The Infuser Machine Product Showdown — Greenway Magazine

 

Edibles are easily one of the most popular products for medical cannabis patients in the product line and menu of any dispensary in a legal state.  But consumers are often astonished at the expense of these premade goodies and many people choose to attempt to make them at home.  We often hear the question, “It is hard to make edibles?”  The simplest answer is that edibles are no more difficult to make than any non-infused recipe – in other words, if you often make cookies, making infused cookies is pretty similar.  Rather, the primary challenge in edible-making is the creation of the infused ingredient that will deliver your medicine in the form of a recipe.  Most people choose to make either cannabis or CBD infused oil or butter.  THIS is where the extra effort and sometimes frustration can come into play.

For decades, those who have made edibles infused with cannabis have gone a few alternative routes.  Some simply grind up herb and mix it into the batter of what they’re making – and the results are lackluster, inconsistent, and usually mean your tasters make remarks about how they can “taste the weed.”  One problem with this method is that in order to truly realize the medicinal benefits of ingesting cannabis a critical step is missing.  Decarboxylation: is the magic that makes cannabis a potent additive to food. Simply put, it’s a chemical reaction that is achieved through heating up raw cannabis to a temperature at which it releases a carboxyl group and becomes psychoactive.  Without decarboxylation, you’re essentially eating cannabis and getting very little medicine from the plant because it’s not “activated.”  Even if the herb were activated, it’s difficult to determine how much each serving size will contain a consistent amount of medicine.

Enter infusion into the equation.  Over the past 10 or so years, we’ve been fortunate to understand more about how to activate the cannabis flower, and then impart its goodness into fats.  Fat is extremely important for absorption and most people wind up choosing to infuse butter or a variety of oils.  Many recipes call for fat and these infused fats can help ensure your finished products will provide you with the effects you were seeking, and provides a little more control over the dosage per serving size.

For those who like to experiment at home, many choose to go with what we’ll call “traditional” infusion at home.  If you aren’t familiar with the traditional methods, the home cook spreads cannabis or CBD flower on a cookie sheet (usually covered in foil) and places in an oven for a period of time until they reach the desired decarboxylation look.  There are specific temperatures that should be targeted in order to achieve success and depending on the temperature, the time spent in the oven is also impacted.  Most suggest that you decarb at around 250℉ for 25-30 minutes. Once your timer sounds, you’ll look to see that your green flower fades to a warm caramel color.  Remove from the oven and let cool, then you’re ready for your addition to your infusion material.  Sounds easy, right?  It’s not hard, by any stretch, but there are some significant inconveniences that are inherent in this method.  Your kitchen and the remainder of your living space WILL smell like you’ve been cooking cannabis.  For those who live alone, and don’t have near neighbors that might not be an issue and certainly there are those who find the smell appealing. I’m not one of them, and although my visitors are aware of my patient status and advocacy for the use of cannabis, even if I’m not expecting guests, I don’t want my house to smell like weed – my personal preference.

However, the other challenge with using the traditional method is that you’ll need to plan to spend quite a bit of time on this project – several hours in fact.  There are a few schools of thought on how to best do this – and the two most popular are usually either on a stovetop or in a CrockPot™.   remember – in both scenarios, you’ve already completed the decarb process.

Directions for stovetop

  • For the stovetop method, instructions are generally very similar to these provided, courtesy of Leafly:
  • Melt the butter. Add 1 cup of water and 1 cup of butter into a stock pot or saucepan. Simmer on low and let the butter melt. Adding water helps to regulate the temperature and prevents the butter from scorching.
  • Add the cannabis. As the butter begins to melt, add in your coarsely ground cannabis product.
  • Simmer. Maintain low heat (ideally above 160ºF but never exceeding 200ºF) and let the mixture simmer for 2 to 3 hours, stirring occasionally. The mixture should never come to a full boil.
  • Strain the cannabutter. Set a funnel on top of a jar and line it with cheesecloth. Once the butter has cooled off, pour it over the cheesecloth funnel and allow it to strain freely. (Tip: Squeezing the cheesecloth may push more bad-tasting plant material through).

If that sounds labor-intensive, the CrockPot™ method is typically similar to below – again, courtesy of Leafly:

Directions for slow cooker

  • Grind your cannabis coarsely with a hand grinder. (Tip: A coffee grinder will finely pulverize the flower and prevent effective straining of bad-tasting plant material.)
  • Set your slow cooker to low, or somewhere around 160ºF. (Tip: Avoid exceeding 200ºF to prevent burning or wasting cannabinoids. You can also add a little water to help prevent scorching.)
  • Add the butter and ground cannabis. Stir occasionally.
  • After about 3 hours, turn off the crockpot and wait for the butter to cool.
  • Strain as above.

Thinking about what we mentioned above, remember that you’ve already cooked cannabis in your oven and your home smells like, well, cooked cannabis.  Add to that about 3 hours of additional cannabis cooking and you can imagine the olfactory impact this will have in your kitchen.  You’ll also notice in both scenarios, you have to strain with a very fine sieve or cheesecloth.  This is by no means what we’d call a “clean and easy” operation.

Fortunately, the other variable, the inevitable dosage question is much simpler than it used to be.  There is any number of “edible/infusion dosage calculators that can help you determine the amount of medicine you’ll have in your finished products.  Most dosage calculators request the amount of flower you use, the THC% of that flower, and the amount of oil or butter (or honey or whatever) that you’re using.  That number breaks down to the amount of medicine in a tablespoon or teaspoon (cook’s choice) and then when you select a recipe, you take that determination, multiply it by the amount of butter or oil in the recipe, and divide by the number of serving sizes.

If that sounds complicated, don’t worry as it’s not as befuddling as it might seem.  Here’s an example:  If you make 2 cups of infused oil, and you’ve already used an online dosage calculator to determine that each tablespoon of oil contains 25mg of THC, and your recipe for cookies calls for ½ cup of oil and yields 15 cookies you can do this easy math.  A half-cup of oil is 8 tablespoons, which means the recipe as a whole will contain 25 mg x 8 tablespoons = 200 mg.  15 cookies divided by 200 mg means each cookie will contain approximately 13 mg of THC.  For the record, I like to store my oils and butter in empty lidded plastic containers (formerly vessels for butter or sour cream or yogurt) and I write on a sticky label on the top which strain it is and how many mg per tablespoon the mixture contains.

We could easily stop this article here, having felt as though we’ve given you a primer that allows you to make infused edibles at home.  BUT – the whole point of this particular piece is to help provide other options and our reviews and experiences with those in order to offer options for homemade infusions.  Enter the home infusing machines – and there are many.  We reached out to multiple manufacturers of these devices to see if they’d like to participate in our arduous and thorough testing and comparison.  We found 3 candidates who were more than happy to loan us machines to test and report on.  Our test subjects included the Levo II, the AGG, and the Ardent FX.  These machines vary in price, size, and functionality and while we’d love to say, the clear winner was:  X.  That, as often when we conduct product tests, was not the outcome.  Each of the machines we used had different features and pros and cons, and it really comes down to making a decision about what you’re looking for in an infusing machine – what are the parts of the “traditional” processes that you simply can’t imagine performing that a machine might do for you?

This product test was important to us for many reasons, but primarily because we get so much feedback and inquiries from readers about how to successfully make edibles and because none of these are inexpensive.  We encourage you to think about what features/convenience factors are most important to you and what your budget will allow.  We were pleased with all three of the candidates and when compared to the traditional methods, we gained some benefits that made a machine worth considering and purchasing.

Photos provided courtesy of the respective companies.

Here’s how our tests progressed and how we reviewed them once complete:

The Levo II

MSRP $249 

The Levo II is a second version of the original machine and has added functionality including a wireless app, which allows you to monitor your machine remotely.  I had high hopes for this modern machine, which resembles a fancy coffee machine, and almost all who saw it assumed it was such.  The Levo II also provides a number of non-cannabis applications for those of us with a hankering to do gourmet infusions for culinary purposes – think garlic-infused olive oil, lavender honey, basil butter, you get the idea.  The other attractive feature of Levo II is the dispensing method.  Much like a coffee machine, the Levo II has a dispensing apparatus that allows you to place a container under the spout and dispense directly into your container from the machine without the need to strain.  This is a definite selling point and my personal favorite feature for the machine.

The Levo II is modern, has a number of recipes and assistance available online, and a comprehensive community of users willing to share their own best practices.  The machine came in a large box, which included a full-color card urging users to download the app, a sheet of magnets featuring images of botanicals, and hashtag reminders for those wishing to provide shoutouts on social media.  The instructions for the Levo II were straightforward, and the included “herb pod” which holds (and prevents manual straining) is a great concept.  The short version of the paces we put the Levo II through were positive and the fact that they recognize and encourage non-cannabis infusions makes it feel much more like Alton Brown would call a multi-tasker.

There are a number of things that our wish list for this machine would include:

For a machine of this size, we would have expected to be able to create larger batches.  The herb pod boasts up to a ½ oz capacity of flower, but also stresses that it’s important to avoid packing the pod too tightly.  In order to get ½ oz of flower into the herb pod and avoid packing, we took ¼ oz through the dry and activate cycles separately, then filled the pod (dangerously close to too tightly)

with the full ½ oz.  We did 2 cups of butter with ½ oz of CBD flower for the first batch of cannabutter.  Results were great in terms of creating well-infused butter that was a breeze in recipes and we used this particular butter (made with a night-use CBD strain) to make sleepy-time cookies.

   

The time required to complete all of the steps for infusing cannabis using Levo II is significant.  Following the directions, we did a 3 hour “dry” cycle at 115 degrees, followed by a 45 minute “activate” cycle at 240 degrees, and an “infusion” cycle of 2.5 hours at 150 degrees.

Disappointingly, the Levo II did not prevent the smell problem.  We had the potent smell of cannabis permeating most of the living space for about 2 days.

Using the Levo II in other ways, we also did an infusion of coconut oil, which has about 90% saturated fat vs 60% of butter – and this was something important to consider – as the active ingredients in herbs absorb better with higher levels of saturated fat.  The oil test went successfully as with the butter, but again, the time commitment was long, which makes the wireless app suddenly much more attractive so that you aren’t chained to your kitchen or even your house for the entire time.

Final thoughts on the Levo II?  This machine is well made and takes a lot of the guesswork out of more traditional methods.  The materials and design decisions are sound – the silicone stirrer prevents pumping excess air into the output and the reservoir into which you put the infusion medium is ceramic coated, which makes the cleaning infinitely easier.  The herb pod features teeny tiny holes, which means escape artist pieces of material are contained, which makes the final product clear and free of particles.  The size of the herb pod DOES require that you grind your flower first and with a small hand grinder that’s a task.

We love the encouragement of using the machine beyond simply cannabis applications and knowing that we can use it for gourmet endeavors (everyone loves garlic olive oil in a fancy bottle for a housewarming gift, right?)  The machine is easily assumed to be a coffee maker, making it easy to leave on a kitchen counter without repeated questions about what it is from guests.  The dispensing function is 5-star and eliminates the need for cheesecloth or spillage.  While our idea of the perfect Levo would include an herb pod 2x the size of the current one, and a receptacle that would hold 2x as much – small batch production of this device is likely to be enough for most home users.

 

The AGG

MSRP $185 (now on Amazon for $120)

AGG or Active Gear Guy was the lowest priced model of all of the three machines we tested, and looks alot like a commercial coffee carafe, but there’s a simple digital dashboard on the top of the device.  The AGG, like the others, was put through a number of tests, including CBD flower, cannabis flower, and concentrates.  This machine was pretty straight forward, the instruction manual included good information about how to use the device to make different kinds of infusions, and we liked that it gave options and recommendations that had reasons behind them.  After providing the recommended decarb temperature range of 225 degrees and 240 degrees, the text takes it a step further to point out that “Another point of general agreement is that decarbing at the lower end of the temperature range preserves the herb flavor while decarbing at the higher end will minimize the flavor.”  This was important to us, because we used quite a bit of CBD flower to make butter and oil, and it was really hard to make it taste less like the plant.

There was a learning curve with the AGG on the first couple of uses like with any other new gadget, so figuring out which buttons on the timer and the temperature selector took some practice.  Don’t misunderstand, it wasn’t complicated, but with a limited number of buttons, you have to develop some muscle memory on which does what.  The booklet that came with the machine was super safely conscious, reminding the user that there were multiple ways to make sure you didn’t get burned or electrocuted – a detachable power cord; an electrical connection for the top section to lock into the bottom; and several reminders about how hot the machine could get.

AGG is stainless steel inside, including the propeller that mixes the contents and is completely sealed which makes cleanup easy, as does the machine’s cleaning cycle.  You WILL get messy when using this machine to infuse with flower, not because it’s an inferior product, but because the process of emptying the AGG into containers and making sure you get every last drop requires that you either use a super-fine strainer or cheesecloth.  Imagine pouring out 2 cups of butter or oil that contain ½ ounce of fat soaked plant matter into a container, squeezing the cheesecloth to wring out every last bit, and then trying to clean said herb from a fabric bag – see where we’re going here?  But messy is ok if you get a great infusion and we did every time.

Those things that we believe users will cite as inconvenient or opportunities for improvement will most certainly be the noise.  The propeller that mixes your infusion runs about every 20 seconds and while it won’t wake the neighbors, if you’re in a nearby room, you’ll hear it each time it sounds and for the record, it does freak out cats who aren’t expecting the sound.  AGG did a nice job of keeping the smell contained during preparation, but after opening it up to cool and decant, there’s no mistaking the smell in the kitchen.

Final thoughts on the AGG?  This is a great option for someone who wants to automate certain parts of the decarbing and infusion processing without breaking the bank. We love that users can do large batches and that it’s not necessary to grind flower first, as the container holds far more than the other two machines.   It’s easy to find recipes to try and the machine is easy to use and produces consistent results.  An added bonus that arrived in the box was a silicone mold to pour butter or oil into to make “bars” and while not necessary it was certainly a nice addition without adding to the price.  Initially, we were under the impression that the machine was made in Missouri (it ships from Liberty) but after inquiring with the company, it’s actually made in China, which was disappointing after the potential of a Missouri-made device.

 

Ardent FX

MSRP $350

Featuring the highest retail price of any of the machines we tested, expectations were high for the Ardent X and it wants to be known as an all-in-one for people making edibles.  Size-wise, the FX is the smallest and simplest design and features a very vibrant purple color on both the machine and the carrying case.  The carrying case seemed unnecessary at first, but as we continued to learn the machines, there really are times when it would be cool to be able to easily take one of these to a friend’s house to experiment together and suddenly the carrying case made sense.

The FX has only a few buttons, which is a plus, except that it requires you to put a lot of faith into the manufacturers to take some of the customizations out of your hands.  For example, rather than giving options to choose timing and temperature, the FX gives 2 options for what controls both – A1 or A2 – and which you select depends on what material you’re using.  The Ardent FX has accessories that are available for purchase, but the manufacturer kindly sent a silicone concentrate and infusion sleeve with ours.  This is essentially a giant silicone cup that fits perfectly into the machine and holds both your material and your fat of choice so that when finished, the sleeve can be removed easily and cleanup is a breeze.  No grinding is required as a result of the large container size.

When we mentioned that FX aims to be a multipurpose tool, not only does it decarb and infuse, but it can be used as a mini-oven and after removing the sleeve you can pour your brownie batter or whatever confectionary you might be making into the machine and choose the “baking” function.  Note – your finished product will be in the shape of a tube, but for those who don’t want to turn on an oven, this could be a real game-changer.   In case you’re wondering, it DOES work as a mini-oven, and the recipes among the maker and the community of owners yields some tasty goods.

The most impressive infusion we made was made in the FX – we used a syringe of cannabis concentrate and infused it into coconut oil.  The end result was extremely potent and extremely consistent.  In fact, it was this result that convinced me that infusing with concentrates versus flower would be my own personal choice moving forward.  Less mess, certainly no smell, economically better, and the finished product was truly amazing.  Best of all, even with flower, the FX kept smells inside.

Final thoughts on the FX? We’d recommend the FX if you’re someone who plans to make the same infusions regularly and often as it’s easy to quickly have a routine and it makes the process pretty rote after just a few uses.  We like the size and the simplicity and if you’re ok with someone else making the decisions about time and temperature and trusting the automatic shut-off – this machine might be your BFF.  With the high price tag, we’d have liked to see both the silicone sleeve and strainer/funnel (we didn’t get one of these, but it would have been a welcome addition) included in the base model.  Although the sleeve made it easy to eliminate effort for the interior of the machine, there’s still the required step of straining – like with the AGG – either a strainer or cheesecloth which can be messy (but also avoided by using concentrates versus flower).

This feature appeared in the September/October 2020 issue of Greenway Magazine.