Until recently THC and CBD were the buzz words when it came to talking about weed. THC of course is the compound within cannabis that gives you that ‘high’. CBD the cousin of THC is the compound which claims (although still un-regulated) to have a wide range of health benefits and medicinal uses without any of the THC high, such as helping people control and reduce the symptoms of conditions like epilepsy and neuralgia. I’m sure by now you are familiar with all the CBD oils, capsules etc. that are on the market. So what are Terpenes then?
Well, Terpenes are organic compounds found in many plants and also some insects. They are fragrant oils secreted in the flower’s sticky resin glands. Like THC and CBD, terpenes attach to receptors in the brain and have various effects on the mind and body. Unlike THC and CBD however, Terpenes are not exclusive to Cannabis and are present in lots of plants and fruits such as peppermint, coriander, lavender, mango and pine. They are what give these and lots of other plants their signature smell and are what essential oils are derived from.
The biological purpose of terpenes is thought to be that they act as a deterrent to herbivore pests which otherwise would attack the plant, whilst at the same time attracting the predators of these pests, so cleverly using a 2 pronged campaign to keep insects at bay. Cannabis terpenes are most noticeable in smell and flavor and explain why different strains can have such different smells, especially the new hybrid strains that we are seeing coming through. In the same way as essential oils, Terpenes have different properties that are thought to be therapeutic for a variety of physical and mental health conditions.
You obviously ingest them just like the other compounds when smoking, vaping or cooking with weed! Cooking with Cannabis has become increasingly popular in recent years as many people choose eating weed in their food as opposed to smoking it for a multitude of reasons both personal and health based. With the relaxing of laws and legalization slowly creeping in around the world, there has been a surge in interest in “cannabis cuisine” and it is an area of the market that is growing in popularity at an incredible rate with cooking accessories, recipe books, lifestyle blogs, pop-up restaurants and pre-packaged mass produced edibles companies now starting up in many parts of the world. Basically if you can think of a dish, there is probably a cannabis infused recipe for it out there. The days of home made brownies and cookies being the start and end of edibles is long gone. People want tasty, quality and inventive food!
With this in mind I thought I would look at terpenes in more detail in an attempt to inspire any of you potential cannabis cuisine chefs out there! I will be taking the most common cannabis terpenes, examining their properties and giving you an overview of what food and flavors match with it based on its individual aroma and taste profile. Kind of like what Chefs do with other standard ingredients which come in a variety of flavor profiles such as cheese, mushrooms, apples or chillies to name but a few. Cooking with Cannabis is really easy these days and there is something for everyone regardless of your personal preferences or dietary requirements.
A few basic rules to stick to when cooking with cannabis are, try and stick to recipes that use oils like olive ,coconut or butter itself as cannabinoids thrive in oils and fats as they allow the compounds such as THC and terpenes to be active. You can even buy machines now, like soup makers that will make your butter infusions for you within a matter of hours! Start off easy with recipes that can be either sweet or savoury for versatility such as sauce for salads or steak, a pesto if you are vegetarian perhaps or dessert sauce such as chocolate or caramel. Simple bake recipes like pancakes and waffles are a good place to hone your skills also. It is important also to consider the boiling point of each individual terpene when cooking with cannabis as heating beyond this point means you will lose the benefits as the heat burns it off.
If you are just starting out with cooking then it is probably best to use cannabis strains with higher terpene levels (anything between 2%-4%) to begin with as they will have much more noticeable and recognizable scents that you can pin-point and assign to food types with ease such as ‘sweet’ ‘spicy’ or ‘citrus’. The name of the strain will obviously tell you a lot about the terpenes and flavours also i.e ‘lemon haze” “blueberry” “pineapple express”
When purchasing cannabis try and use “trim or shake” as it will save you prep time when cooking as it is already broken up and ready to put in an infusion. Remember to trust your instinct, you will know to a certain degree what foods a particular terpene is best suited to based on it’s overall scent (you wouldn’t put a spicy smelling ingredient in a sweet dessert!) so just approach it as you would any regular ingredient. Use your nose and your common sense to point you in the correct general direction. Here is a summary of each however in order to educate and inspire you to culinary greatness!
Pinene can be found in Sativa, Indica and hybrid strains including Jack Herer, Dutch Treat and Romulan and has a boiling point of 155C (311F). Pinene helps with Inflammation and breathing conditions such as Asthma and bronchitis. Mental health benefits include improving memory retention, alertness and helping with depression. It’s aroma is of sharp, sweet pine and it is also found in Conifers, Orange peel, Basil, Pine, Sage Rosemary and Dill. Recipe ideas therefore could include pesto, Italian dishes such as lasagne, flatbreads or herb rubs or marinade for meat or vegetables.
Linalool is most prominent in Indica and some Hybrid strains, including Skywalker OG, Amnesia Haze and Lavender and has a boiling point of 198C (388F). Is thought to help combat Insomnia, Stress, Depression, Anxiety, Pain and convulsions, its effects are thought to be sedating and calming. It has a Floral, Citrus, Spicy aroma and is also found in Lavender, Citrus fruits, Coriander, Birch and Rosewood. For cooking therefore you could try using it in savoury lemon sauce for fish, lemon pepper chicken or if you like a bit of spice in your food try Linalool in a tomato sauce based curry. If you love zingy desserts with a kick then try a lemon tart, a mousse or any other fruity dessert pie/pastry. You could also try a smoothie with apricots, papaya or cranberries (all of which naturally contain levels of Linalool)
Carophyllene is found mainly in Indica and hybrid strains such as OG Kush, Northern lights and Girl Scout Cookies and has a boiling point of (320F). It is thought to work as an antioxidant as well as helping with Inflammation, Muscle spasms, pain and insomnia. It has no known physical effects. It has a pepper, wood, spice aroma and is also found in Pepper, Cloves, Hops, Basil and Oregano. In food terms it is best served in savoury dishes due to its peppery spicy aroma so think of giving ordinary dishes like pumpkin pie a bit of a kick or serve in chipotle sauce, burritos, chilli or in salsa perhaps.
Myrcene is found in sativa, Indica and hybrid strains including Green Crack, Blue Dream and Grandaddy purple and has a boiling point of 168C (334F). It is thought to work as an antiseptic, an anti-bacterial and an anti fungal as well as combatting inflammation. It’s effects are sedating and muscle relaxing. Its aroma is earthy and has notes of Mushroom, Clove, Herbal and Citrus. It is also found in Mango, Thyme, Citrus, Lemongrass and bay leaf. Good food pairings for Myrcene include lots of vegetarian dishes like mushroom risotto, omelettes, vegetable quiche, curries and even soups.
Limonene is present in sativa and hybrid strains including Train wreck and Super Lemon Haze and has a boiling point of 176C (349F). It is used for gastric reflux, as an anti fungal and helps with depression and anxiety. The effects are elevated mood and stress relief. The aroma is heavily citrus, that of Lemon and Orange. It is found in citrus rind and also Juniper and Peppermint. With such a strong citrus profile it is hard to pair this terpene with anything but predominantly citrus based recipes such as lemon drizzle cake, honey and lemon tea and lemon sorbet. You can incorporate it into savoury dishes however if you are clever such as a sauce for oysters or scallops.
Humulene is found in Hybrid and Sativa strains including Sour Diesel and White Widow and has a boiling point of 198C (388F). Humulene assists with pain relief and works as an anti-inflammatory and an anti-bacterial. Its physical effect is that it suppresses appetite. It has a woody, earthy aroma and is also found in Hops and Coriander. It has a taste similar to the woody organic hops of a cask ale beer and helps toward the spice in coriander and has a spicy flavour when boiled for long periods so with this in mind it would be good for use in rich gravys or sauce for meat. In slow cooked meals such as Casseroles and in meat pies or any recipe that also uses beer as a recipe. Humulene is what gives sage, ginger and ginseng their zingy bite so used alongside any of these ingredients it should work well.
You would be right in linking some of the effects of terpenes as being the same as THC and CBD such as stress relief or relaxation but you have nothing to lose really as the terpene could only heighten these effects. Research into medical marijuana is starting to breakdown terpene profiles of different strains and manipulating them, allowing them to increase terpenes or cross breed strains to make hybrid terpenes. Imagine a future where Cannabis strains could be engineered so that all their active ingredients, THC, CBD and terpenes are combined towards assisting, managing or curing one physical or mental health need!
By considering terpenes when you buy your Cannabis you are giving yourself another factor with which to make an informed choice other than just THC content. There are over 120 identified terpene compounds in Cannabis and the 6 categories above are the most common. This is just a guide that scratches the surface of terpenes and is in no way an exhaustive list of what does what. There is a wealth of information out there on terpenes, their overall benefits and the pairing of them with food. It is an interesting topic to look at in more detail especially if you are a bit of a connoisseur of cannabis and want to try new ways of ingesting or you are looking to identify the perfect terpene and strain to meet all your needs recreationally and medicinally.
It gives those ‘foodies’ out there something to work with also, widening the scope of what it is possible to whip up in the kitchen whether you want simple sweet treats, are cooking for fussy eaters or are looking for something with a real wow factor. Pairings like anything are all about personal preference and so there is so much room to experiment. You may choose contrasting or complimenting flavors, with the bottom line being that if you like it then it works! There are few greater pleasures in life than good food and drink…. and weed, so any excuse to combine them can only result in a happy outcome and lets face it, given that most strains of weed have a tendency to induce the ‘munchies’ the chances are that whatever you make will go down a treat anyway and you will be left wanting seconds. So no excuse, get researching and get in that kitchen!
By Richard Hamilton