Candied cannabis 

Nature’s Key was one of the first edibles companies to put its product on shelves. Six months later, the company’s future is getting sweeter.

A pan of THC-infused crispy treats being packaged at Nature’s Key - ALEXA ACE
  • Alexa Ace
  • A pan of THC-infused crispy treats being packaged at Nature’s Key

Tucked inside a nondescript, labyrinthine building on the northwest side of Oklahoma City, bakers and confectioners are hard at work inside a commercial kitchen.

It is Nature’s Key, a prominent edibles manufacturer and wholesaler that supplies roughly 300 dispensaries across the state.

At its heart is Lynn Key, who retired from her previous job to follow her dream. At that point, even she was uncertain what form that dream might take. First, she sold essential oils. Then someone mentioned getting involved in the cannabis industry.

“I called my sister and said, ‘Hey, I think I’m gonna get the backing for a dispensary. I think I’ve found my niche,’” Key said.

While they started selling edibles in late December to a handful of dispensaries, the growth has been explosive, even though it does not feel that way to Key.

It started with $10,000 of THC distillate acquired on a short-term loan.

“We paid it back in two increments of $5,000, and it took us about 35 days to do it,” Key said.

Those financial worries have since dissolved.

“It’s all going really, really well. I don’t have any worries about finances or anything like that,” she said. “I don’t really worry about the government or anything like that. I feel like we tried to do everything right. If the government says to change it, we try to change it right on the spot. If the government says that you’ve got until May, it’s like, ‘I don’t care. I’m going to get it done now.’”

Just inside the kitchen door sits a large machine capable of pumping out 10,000 candies per hour. Behind it, two women are hard at work processing and packaging chocolates.

click to enlarge THC distillate being warmed for use in sweets at Nature’s Key - ALEXA ACE
  • Alexa Ace
  • THC distillate being warmed for use in sweets at Nature’s Key

“We mold them up and let them dry or get hard, and then we package them and hand-seal them, so we make sure everything is good quality, that the products are all up to standard and ensure that they look beautiful,” Kate Erk said. “Right now, we have dark, milk and white varieties and cookies and cream. We’re talking about launching a new one today or tomorrow. We’ve talked about doing a chocolate caramel or cherry chocolates or like an Almond Joy with coconut and almond. So just look for it. We’re going to launch a new one probably in the next couple of weeks.”

“I’ve always been interested in green medicine,” Shannon Palmer said. “The last 20 years, I’ve said, ‘It’s going to come, it’s going to come,’ so I was glad I got my foot in the door here. I worked a little bit as a budtender at a dispensary from January until I started here about a month ago. I have my cake business that I have, and I’ve had some candy-making, chocolatier-type experience for a background.”

On the far side of the kitchen, behind a rack filled with backing goods, several more employees are hard at work portioning off brownies, crispy treats, cereal bars and cakes.

Delicious research

Jonna Nowakowski has been with Nature’s Key since the beginning and handles research and development for the baking products.

“I started baking with THC about two years ago. I was a featured chef at Williams Sonoma for four years. My love of baking and my mom had cancer, and so I just married the two. I wanted to give her something because she loves sweets and that would give her comfort,” she said. “When we come in during the day, I’ll decide what we need to make. If we need to do six pans of brownies, five pounds of potluck, whatever our orders are. And then we do our beginning weight of the THC, and then we have a formula to decide how many grams go in each batch. I do pad it just a little bit, in case it cooks out. But I think that’s why everybody loves our stuff, because I put a little extra in there.”

click to enlarge Jonna Nowakowski, who develops the baking recipes at Nature’s Key, packages THC-infused treats for patients. - ALEXA ACE
  • Alexa Ace
  • Jonna Nowakowski, who develops the baking recipes at Nature’s Key, packages THC-infused treats for patients.

Nowakowski said the key to creating quality edibles is consistency in dosing across batches. Nature’s Key uses THC distillate and has it tested before it starts using it in their edibles. Then, after calculating the formula for the batch based on the THC content they are working with, she adds an additional gram of THC to make sure patients are getting everything that they have paid for.

In order to ensure that the THC is evenly distributed across the baked good or candy, a lot of stirring is involved.

“We inject our oil into the butter. We do a slow roll for probably 15-20 minutes. We just kind of let that butter — not a high heat or anything — just kind of let it meld with the oil. And then we stir, stir, stir, stir. So we’ll pour this into the brownies and then we have a five-minute stirring process and then, when he takes that pot off, we put it up here. We stir three or four minutes longer, just so if any settles. So then when we pour it in the pan, we stir and smooth more. Our brownies are coming out about 70 milligrams per package,” Nowakowski said. “You really want that oil to bond with the butter, and my secret is 85 percent butter fat. I found that THC bonds with that really well. If you use some of the lower butter fats like 30 percent, 40 percent, the THC doesn’t bond to it as well. That THC oil really loves fat. I think the problem some people have is they quit mixing after a certain point and they don’t get that. So you have a clump here or a clump here.”

She is currently working on a THC-infused bacon jam that will be rolling out this summer.

All of the hard work has paid off. Nature’s Key now employs 14 people, and the number of dispensaries that carry its products are on the rise. Key has made her dream come true. 

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