What Gives Different Cannabis Strains Different Tastes

What does weed taste like? Ask anyone who is a regular consumer, or even someone trying it for the first time, and their answers will have some similarities. If you’re smoking Lemon Haze, you’ll likely notice its lemony taste. Or, perhaps the earthy undertone of Skunk. So, what gives Purple Goo the subtlety of lavender? We finally have the answer: terpene synthase genes.

What are cannabis terpenes?

Terpenes are oily chemicals that give a plant its unique smell and are a major component of essential oils.  It’s believed that the cannabis plant developed terpenes as a defense mechanism against predators while simultaneously attracting insects for pollination. The cannabis plant contains at least 140 different types of terpenes but the nine most well-known are alpha-bisabolol, alpha-pinene, beta-pinene, borneol, caryophyllene, humulene, limonene, linalool, and myrcene.

What gives different cannabis strains different tastes?

It’s cannabinoids, like tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD), and the diverse combination of terpene aromas and flavours that create therapeutic benefits. For instance, a lavender spritz before bed can have soothing effects, peppermint on the temples can relieve a headache, and rosemary can increase concentration. Growers have been experimenting with different aromas through cross-breeding plants, creating endless possibilities for new experiences and flavour profiles to bring about these benefits through inhalation. 

The following is a list of some of the most popular terpenes (source Indica MD).

Myrcene

Myrcene is both a hydrocarbon and a monoterpene. It has a fruity smell with a hint of musk. It is obtained from plants like bay and myrcia and mostly used for creating flavours and fragrances like menthol and citronella etc.

It is most effective as an anti-inflammatory agent and for relaxing muscle spasms.

Borneol

It is an organic compound usually derived from a plant, like camphor wood.  It has an earthy aroma similar to camphor wood. The compound has been part of Chinese medicine for some time and considered effective for the digestive system, treating coughs and colds, relieving stress, inducing sleep, and relieving pain.

The K13 haze strain contains high amount of Borneol according to one medical marijuana researcher.

Limonene

Limonene is a hydrocarbon that has a fragrance similar to citrus fruits. Limonene is good for creating creams that clear skin, improving metabolism, and treating bronchitis. The organic compound has also been observed to be good at preventing cancer.

High levels of Limonene are found in the cannabis strains of Lemon Skunk and Big Bang.

Linalool

It has a floral scent with a touch of spice. It is usually obtained from a variety of flowers, mint, coriander, cinnamon, and fungi. Linalool is used as a scent in perfumed hygienic products and cleaning agents like soaps, detergents, shampoos, and lotions.

A typical sample of Amnesia Haze was observed to have around 1% linalool.

Alpha Bisabolol

It is a type of natural monocyclic, colourless oil. Bisabolol has a floral, sweet scent, similar to chamomile tea. Alpha Bisabolol is good for healing wounds, fighting bacteria and reducing a variety of inflammations. The Oracle strain is very rich in this chemical compound.

Delta 3 Carene

This is a bicyclic, colourless monoterpene which has an earthy sweet and pungent smell. A study showed that it has an anti-inflammatory effect and also effective at drying up fluids like tears, running nose and menstrual flows.

Research into more than eighty strains of cannabis plants showed that a majority of them had varying levels of Delta 3 Carene.

Sabinene

This is a natural monoterpene found in many plants and usually obtained from the oak tree. This chemical gives black pepper its distinct spicy taste and also found in carrot seed oil. It has a spicy smell and used as an anti-bacterial and anti-fungal agent in foods. It has an anti-inflammatory effect and inhibits pro-inflammatory cytokines in the body.

The Super Silver Haze and Arjan’s Ultra Haze #1 strains of marijuana contain a high level of Sabinene.

Eucalyptol

It is a natural, organic monoterpene that has a spicy, minty smell and a cooling taste. It is used in fragrances, cosmetics and food flavors such as baked goods, confectioneries and beverages.

Eucalyptol is used in a variety of mouthwashes, cough suppressants and body powders. It is also used in insecticides to give them a pleasant smell. A number of cannabis strains have shown the presence of eucalyptol although the levels are very low, less than 1%.

Caryophyllene

This produces a smell similar to hops and hoppy seeds. It is used in medicines like caryophyllene which helps reduce anxiety and depression.

The train wreck strain of cannabis contains up to .33% caryophyllene, the highest composition in any variety found to date.

Camphene

Camphene has an herbal aroma and used in a number of medicines that help fight inflammation in the body. It is naturally higher in indica-based strains.

How to use terpenes when cooking with cannabis

Riley Starr is the co-creator of Calla and founder of flir, a cannabis company with a focus on artisanal edibles. When looking for a nice, aromatic full-spectrum extract, Starr likes to use something limonene-dominant, bright, and citrusy.

“Infuse it into a fresh, grassy olive or sunflower oil, and use it as a base for a vinaigrette on fresh greens or even grilled veggies like asparagus or steamed artichoke,” he says.

The reason being that a limonene-rich extract will play well with almost any acid in the vinaigrette, but especially Meyer lemon juice and zest, or a sherry vinegar that's on the brighter side. Pomegranate molasses is also a great addition for sweetness, he adds. 

Whether you are seeking the therapeutic benefits from smoking cannabis or want to experiment with creating your own edibles, the answer is...terpenes! Know them, love them, use them.