Cannabis 101: Understanding your "herbal palate"
The human body is an amazing thing. We have the incredible ability to perceive a multitude of senses that extends far beyond the BIG 5: sight, smell, taste, hearing, and touch. One of our greatest gifts, is our ability to intermingle these senses to help us make important life decisions such as what to eat, what to smoke, what to drink, what to wear and how to interpret the world around us.
In the cannabis world, learning to discover your herbal palate will help you make healthier decisions about what strain is right for you at any given moment. Similar to grape varieties in wine, cannabis strains are uniquely different - each having their own look, smell, taste, side effect and touch. Learning to use sensory evaluation with cannabis will help you not only learn the difference between these characteristics but will also help you identify top quality product without hesitation.
So how do you discover your herbal palate? It all begins with AROMAS.
It is often said that the nose can beat the eye in any tasting scenario. Think about your last experience at a restaurant. Did the mouthwatering smells from the kitchen spike your appetite before you even saw the meal? Our bet is yes! We’ve all experienced this sensation. Aromas can indeed travel far beyond the line of sight.
Smells and aromas are also known to overpower taste. According to Jim Mar of WinePros.org, smell is approximately 1,000 times more sensitive than taste. As a result, “flavor” is created by roughly 75% smell (olfaction) and 25% taste (gustation).
To understand this phenomenon better, let’s look inside aromas a little further with a pro. In 1915, Hans Henning, a famous German psychologist, published a book titled Der Geruch which featured the well-known “Odor Prism” that identifies six primary odors: fragrant, putrid, spicy, burned, resinous and ethereal. From these six odors, there is an immense range of aromas that are formed by mixing the primaries. It is here that we find the wonderful aromas of cannabis which come from terpenes - a molecular compound that is produced in a Trichome. Terpenes help us distinguish varieties and work with cannabinoids to produce a variety of physical and psychological effects.
(Henning Odor Prism: Image sourced from researchgate.net)
So how can you identify these “flavors” in cannabis on your own? Our friends at the Trichome Institute have developed some tips on how to best evaluate cannabis using their Interpening method which focuses on using scent perception and identifying the terpene. Below are some recommended practices:
Tip #1: use your nose to smell the product. If the cannabis has any strange or offensive odors such as mold or salt, do not not use it. Also be aware of buds with no scent at all. This is usually a sign of poor quality cannabis. Desirable aromas in cannabis include, floral notes, pine, citrus, spice, earthy characteristics and perfume. Remember - the nose knows best!
Tip #2: Similar to evaluating a wine, make sure to take a long slow inhalation of the bud to identify primary, secondary and tertiary aromas. Next, inhale deep and fast and hold it in to note any aromas changes. Finally, take three sniffs and notice how your nose feels. Indica aromas are perceived immediately towards the nostrils and sativa aromas are perceived towards the upper sinuses. Hybrids are in the middle of the nose but can differ depending on the strain variety.
To better identify the specific aromas of terpenes, The Herb Somm has developed a “Terpene Aroma & Pairing Guide” highlighting the most common terpene aromas, popular known strains containing the terpene and of course our favorite topic: FOOD PAIRINGS & RECIPES. Click here to see the full guide.
Please keep in mind that not every nose is created equal, so some may disagree with these specific odors. Similar to wine tasting, aromas and flavors are always subjective, so don’t worry if your palate is different.
Remember practice makes perfect. The more you practice identifying aromas and analyzing terpenes, the better you will get at selecting strains that are right for you. You will also be able to discover your herbal palate and determine the optimal dankness of your favorite varieties. Visit your local dispensary to get access to a wide spectrum of cannabis strains. Be sure to speak with your bud tender and let them know you'd like to see the current flower inventory. Smell the buds one by one using your Interpening skills. Be sure to take notes and have fun!
Peace, Love & Cannabis,
The Herb Somm