Terpenes are what give all plants their magic, touted within the cannabis industry as some of the most critical components to determining the plant’s flavor, aroma, and effect.
When extracted from plants, botanical terpenes become a completely legal way to enhance consumable products, including beverages, that produce specific aromas, tastes, and even effects.
If you’re new to terpenes, think of the hops that flavor beer. Both cannabis and hops come from the cannabinaceae family and contain terpenes, which produce the aroma and taste when consumed.
Terpenes are not a new discovery, yet the cannabis industry is inspiring other CPG categories to get turned on to “terps.” These hydrocarbons are being infused into beauty products and health foods, while also being embraced by the wider food and beverage industries to enhance what we consume with terpenes.
Common and Familiar Terpenes
Terpenes are found all around us, even if we don’t realize it.
Limonene, for instance, produces the aroma of most citrus fruit peels, also providing a lemony hint on the palate. When ingested, it is known to have anti-stress effects, acting as an excellent energizer.
Humulene, also found in hops, is being researched for a number of therapeutic effects, yet is most known for its earthy and spicy aroma.
Myrcene is an earthy terpene that is characterized as musky and herbal with notes of tropical fruits, which is why it’s often associated with mangoes. Myrcene is known for bringing on relaxation.
Alpha-Pinene is another powerful terpene, which is the smell you get as you walk through a forest of fir trees. This uplifting and spicy terpene is often celebrated for increasing focus and memory.
Follow Your Senses with Terpenes
Since hops (humulus) determine how a beer tastes, not all “hoppy” beers please the palate. The same goes for the terpenes in cannabis; how cannabis tastes and smells can often determine how well it’s enjoyed.
Hops, like some strains of cannabis, contains humulene, myrcene, and beta-pinene, similar to the alpha-pinene found in cannabis.
While certain terpenes are known to produce effects in cannabis through a phenomenon called The Entourage Effect, terpenes on their own do not produce intoxication. In cannabis, it’s the cannabinoid THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) that produces the psychoactive or intoxicated feeling while also acting in harmony with the terpenes. In beer, it’s the alcohol that leads to intoxication.
In beverages, through their aroma and taste, terpenes engage the senses with the senses helping to guide the perceived effect. Just like when you get a hint of energizing citrus or take that walk through the piney forest.
Terpenes are GRAS Approved
Terpenes, although existing in cannabis, are not illegal on their own. In cannabis, it’s the psychoactive cannabinoids such as THC that are regulated, and in many places, still illegal.
Botanical terpenes, since they are plant-derived (and sometimes synthetic) and non-psychoactive, have been Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS), in accordance with The Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. Thus, terpenes can be utilized legally to enhance beverages – both alcoholic and non-alcoholic – to produce certain aromas and tastes that stimulate the senses.