée sold by Boiron will need a different amount of sugar, glucose, citric acid, and pectin than the same product from Perfect Purée.
This may seem like a lot of extra work, but the end result will stand out from the crowd that uses extracts and essential oils. A vast majority of consumers today are looking for a higher-end experience and are willing to pay for it. Using fresh purées over extracts or oils provides a gummy full of healthy vitamins along with a dose of THC or CBD.
A healthier choice
Eaze’s 2022 report found that edibles ranked number one in marijuana purchases for every generation except for Gen X who, according to polls, prefer to vape their weed.
Of that crowd, Millennials represent the single largest cannabis customer base. They tend to be highly educated, and they know what they want when it comes to cannabis products. And they typically prefer products made with whole foods and healthy ingredients. In addition to vitamins and minerals from the fruit, gummies also contain way fewer calories per dose than other edibles.
So companies using fresh fruit purées in their gummies are more likely to attract the coveted 25-45 age demographic.
Pectin vs. agar
If you’ve ever made a homemade jam or marmalade, then you’re familiar with pectin, the gelling agent that gives jams and jellies their signature texture. For hundreds of years, pastry chefs have turned to pectin to create pâte de fruit, which are essentially very fancy gummies.
Pectin is a naturally occurring substance that exists in the cell walls of fruits and plants, helping to bind the cells together to allow the organism to grow. Traditional pectin only activates and gels in the presence of both sugar and acid—so it’s important to understand your formulas for making gummies.
Pectin is also naturally vegan (as opposed to gelatin, which is animal-derived) so it’s the preferred choice for making a product with mass appeal.
However, unlike flavorless gelatin, pectin may add some small amount of bitterness to the recipe. Combined with naturally bitter cannabinoids and terpenes, this might require additional bitterness management, depending on the overall flavor balance of your gummies.
Another gelling agent option is agar-agar. Agar is a plant-based gelatin derived from seaweed. And while it may seem like agar and pectin are similar, they produce dramatically different end results.
Due to its molecular structure, agar will continue to solidify over time, through a process called syneresis—which will squeeze out some of the incorporated liquid in your gummy, leaving a tough little agar chew covered in a sticky mess.
Agar gummies also have a less pleasant mouthfeel, generally speaking, and the flavor release is by far less than ideal when compared to pectin. Especially if you’re making them with real fruit purees, pectin is the ideal gelling agent for cannabis gummies.
This is where the fun and creativity begins when it comes to making THC- or CBD-infused gummies. Deciding which fruit (or combination of fruits) to use as the flavoring means plenty of “quality control testing.”
The fruit purée market is chock full of amazing fruit flavors ready to use for making gummies, from standards like raspberry, orange, and strawberry, to tropical fruits like passionfruit, guava, and lychee.
If you happen to be using gelatin for your cannabis gummies, be wary of flavoring them with fresh pineapple as it contains an enzyme called bromelain. Bromelain (as well as papain in papaya) is a complex protein-digesting enzyme that will destroy the protein-derived gelatin.
If you must use gelatin for pineapple or papaya gummies, cooking the fruit or juice first will denature the bromelain enzyme, preventing it from breaking down the collagen in the gelatin and thereby allowing the gel to set.
Looking for flavor inspiration? Here’s 5 surprising cannabis gummy flavor combos that we think your consumers would love!
- Blueberry | Chamomile | Lavender
- Pineapple | Coconut | Black Tea
- Blood orange | Passionfruit | Thyme
- Strawberry | Olive oil | Tarragon
- Sour Cherry | Lime | Mint
For more about making better cannabis gummies (with fruit puree or anything else) reach out and let us know what you’re working on.