Tips For Cooking With Terpenes

Jessica McKeil September 16, 2019 0 comments

Cooking with terpenes is a wonderful way to enhance your edibles, just cook with care.

Cooking with terpenes is a spectacular way to enhance your edible experience. Terpenes provide all the flavors and aromas within a fragrant meal. Studies have also linked terpene content to therapeutic benefits. Terpenes, therefore, are both tasty and beneficial. Cooking with terpenes from the cannabis plant could elevate the dish to an entirely new beneficial level.

Cooking with terpenes is about learning to work with big, bold, flavors. How to use terpenes when they come from cannabis means pairing with other flavorful plant-based ingredients – and dosing wisely.

If you want to boost the terpene profile of your cannabis-infused dishes, follow along. This guide gives you the tools to boost the flavor and the benefits through terpenes and provides some pairing suggestions for the most common terpenes in cannabis.

What Are Terpenes?

In nature, plants produce terpenes to help attract insects that pollinate and repel potential unwelcome predators. Terpenes may indicate a stress response, or on the flip side, a positive response to excellent environmental conditions.

For millennia humans have gravitated to the natural flavors and aromas of essential oils for medicinal, culinary, and spiritual purposes. Over the last hundred years or so, terpenes have gone through extensive research for their potential therapeutic value. It’s part of the reason why the aromatherapy industry has taken off.

Understanding how to use terpenes in the kitchen makes your food taste better, enhances the nutritional value, and boosts therapeutic benefits.

terpene laden cannabis plant

Why Are Terpenes Important to Cooking?

Scent and flavor aside, the interactions between terpenes and other plant compounds may be where the real value lies. Commonly known as the entourage effect, these synergies help modulate the medicinal properties of cannabis and beyond.

It’s best to use terpenes (and cannabinoids) in the kitchen as part of a whole plant extraction or infusion. Different cannabinoid and terpene combinations have unique effects on the body when consumed as a whole plant preparation. Examples of such synergies include that of THC and myrcene. The so-called ‘couch-lock ‘terpene, myrcene, helps ensure THC navigates the blood-brain barrier more efficiently.

Cannabis researcher, Dr. Ethan Russo discussed the effects of adding terpenes in a study named “Taming THC.” He is a firm believer in utilizing the whole plant spectrum as nature intended as opposed to manipulating levels of individual compounds. [1]Russo E. B. (2011). Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects. British journal of pharmacology, 163(7), 1344–1364. … Continue reading

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Russo has spoken out against the act of adding terpenes back in after processing when it comes to adding outside terpenes into cannabis. He fears that unnaturally high levels of certain compounds can negate medicinal effects and become problematic to the patient.

Home cooks will want to follow his lead. Avoid adding in synthetic or isolated terpenes as culinary ingredients. Choose all-natural, whole plant-based ingredients for the most medicinal value.

The Benefits Strain Selection for Cooking With Terpenes

Many strains get their name from the dominant terpene they produce, like Sour Diesel and Super Lemon Haze. It’s this dominant scent and taste which is useful for adding into a recipe to create an incredible synergy of flavors.

Let’s take a look at the five principle terpenes and establish with which dishes they combine best.

man in pine bush smelling terpenes

Pinene

Pinene is what gives pine needles that distinctive smell. Outside of cannabis, you can find pinene in rosemary, basil, parsley, and hops.

  • Strain Suggestions: Blue Dream, Jack Herer, and most strains with a kush lineage.
  • Medicinal Value: Some patients claim it provides benefits to memory and alertness.
  • Pairing Suggestions: It couples well with other robust, hardy herbs like rosemary, thyme, and oregano. This flavor profile is an excellent addition to meat dishes, like a steak or a roast chicken. Baked or roasted potatoes would also work well with a-pinene infused butter.

Linalool

Linalool is a strong-smelling terpene that is most associated with lavender and some more floral spices. It’s a major terpene in mint, lemon balm, and some citrus flavors.

  • Strain Suggestions: LA Confidential, Lavender, Master Kush, and Amnesia Haze.
  • Medicinal Value: Studies suggest linalool has anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. [2]Peana, A. T., D’Aquila, P. S., Panin, F., Serra, G., Pippia, P., & Moretti, M. D. (2002). Anti-inflammatory activity of linalool and linalyl acetate constituents of essential oils. … Continue reading
  • Pairing Suggestions: Lavender pairs very well with desserts, and lemon based dishes. Think about a lemon tart with lavender undertones or lavender-infused cookies.

Limonene

Strains high in limonene exhibit a strong citrusy taste. Both oranges and lemons contain high levels of this terpene.

  • Strain Suggestions: Super Lemon Haze, Strawberry Banana, and Wedding Cake
  • Medicinal Value: Many patients take limonene for its potential to lower anxiety.
  • Pairing Suggestions: Combining strains high in limonene with citrus-based dishes, like a lemon loaf and other dessert dishes, is always a hit. If you are thinking about a more savory approach to limonene, chicken dishes also pair exceptionally well with lemon flavors.
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Myrcene

The presence of myrcene has that earthy scent that pairs wonderfully in dishes that have an interplay between sweet and savory flavors. Myrcene is commonly associated with mangos, thyme, bay leaves, basil, and verbena.

  • Strain Suggestions: Pink Kush, Jack Herer, and Himalayan Gold
  • Medicinal Value: This terpene is considered relaxing and calming, and perhaps mildly sedative.
  • Pairing Suggestions: A myrcene-rich strain would work exceptionally well within a curry or salsa because of the ability to play to both sweet and savory flavors. Consider mango salsa’s flavor profile, which works well as a topping on fish and many Asian-inspired rice dishes.

Caryophyllene

With an earthy and pungent taste, caryophyllene works well in savory dishes. It has a distinctive aroma, often found in spices like cloves, black pepper, and nutmeg.

  • Strain Suggestions: Girl Scout Cookies, Sour Diesel, and Chemdog.
  • Medicinal Value: As far as medicinal properties go, caryophyllene is known for reducing anxiety and depression, while also reducing bacterial growths and inflammation.
  • Pairing Suggestions: This is a more challenging one to work with because it’s often prevalent in strains with a potent gas or diesel profile. You may want to use it in dishes that already have a powerful blend of flavors, like a Sichuan stir fry or a black pepper encrusted piece of meat.

woman cooking with terpenes

5 Tips for Cooking with Terpenes 

As promised, here are a few helpful tips to guide you on your journey, learning how to cook with terpenes. Remember, you are likely already working with terpenes from other sources, like herbs, fruits, and vegetables. Working in the terpenes from cannabis is simply the next logical progression.

Tip #1:

Firstly, consider other common ingredients that contain the same terpene as the strain you want to work with. For example, if you want to cook with Jack Herer, which has pinene, look for dishes that already contain rosemary. Rosemary also contains high levels of pinene, and therefore this strain should pair well with rosemary-infused dishes.

Tip #2:

Secondly, when it comes to cooking with terpenes, we should do so with the intention of preserving the useful compounds. High temperatures are one sure way to destroy terpene content. Therefore, think slow roast rather than searing. The same goes for cooking with cannabis. Cannabinoids easily burn off at high temperatures, so consider doing all the high-heat frying, grilling, and baking before adding ingredients high in terpenes, or your cannabis infusions.

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Tip #3: 

Thirdly, for patients making edibles, you will need to decarboxylate the cannabis first. But, it’s during this process where many people wave goodbye to a significant percentage of the terpene content. One trick is to place your cannabis flower in a glass jar or covering the sheet pan with tinfoil before placing it in the oven. That way, the terpenes stick to the walls and are thus contained. If decarboxylating cannabis, you’ll preserve more terpenes if you do it at or below 200-250°F.

Tip #4: 

Light exposure is another important consideration. Cannabis should be stored away from direct sunlight in a cool dark location where it’s properly sealed. Exposure to sunlight, which contains the UV spectrum, may deteriorate the more volatile compounds, like the terpenes.

Tip #5:

Lastly, keep humidity under control — hovering around sixty percent. Mildew can easily form and thus destroy those all-important terpenes. And for those of us with an eye on the medicinal benefits provided by terpenes, that’s the last thing we want.

cooking with terpenes involves plants

Boost the Flavor and Therapeutic Value of Your Next Dish

If you already spend a lot of time in the kitchen, terpenes are already an integral part of your life — whether you realize it or not. After all, the herbs, spices, and veggies you work into every dish contain a bouquet of essential oils, all with potential benefits.

Cannabis is just another terpene-packed ingredient you should keep in your pantry. Because of its intoxicating properties, use sparingly and with thoughtfulness. But the terpene profile from cannabis can also add subtle flavor to a dish. Consequently, it comes with a host of experiential and medicinal benefits.

Finally, as you set out to work cannabis into your kitchen journey, keep one final thought in mind: cooking with terpenes from cannabis is all about knowing how to pair flavor profiles to take that dish to the next level.

References

1 Russo E. B. (2011). Taming THC: potential cannabis synergy and phytocannabinoid-terpenoid entourage effects. British journal of pharmacology, 163(7), 1344–1364. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1476-5381.2011.01238.x
2 Peana, A. T., D’Aquila, P. S., Panin, F., Serra, G., Pippia, P., & Moretti, M. D. (2002). Anti-inflammatory activity of linalool and linalyl acetate constituents of essential oils. Phytomedicine : international journal of phytotherapy and phytopharmacology, 9(8), 721–726. https://doi.org/10.1078/094471102321621322
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Jessica McKeil

Jessica McKeil is a freelance writer focused on the medical marijuana industry, from production methods to medicinal applications. She is lucky enough to live in beautiful British Columbia, Canada where the cannabis industry is exploding. When not writing, she spends much of her time exploring in the coastal forests.

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