Flavors in Cannabis
Flavors in Cannabis
When it comes to cannabis and flavor, the cannabis industry, historically, has been split between two camps: cover and embrace. However, as cannabis continues to gain legal and medical legitimacy, the push to completely cover the distinct and complex flavors in cannabis has begun to lessen with a shift towards, if not highlighting, at least including the natural flavors of the plant.
But cannabis, like many other plants, doesn’t just exist in one single uniform presentation. The growing number of strains, hybrids, and consumable formats has made the both the tasks of determining the flavors present in a strain and creating flavors for products that contain that strain far more complex than they had been in the early days of legalization.
Terpenes make up the majority of cannnabis’ organoleptic profile. The complex combinations of specific terpenes gives us the wide range of unique aroma and flavor profiles across different strains of cannabis.
Because these organic compounds are found in nearly all plants, their presence in a strain of cannabis often creates a similar flavor and aroma. For example, one of the most common and distinct cannabis terpenes is limonene, which is also heavily present in citrus fruits, especially lemon.
While terpene profiles certainly play a major role in the scent and flavor of a strain of cannabis, they are not the only contributor. Flavonoids, esters, ketones, lactones, phenols, and aldehydes all contribute to the complete flavor profile of a strain. For more check out our article on Understanding Cannabis Terpenes.
Common Flavors in Cannabis
Legal cannabis operations in the United States and Canada have opened the door to an ever expanding offering of strains with distinct and deliberate flavor profiles. Cross breeding for hybrid strains with the increased level of access and collaboration available thanks to legalization continues to produce new more flavorful options for cannabis users.
While the flavor options for cannabis strains continues to grow, generally, most flavors fit into three broad flavor categories: Earthy and herbaceous, fruity and floral, and woody and nutty.
Earthy and Herbaceous
When it comes to cannabis aromas and flavors, earthy and herbaceous notes may seem like the most logical fit, after all, the cannabis plant is a relative of hops. However, this category of flavor is one of the most difficult to get right as bitter, vegetative, and sharp notes are all highly undesirable in cannabis profiles as they are associated with issues in the growing and curing of the buds.
Bitterness points to the overuse of pesticides and subpar nutrient-flushing techniques. Vegetal and grassy qualities indicate too short of a cultivation process. And overly sharp flavors like overpowering pepperiness or an excess of orange also point to issues in the cultivation.
Despite these associations, there are still strains that incorporate these aspects, just usually not as the dominant note. In fact, earthy profiles, sometimes referred to as terroir, can be very desirable when paired with the right dominant flavor.
Many strains in the Kush family present with a pleasant earthiness that brings warmth and balance to the profile. Additionally, peppery strains are often preferred by those looking to supplement or replace their tobacco use with cannabis.
Another flavor type that leans into this category is umami. Savory, meaty, garlicky notes might not seem like an obvious fit for cannabis, but it works. Umami flavors can be found in GMO strains as well as descendant hybrids like the burger strains.
Fruity and Floral
Fruity and floral notes make up more of the dominant aspect of a strain’s flavor profile. These flavors run along a very large scale of variation from sweet to sour, creamy to citrusy, subtle to pungent.
Many of the flavors in this category overlap and blend to create more identifiable flavors like strawberry, lemon, lavender, rose, ice cream, and mimosa. Flavors that mimic citrus fruits are especially common and popular as they lend themselves to the complete flavor profile of a strain while also carrying a subconscious association with health and wellness.
Since many of the terpenes in cannabis that correspond to these flavors are also found in the ingredients they evoke, these kinds of strains can help to deepen or balance the flavor of a cannabis product without additional flavor ingredients. This makes them ideal for use in beverages, candies, and other edibles where the natural flavor of the strain can act as a base to work with instead of against in an attempt to mask the taste of the cannabis.
A large variety of strains fit into this broad category. If a strain has a fruit or other food descriptor in its name, it’s likely that the strain will possess at least some measure of that item’s flavor. While that rule cannot be applied as a blanket rule, your super lemon haze should taste at least a little bit like lemons.
Woody and Nutty
Woody and nutty notes are probably the most commonly associated with the aroma and flavor of cannabis. Strains with woody and nutty flavors tend to be warm and can take on a gassy, petrol-like pungentness.
Woody notes run from smokey to green. One of the most common woody notes, pine, could potentially be called herbaceous as well due to its fresh green qualities, but for our purposes, we’ll call it a wood.
Nutty flavors have a pronounced flavor and aroma that is toasty and supple with a distinct creaminess that rounds out the flavor and brings warmth to the base notes. These flavors often take on gassy qualities and are less compatible with fruity and sweet notes.
A large number of haze strains fit into this category as well as many others with high levels of alpha- and beta-pinene. These woody, piney strains work well in cosmetic and other topical products.
Strains with more dominant nutty flavors work well in chocolate confections and baked goods where both their complex flavor and overall creaminess will enhance the luxurious experience of decadent sweets.
Flavoring Cannabis Products
When crafting flavors for products that contain cannabis in one form or another it is important to take into consideration the flavor profile of the strain itself as well as any connotations those strains or flavors may evoke.
This isn’t just to avoid strains that may present with a more difficult flavor profile, but can also translate to selecting a strain that will already impart some of the flavors that you are going to be working with.
For cannabis products, citrus flavors represent one of the most common flavor pairings, especially in cannabis beverages. This is due to the large overlap of cannabinoids and terpenes between cannabis and citrus fruits. Also, flavoring from citrus is often extracted in the form of essential oils which mix more easily with cannabis oils as they are both hydrophobic.
Another benefit of using citrus flavors for products that include CBD or THC is that they align with the consumer desire for natural health and wellness products. Citrus has a strong, scientifically supported association with immunity, plus it’s just tasty.
Other functional benefits that consumers look for in products that are in or border the cannabis space are cognitive support, focus, relaxation, stress relief, and better sleep. Flavor ingredients that offer these functional benefits could help boost the desirability of health-centered products that contain cannabis.
If the health and wellness angle isn’t what you’re going for, then good old fashioned sweetness might be more your thing. Use nutty, sweet, fruity, and even earthy strains in candy and confectionery flavors and products. A good balance between these two seemingly opposing techniques would be sweeter, dessert related fruit flavors like strawberry shortcake, peaches and cream, of any variation of fruit pie.
Whatever flavor profile you end up choosing, make sure that the strain of cannabis your using will work with the profile.