After its legalization on June 21, the cannabis industry is accelerating its advance in Ecuador, placing itself as one of the key industries with the potential to change the country’s economy for the better. One of the sectors that is taking advantage of cannabis-based ingredients is the food industry, where innovative companies are testing different combinations in order to expand the markets.
The advance of cannabis in Ecuador is as fast as it is promising, propelled by a favorable legal framework. Concurrently, the social normalization of the plant is also gaining ground in the country.
One of the sectors that has taken advantage of this ‘green boom’ is the Ecuadorian food industry, which has begun to incorporate cannabis and its derivatives as an ingredient in their food and drinks.
The trend started with the decriminalization of cannabis for medicinal purposes last year: “When the reform of the Comprehensive Organic Criminal Code (COIP) was known, industries began to investigate the seed of hemp as food and CBD (cannabidiol) for its medicinal properties” José Dávalos, president of Ecuacáñamo, mentioned.
Thus, since the end of 2019, a wide variety of edible products with cannabis-based ingredients can be found across the country. In effect Ecuador is catching up to the gastronomic boom of cannabis which, in the wider world, dates back to the 2000s.
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The pandemic accelerated the intersection between the cannabis and food industry
The COVID-19 pandemic, which forced the population to isolate itself for several months, caused a rise in anxiety and stress for many. Consequently, people also increased the purchase of products with Cannabidiol (CBD), due to its relaxing properties.
The use of cannabis in food has been known for millennia in the Indian subcontinent, while in the Maghreb, its origin stems from the making of ‘Mahjoun’, a hash-based sweet rolled with a variety of spices, nuts and natural sweeteners.
In Ecuador, the first culinary attempts based on cannabis have been CBD chocolate and hemp seed burgers.
Quito-based company mixes cocoa with cannabis to make an unique combination
Mayu Ecuador, one of the pioneering companies involved, manufactures the product called ‘Chocomedical’, which is an organic chocolate enriched with CBD, Tryptophan and Vitamin B6, sweetened with panela and happens to be lactose-free.
Lizbeth Fajardo, commercial director of the Quito-based company, assures that her product is “a pioneer” which “relieves anxiety, stress and improves sleep.”
It is a variety made with a light-aroma Ecuadorian cocoa that, in times of pandemic, has increased in demand. Offering the company “an opportunity to expand the industry,” according to Fajardo.
Furthermore, it is not only through chocolate that edible cannabis has begun to be channeled in the Andean country.
The company “Santa María Beer”, from Riobamba, has developed a line of craft beers, one of which includes 0.1 percent CBD, and the other, 0.01 percent THC (tetrahydrocannabinol).
“Beer with THC is not going to blow you away because it does not have a sufficient amount of cannabinoid, what it will achieve is to relax you and put you in good spirits,” reassures Oscar Coronel, owner of the company..
Ecuador is taking its first steps into the cannabis sector
After years of debate, Ecuador legalized cannabis for medicinal purposes a year ago under the premise that the products are made with varieties that do not exceed 1% THC, the psychoactive component of cannabis.
The rule came into force on June 21 and with it Ecuador has joined more than a dozen countries where the practice is legal, including eight Latin American nations.
Another product that has been launched on the market as a result of the law are “Hemp Burgers”, made from chickpea and hemp seeds, which provide a large amount of fiber.
“We are the first in the country to offer healthy fast food based on hemp seeds. That is why we strongly promote their consumption ”, highlighted Shadia Haboud, owner of The Vegan Spot, a pioneer in cannabis burgers.
Haboud explains that these seeds provide a light flavor, similar to that of walnut, so it is easily combined with other foods.
“They are also marketed for individual consumption and are used as garnishes in food and beverages. Also, we make banana bread and add them at the end because they cannot be heated.”, she added.
“We plan to make energy bars and jam that contains hemp seeds, it will not change the taste but it will add fiber, making them healthier.” Indicated Irina Llaguno, co-owner of the Health Store company, which distributes them throughout the country.
Cannabis has the potential to change Ecuador’s economy
According to the international consultancy Grand View Research, the world cannabis market generates about 11,000 million dollars. And with projections for 2027 of 28,500 million.
As a result of the new law, Dávalos predicts a expansion of the hemp trade in Ecuador, which will encourage its consumption, sales and generate employment.
The Ministry of Agriculture has yet to draw up a regulation on the planting and cultivation of cannabis before October 19.
“In Colombia they did a study that says that the industry can provide 16 jobs per hectare. This could be similar in Ecuador if it is dedicated to greenhouse production ”, he concluded.
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