Taste is often subjective. It’s the reason that some people think cilantro tastes like soap and others pile on the herb. Cannabis consumers know that taste plays a major role in strain preferences and, chances are, home growers are looking for ways to improve the taste and aroma of their plants.
Like wine, cannabis has different strains or varietals. Each strain has a slightly different chemical makeup and varying amounts of THC, the “active ingredient” in weed. A plant’s aroma and appearance are determined by its genetic makeup, just like a human’s genes are responsible for characteristics like brown eyes or curly hair.
A recent study by the University of British Columbia identified exactly what gives cannabis its flavor and taste. Scientists identified 30 terpene synthases genes or terpenes that are responsible give cannabis its unique flavor and smell. Terpenes are produced naturally by plants and help both attract pollinators and repel predators. Terpenes are not unique to cannabis, other plants, particularly conifer trees, and even some animals produce terpenes.
The study adds that gaining a more nuanced knowledge of cannabis gene composition can lead to more efficient breeding and, eventually, tastier strains. Certain terpenes identified limonene, myrcene and pinene like are known to impart flavors of pine, mango, and citrus, respectively. The combination of these terpenes is what makes a certain strain “taste like blueberry pie” or “smell like a forest.”
Previously, scientists had transcribed the genome (genetic makeup) of Purple Kush, a popular strain which requires special research licensing to grow. Growers and manufacturers can potentially use these insights to create new hybrids and breed for certain characteristics.
Another key component in the cannabis flavor profile is “terroir.” Most often associated with wine, this “taste of place” indicates that plants take on the characteristics of the environment they’re grown in. According to Leafly, terroir encompasses “the soil type, climate, temperature, sunlight, moisture and microbial life” present. These unique conditions effects the plant’s flavor, smell and appearance.
This proprietary blend of conditions is part of what fuels the “craft cannabis” movement. Growers in Humboldt County started putting “proof of origin” stickers on their products to pay homage to the Emerald Triangle’s rich history of cannabis cultivation and its farm-friendly Mediterranean climate. Of course, the idea of terroir only applies to outdoor farms. A hydroponic growing operation could be located anywhere and produce cannabis with practically the same flavor profile.
In addition to mapping the genes of cannabis plants, researchers are also looking into the medicinal and biological applications of cannabis. Oxford University launched the Oxford Cannabinoid Technologies company, which aims to study the cellular and molecular components cannabinoids. These high-profile research labs should be seen as a victory for the notoriously under-researched cannabis industry. It doesn’t seem too far-fetched to think that more research may lead to more promising discoveries and medical applications – which could mean both tastier and more useful cannabis strains.