Getting to know the aromatic molecules behind different strains’ tastes and smells
If you’re a cannabis consumer, the dawn of the regulated industry in Canada likely started you on a new learning curve.
Although you were probably well-versed with reading labels on food or beverage packages, now you needed to learn how to read the mandatory labels found on the packages of regulated cannabis.
The THC or CBD percentages on every label were helpful and fairly straightforward; the Health Canada warnings were impossible to miss.
The distinctions between “Sativa,” “Indica,” or “Hybrid” strains (and their individual strain names, e.g. “Blue Dream”) were easy to pick up and understand.
But one optional bit of information also included on some cannabis package labels might have been unfamiliar, even if you were a seasoned cannabis consumer:
According to the Ontario Cannabis Store, “Terpenes are the fragrant oils found in many types of plants and produce a unique taste and smell.”
To most people (even non-consumers), the strong aromas produced by the cannabis flower are one of the plant’s most recognizable or “trademark” characteristics.
Terpenes are found in various quantities and combinations among all varieties of fruits, veggies, trees, flowers, herbs, and plants.
Many of those same oily, organic, aromatic compounds also occur among different strains of cannabis.
Like fine wine aficionados, some conscientious cannabis consumers prefer strains with specific mixtures of scents and flavours.
Thanks to their unique terpene profiles, some cannabis strains are experienced as “spicy,” others as “citrusy,” and some dank strains taste and smell downright “woodsy”.
In addition to imparting aroma and flavour, there are even emerging theories suggesting different terpenes contribute to, or enhance, different effects of cannabis (although these theories have yet to be scientifically proven).
If you’re embarking on your first journey into understanding the world of cannabis terpenes, the best place to start is with the 5 most common “terps”:
Although there are literally hundreds of different terpenes (and practically limitless combinations) found in the seemingly endless varieties of cannabis, these five are the most prevalent.
As an example of how multiple terpenes combine to create a cannabis strain’s unique scent and flavour, here’s an infographic we recently produced based on our lab results for Cold Creek Kush (one of the strains we cultivate here at GreenSeal):
As you can see, all of the five main cannabis terpenes are found in this strain, but Pinene accounts for over half of its aromatic properties.
Keep reading for the low-down on the top five cannabis terps (including some of the non-cannabis plants you can find them in).
Myrcene: Earthy & Woody
Although you may have never heard of Myrcene, it’s highly likely your nose and taste buds have encountered it.
Its distinct scent has been described as “musky,” “earthy,” and reminiscent of “ripe fruit”.
In addition to cannabis, Myrcene is found in hops, mango, thyme, and lemongrass.
If you enjoy eating a soft, ripe mango, or quaffing IPA craft beers that are “hoppy,” you’re likely a fan of Myrcene.
The ultra-popular Sativa-dominant hybrid strain Blue Dream (which has been described as emanating notes of mango) is an example of a cannabis strain that’s chock-full of Myrcene.
Pinene: Herbal & Leafy
As its name suggests, Pinene is… well… decidedly piney in its smell and taste.
Alpha-Pinene (its dominant form) is responsible for the fresh, green, sharp smell conifer/evergreen/fir trees (spruce, pines, etc.) produce in their needles.
Beta-Pinene (its alternate incarnation) is the terpene that produces the pleasant herbal flavours in dill, rosemary, basil and parsley.
Pinene was a super popular terpene back in the ‘90s/2000s, when famous strains like Northern Lights, ChemDawg and Jack Herer were all the rage.
And as the Cold Creek Kush infographic in our intro above demonstrates, CCK is another strain that can thank Pinene for its powerful evergreen flavour.
Limonene: Tangy & Citrusy
Limonene is also an easy terpene to remember since its name is directly derived from the unmistakably tangy, sour, citrusy scent and flavour it imparts to lemons and limes.
In addition to citrus fruits, Limonene is also the terpene responsible for the powerful aroma and taste of juniper berries.
As you probably expected, Limonene is the prevalent terp in strains known for their lemony, citrusy notes including Super Lemon Haze, Sour Diesel, and Lemon Skunk.
Limonene is also recognized for its ability to naturally repel and ward off insect pests.
Linalool: Sweet, Floral & Fruity
Linalool is the terpene responsible for the sweet scents of lavender flowers (and many other fragrant flowers), the fruity/herbal flavour of mint, and the sweet/savoury flavour of aromatic cinnamon.
Linalool’s flowery fragrance has led to its widespread addition to commercial items like cleaning agents, perfumes, and hygiene products.
Cannabis strains high in Linalool include Amensia Haze (a Sativa), LA Confidential (an Indica strain), and Fire OG.
Caryophyllene (or more specifically for cannabis, Beta-Caryophyllene) imparts a sharp aroma and flavour described as peppery, woody, and spicy.
It’s found in some of the most pungent and aromatic spices in the world, including cloves and black pepper.
Cannabis strains featuring high levels of Beta-Caryophyllene include some famous names: GSC, Original Glue, and Death Star.
Your journey into the flavourful world of cannabis terpenes has only just begun!
Now that you’re familiar with the top five terpenes commonly found in cannabis, you have all the information you need to start distinguishing between the different tastes and smells you experience when you open a fresh jar of herb.
But be warned: with over 100 different terpenes found across the cannabis family of strains, you’ve started down a long rabbit hole of myriad tastes and flavours to become familiar with.
You’ll eventually be able to recognize the woody, earthy smells of Humulene in strains like Death Star; the sweet, herbal taste of Ocimene in Durban Poison; and the smokiness of Terpinolene in strains like Ghost Train and Dutch Treat.
Do you have a favourite terpene?
What is your top go-to strain for enjoying your terp of choice?
Let us know in the comments below!