What is it that makes certain strains smell or taste a certain way? We know that terpenes play a major role in the scents attributed to certain varieties. However, as research continues we are learning there are a variety of other compounds present that affect the way cannabis smells or tastes.
For example, Strawberry Banana is a strain that has won several awards and is renowned for its flavor, but usually tests for relatively low terpenes overall. Additionally, many “lemon” strains do not normally contain high amounts of limonene. Therefore, there has to be something else at play that affects the scent or flavor. Recent studies are showing the importance of several other compounds that may all contribute to the scent like Esters, Flavonoids, and Ketones. Let’s take a look at what we know about them.
When an alcohol bonds with a carboxylic acid, esters are formed. They can be found everywhere from nature and food to fragrances and essential oils. In cannabis, esters do not bind to receptors in our endocannabinoid system and are considered inactive. However, they have been shown to increase the functionality of cannabinoid receptors. Some common examples are methyl cinnamate (strawberry) and beauty butanoate (pineapple). One of the coolest ones is benzyl salicylate, an ester that people perceive to have different aromas. Additionally, esters have been shown to add to or even change the profile of terpenes.
Flavonoids are plant derived phytochemicals usually responsible for the non-green pigmentation of flowers, fruits, and vegetables. One of the most well-known flavonoids is anthocyanin, which provides purple, red, or blue pigments. In cannabis plants they are the reason some have a darker, purple hue, but it is also found in many berries, grapes and flowers. Cannabis has about 20 flavonoids that we know currently, with a few unique to cannabis such as cannaflavins a, b & c. Flavonoids and other phenolic compounds have the potential to interact synergistically with other compounds in the plant like cannabinoids.
These aromatic organic compounds are formed from the dehydration of alcohols. They can have sweet odors, such as vanillin (scent of vanilla extract) or cinnamaldehyde (cinnamon), so they are often added to many fragrances and found in a variety of foods. However, certain aldehydes can also be responsible for those more pungent scents as well. Additionally, studies suggest they have the potential to influence terpenes by chemically changing their makeup, similarly to how esters change or mask scents of terpenes.
There are many additional compounds that may interact synergistically to create the scents and flavors we see such as ketones, ethers, lactones, etc. While these compounds definitely contribute to scent, they may also contribute to the entourage effect, along with terpenes and cannabinoids. Like many other things in the cannabis world, we are only just beginning to understand the makeup of the plant and all of its benefits. Much more research needs to be conducted to realize the full potential of cannabis and all of its compounds.