Discovering Your Herbal Palate
Tap into your senses to create the perfect cannabis, food, and wine pairings
**As a disclosure, this post may contain affiliate links.
One of our greatest gifts is our ability to use our five senses to interpret the world around us. Sight, smell, sound, taste, and touch all work harmoniously together to shape what we perceive. These important senses allow us to gain knowledge, to protect ourselves, and to enjoy the things we love. While we unconsciously use our senses on a day-to-day basis, many of us spend little time focusing on how to best use our natural given powers. Just like training your memory when studying for a test, you can apply these same techniques to improving your five senses, particularly smell and taste. After working in the wine industry for over ten years, sensory evaluation is a fantastic tool you can use to help fine-tune your senses. Sommeliers are trained to use sight, smell, and taste to identify different characteristics in wines to make the best recommendations for any occasion. You can also apply this knowledge to cannabis. Much like wine, cannabis is a plant this is packed with aromas, flavors, and different therapeutic properties. Each strain has unique characteristics due to farming practices and the terroir in which it was grown creating different and expressive cannabinoid and terpene profiles. Terpenes are the chemical compounds that give cannabis all of the aromas and flavors we can perceive. They are produced in the same gland as common cannabinoids THC (Tetrahydrocannabinol) and CBD (Cannabidiol) and offer many health benefits including anti-inflammatory, anti-stress, and anti-anxiety properties. Terpenes also interact synergistically with cannabinoids to create what researchers call the “ensemble effect” or the “entourage effect.” Due to these interactions, certain strains will make you feel uplifted, sleepy, energized, etc. Over 100 terpenes have been identified so far, each with its unique aroma and flavor profile. By tapping into your senses, you can learn to recognize the differences between each one and apply this knowledge to every life day experiences, including pairing cannabis with food and even wine. This is what we call “discovering your herbal palate.” To do this correctly, you must first improve your sense of smell for cannabis by using sensory evaluation. One of the best ways to do this is to go to your local grocery store and pick out some fruits, herbs, vegetables, and spices to smell. While terpenes are naturally found in cannabis, they are also found in many other fruits, vegetables, and herbs including lemon, mango, mushrooms, pine nuts, dill, rosemary, tangerines, cinnamon, black pepper, etc. After purchasing these items, cut or muddle them separately, then place into small jars or wine glasses and smell the aromas. Remember, your sense of 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). Aromas also bind to your memory, so be sure to make a mental imprint of the scents you are perceiving. These are terpenes! To help identify specific aromas, here is a quick look at six common terpenes along with their aroma descriptors. alpha-Pinene: pine trees, pine needle, pine nut, dill, rosemary
beta-Caryophyllene: clove, baking spices, black pepper, cinnamon
Limonene: lemon, lime, grapefruit, blood orange, tangerine
Linalool: citrus blossom, violet, lavender, rose, geranium
Myrcene: earth, mixed herbs, mushrooms, forest floor, skunk, mango
Nerolidol: jasmine, tea tree, ginger flower
After doing this sensory aroma training, apply what you’ve learned to cannabis. While flower can be expensive, the best way to smell many different strains at once is to visit a dispensary. Similar to your approach using jars or wine glasses to detect the different terpenes in fruits, spices, and herbs, keep the cannabis in its jar and be sure to smell the different strains one by one. Do you recognize familiar scents? If so, you’ve successfully used your sense of smell to identify different terpenes. As we say in the cannabis industry, “your nose knows best,” so trust your nose and your ability to smell. By pairing different aroma profiles to cannabis, you can also apply this same knowledge to pairing cannabis with food or wine. When pairing with different foods or meals, you first want to identify the most prominent character in the ingredients and match that characteristic to the strain’s terpene profile. For instance, if you are making a salad topped with lemon dressing, look for a strain that is high in the terpene Limonene such as Tangie. Because of Limonene, Tangie has notes of lemon, tangerine, lime, and other citrus fruits, making it a perfect combination with your salad. While the aromas are an obvious match, you can also match the flavor of the terpenes by enjoying your salad and using a dry flower vape or glass water pipe to taste the terpenes. In addition to pairing food and cannabis, you can also combine the two to make an infused butter or oil. Keep in mind Terpenes are extremely sensitive to heat. It can be challenging to preserve full terpene profiles and aromas when cooking, but by using new technology, producing a consistent and expressive oil or butter has never been easier. For instance, LEVO’s state-of-the-art infusion device streamlines the cooking process by providing precise times and temperature controls for infusing butter or oil at home. Because their method uses consistent heat, it has the ability to transfer the flavor, scent, color, and nutrients including terpenes from a variety of ingredients into the oil or butter of your choice. To purchase a LEVO, click here. Use the promo code HERBSOMM10 for special savings.
(Photo credit: LEVO)
From an aroma and flavor standpoint, terpenes also give us the ability to pair cannabis with wine. The first step to a successful pairing is to use your knowledge of pairing scents. Similar to pairing with different foods, identify the most prominent aroma in the wine and match it to the most prominent terpene profile found in cannabis. For example, the most prevalent terpene found in cannabis is Myrcene. Myrcene produces notes of earth, mushroom, and forest floor. Due to the terpene’s “earthy” characteristics, it’s a fantastic pairing with Pinot Noir. Much like Myrcene, Pinot Noir is known for its rich earth and mushroom notes, which develop from the terroir and region from which it was grown from. Combining a strain high in Myrcene with a Pinot Noir is an excellent combination, and the two will complement each other not only with similar aromas but also with flavors. The second step to a successful cannabis and wine pairing is to consider balance meaning you want the weight of the wine to match the weight of the cannabis strain. Weight in wine comes from the body and richness. Weight in cannabis comes from the strain’s side effect and potency. For example, you’d want to pair a light, refreshing white wine with an uplifting, energizing strain such as Lemon Haze or a bold red wine with a relaxing, sedating strain such as Kosher Kush.
As research continues, so will our understanding of the magical world of terpenes. The broad spectrum of aromas and flavors in cannabis is fascinating, and will only continue to grow as we meticulously study the plant and its relationship with terroir and different growing practices. There are so many incredible cannabis strains and flavor pairings waiting to be discovered. We encourage you to continue to use your senses to discover your herbal palate. To learn more about cannabis pairings, please visit The Herb Somm Terpene Aroma & Pairing Guide by clicking here.
**This article also appeared on the LEVO blog published on March 4th, 2018** Peace, Love & Cannabis, The Herb Somm