Chef Brandon Allen is set up for his cooking livestream on Twitch. His Mission Valley kitchen has production quality lighting, cameras, monitors, and his ingredients. He’ll be making a winter-centric meal of steak, butternut squash puree, beets, sauteed veggies, apple fennel slaw, and homemade ice cream with a unique ingredient: isolated cannabis terpene extracts.
Terpenes are chemicals that give all plants their scents and tastes — some compare these extracts to essential oils. With a rising awareness and popularity in cannabis terpenes comes misinformation about their benefits and usage, say some industry experts.
Allen, through his livestreams and other cooking outlets, hopes to help educate others that cooking with terpenes is just incorporating another ingredient to his dishes, just as one might do with salt or sugar.
“You can compose experiences with a couple of drops of an essential oil that you couldn’t achieve necessarily if you were to use whole-food ingredients themselves,” Allen said. “If you were to add orange jus, you’re now adding sugars and other things that are going to change the flavor.”
Some of the most common cannabis terpenes are pinene, myrcene, limonene, caryophyllene, and linalool. Each has a different aroma — pinene smells like pine, limonene smells like citrus and linalool is floral.
Before Allen adds a linalool terpene extract during his live demonstration, the butternut squash puree he created with lemon jus and goat cheese tastes earthy, citrus and salty. With one drop of linalool, the puree’s taste transforms to mimic the floral notes of the extract.
Along with how they’re used, Allen said there’s misinformation about terpenes’ effects, too. For example, linalool won’t always have a relaxing effect just because it’s found in lavender — that depends on other chemicals it’s mixed with.
“The terpene by itself research will show one thing, a terpene (mixed) in an essential oil or a cocktail, or terpenes that come from an essential oil of a plant, will do another,” Allen said. “When you look at an isolated terpene or an entourage or multiple terpenes combined with THC or other cannabinoids, now you have completely different effects.”
Matthew Gates, a San Diego-based integrated pest management (IPM) specialist who has done work for cannabis cultivators as well as agricultural clients, said that cannabis terpenes are basically similar to other plants’ terpenes.
“To my knowledge, there aren’t any super unique terpenes to cannabis,” Gates said. “You could probably find the vast majority of, or all, the terpenes that are found in cannabis in other plants and also various substances that might be non-botanical.”
Gates said it’s possible for consumers to find products based on terpenes they like. For example, if you like citrus scents, you might like a cannabis strain with a limonene profile.
Los Angeles-based Kristen Yoder, a strategic advisor, often teaches workshops on cannabis terpenes and said that cannabis terpenes are coming to light because consumers are becoming more aware of selecting strains.
Unlike what many consumers are taught to believe, “indica,” “hybrid” and “sativa” are merely descriptions like “skinny” or “fat,” Yoder said. What really causes particular effects (e.g. feeling sleeping, feeling energized) are the reactions with cannabinoids and terpenes, she said.
“If that’s a strain you liked that’s the terpene that you’re drawn to,” says Yoder. “It’s not necessarily the THC or CBD.”
No matter how an isolated cannabis terpene is used — in food, in cannabis products, to scent your home — it is recommended not to use too much as they are in concentrate. In fact, they’re so strong that chef Allen only uses a drop or two to flavor a dish. Yoder said she’s heard of users dabbing (inhaling concentrated cannabis) with terpenes — a practice she says is dangerous.
“Just because they’re found in cannabis does not make them innately safe to use in concentrate,” Yoder said. “Even with essential oils they always tell you: ‘always dilute this.’ ”