The process for making a canna-oil is similar to that of making cannabutter: Cooking for an extended period at low heat. (Bruce Wolf, The Cannabist)

Ask The Cannabist: Cannabutter recipe debate — to use water, or not?

Welcome to our Ask The Cannabist column. Clearly you have questions about marijuana, be it a legal concern, a health curiosity, a Colorado-centric inquiry or something more far-reaching. Check out our expansive, 100-question Colorado marijuana FAQ first, and if you’re still curious, email your question to Ask The Cannabist at

Hey, Cannabist!
Why do you add water to canna-oil recipes? I have tried using just olive oil infused with trim. Slow simmer, then strain, seems to work just fine. –Hash Slinger

Hey, Hash!
Using water is common, but isn’t necessary for making infused oil or cannabutter.  

I spoke with seasoned Summit County marijuana chef Jessica Catalano, author of “The Ganja Kitchen Revolution,” about the use of water in cannabis oil cooking.  “Personally, I prefer not to use water with either my cannabis oil or butter for several reasons,” she says.

Cannabis cooks tend to use water when heating marijuana for an hour or longer. Catalano says cooking with water has three benefits: separation of trim and oil; a reduction in flavor; and clarification of waste materials. The water acts as a separator during the cooling stage. The oil layer congeals and floats over the water. Reduction of flavor is another advantage. Catalano says marijuana trim leaches more chlorophyll than flowers, so if you are cooking trim with water, it will remove more chlorophyll during the cooking process. Clarification is another benefit. Loose plant material will sink to the bottom and the oil will float above.

At times, cooking marijuana in water and and letting the layers naturally separate is easier than pressing the plant material through a fine mesh strainer when cooked without water.

Among the reasons why Catalano prefers to not cook cannabis oils with water is safety. She cites the potential dangers of  residual water in the oil becoming an environment for bacterial growth. “If you are using this (water) method for cannabis oil, you must consume the product immediately. You never want to have any trace amount of water/moisture in the final product.”

Also, Catalano says, “this method alters the consistency of cannabis butter to an almost gritty texture, which alters its performance for gaining the right texture in certain baked goods such as croissants.”

Make it yourself
Cannabutter how-to: Making the best cannabutter on the planet is easy with this 7-step guide
More info on infused oils: The differences between canna-oils, from coconut to olive

The last reason Catalano cooks without water for oil infusions is based on the raw ingredients. She saves marijuana trim for making hash and uses flowers/buds for cooking.  “I want to harness all of the terpenoids and flavinoids in my oil/butter for flavor from the flowers. This is akin to infusing rosemary and other herbs into oil or a compound butter to elevate flavors in a dish. I would not want the water to minimize the flavors in my infused lipid, as when done correctly the taste is surprising quite pleasant and exciting.”

Using water in making infused oils and butters is a popular cooking option, but it’s not required. Catalano encourages, “If you find your method works and makes you happy, stick with it and have fun in the kitchen!” XO

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