Meet Ky Keenan, founder of byky plant-based cannabis edibles
By: Jessica Zambarano
What do you get when you give plant-based chef Kyleen Keenan a kitchen, sustainably-sourced superfoods and unfettered access to CO2 extracted cannabis distillate? You get some of the most decadent, nutrient-dense, artisanal edibles you will ever find.
I recently sat down to chat with Ky about her journey, her love of chocolate, and how she ended up working with Solar Cannabis Co.
Jessica: We know you are a chocolate-lover! How did you begin working with raw chocolate?
Kyleen Keenan (Ky): So I started a company called Not Your Sugar Mama’s in 2011, with a friend. We had one simple mission … to change the world, one chocolate bar at a time.
We were just out of college, and I had discovered raw chocolate. It was the first food that I ever tried that changed the way I felt!. Not only was it delicious, but I felt incredible afterwards. It really pushed me down this path of understanding foods and how they make us feel. It was the start of my exploration into the connections between mind, body, and food. Raw Chocolate was my gateway drug to healthy living. !
So we started making these raw chocolate bars that we hand-wrapped and sold to local stores on Martha’s Vineyard. That summer we got into 13 locations. Later, we got into more juice shops, holistic cafes and eventually, Whole Foods, by which time we were making a hundred thousand chocolate bars a year in a 450 square foot production facility. So we took on extra space, and expanded into smoothies, brownies, cookies cupcakes and other things that would draw people in. Something besides the chocolate bars.
Long story short, I started experimenting with all kinds of decadent desserts that were gluten-free, nutrient dense, and made with organic superfoods and unrefined sugars.
Stoned: Can you tell us about your transition to a plant-based lifestyle?
Ky: Sure! I wasn't plant-based when I started my business, but I did eventually end up going to holistic nutrition school at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition (https://www.integrativenutrition.com/) in New York. I slowly began incorporating more and more plants into my diet until I accidentally went vegan for a month! I felt lighter. I felt more peaceful. I had positive side effects that I didn't anticipate or intend to have. And so it just kind of stuck!
Stoned: Is there a difference between “plant-based” and “vegan”?
Ky: Absolutely. Plant-based foods are nuts, grains, legumes (which are beans and lentils), seeds, vegetables, and fruits. Basically whole foods that don't contain animal products.
Something like an Oreo can be classified as vegan because it does not contain animal products, however it is not made from whole, plant-based foods.
Stoned: And how did cannabis enter the picture?
Ky: So, on the Vineyard, there was a cannabis startup that reached out to me about working with them. At the time, I was vegan and sober, so I really had to think about whether cannabis could be part of a healthy and holistic lifestyle. I had only ever used cannabis in high school. I saw it more as a social drug, a party thing.
It was at this time that I realized, you know, cannabis is a plant. It’s a powerful plant. Just like cacao is a powerful plant. And I loved making foods with powerful plants, so I started to do research and experiment with recipes. I wondered what effects cannabis and cacao combined might have on the body, and I was amazed at what I found. !
Stoned: What did you learn about raw cacao and cannabis, and their health benefits?
Ky: Raw cacao, used in its natural, unroasted form, is a nutrient-dense powerhouse. It maintains all of the phytonutrients and polyphenols that are otherwise lost in the roasting process of most chocolate. It is rich in magnesium and is a very potent antioxidant.
Whenever we're doing anything … running, or walking, or, you know, digesting food even … we're creating oxygen molecules in our body. These oxygen molecules create oxidative stress which supports aging in the body.
Raw cacao can help reduce oxidative stress. Approximately 100 mg of raw cacao has the antioxidant equivalent of a 95,500 versus 2,036 of blueberries. That’s 46 x more antioxidants than blueberries! 5 gallon bucket of blueberries! So I highly recommend a daily dose of raw cacao, the highest antioxidant food in the world. (You could also put in the ORAC chart)
Cannabis, used for thousands of years as a medicinal plant, is commonly known to be a potent anti-inflammatory, effective in treating the inflammation caused by excessive stress and precursor toand chronic disease. Cannabinoids, found in the plant, work with the human endocannabinoid system, also known as the “second immune system”. I found that working cannabis into my routine really helped to reduce stress and facilitate healthy living.
Stoned: Can you tell us why combining these 2 ingredients makes for a better experience?
Ky: Well, in my opinion, plant medicine is always a preferable choice to chemicals. But in this case in particular, we are essentially pairing two of the world’s most powerful plants, raw cacao and cannabis, to offer a richer experience.
Raw chocolate contains anandamide, a bliss chemical we feel when we fall in love. Just as the THC and CBD from the cannabis plant work with receptors in our body, so does anandamide. Research shows that when we combine anandamide with cannabinoids, the body absorbs both chemicals slower, and so what that does is it keeps us absorbing the two potent chemicals longer and can result in what feels like a greater, more full-body effect. And, since we are using 100% organic, plant-based ingredients, there’s nothing to get in the way of the effects.
Combined, raw cacao and cannabis can be used to support a healthy lifestyle, and reduce stress, inflammation and pain.
Stoned: Why is byky different than what's already on the market?
Ky: We've eliminated the junk, because that's the way it should be. That's what you deserve. We’re creating a new option for people who choose to take care of their bodies and pay attention to what they put in their bodies. We want you to experience the power of the plants that you're eating.
Stoned: What interested you in partnering with Solar Cannabis Co.?
Ky: When I met the team behind Solar (https://solarthera.com/), I was really quite impressed with their commitment to sustainability (https://solarthera.com/about-us/). Not only in their cultivation practices, but across the board. We share this vision of a sustainable future. And they were already doing it. In the way that they grow, in the way they use energy, and in their extraction methods. Solar uses CO2 extraction which is one of the cleanest methods and my preferred method for extracting cannabis distillate.
So, I immediately recognized a natural fit when partnering with Solar to create the byky brand. , It felt like we were combining forces to do something really good for consumers, for the industry, and for our planet: making organic superfood edibles, via a sustainable business model, leaving as small a carbon footprint as possible. It was very exciting for me. I was ready to plant a flag and say “we’re here! Byky is here!”
Stoned: What do you think the future will bring for you and for byky?
Ky: I’m really excited for the future of byky! It really is the first of its kind here in the Massachusetts cannabis space. I actually think you’d be hard-pressed to find cannabis edibles anywhere in the U.S. that can measure up to the level of care and quality that we’ve incorporated into this brand. So it really is our goal to just keep growing and making our products more sustainable and more accessible.
As for the recipes, there are so many options! We’re working on some new flavors of bon bons, one of which will be a Mint Ganache 1:1 containing both THC and CBD. And you can expect to see other fun confections (think micro-dosed chocolate chips for baking) rolling out in the coming months! We’ve got lots of exciting things happening, so stay tuned!