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Terpenes in Food: Guide to Pairing Terpenes With Meals

Steven Cargyle
Finest Labs
July 28, 2021 | Blog

When you think of terpenes, “cannabis” probably comes to mind. While terpenes help cannabis plants thrive due to their ability to repel predators and attract pollinators, terpenes aren’t exclusively found in cannabis.

You can find terpenes in many different fruits, vegetables, and other herbs as well.

The fragrant, aromatic chemicals called hydrocarbons make certain foods and plants taste and smell a certain way. They’re abundant in citrus fruits, spices, and even root vegetables such as carrots.

What are Terpenes?

We should quickly cover what terpenes are before getting into the foods, herbs, and spices that contain them.

Terpenes are natural oils that are normally found in botanicals, and they possess a very distinct aroma.

The aroma serves as an effective defense mechanism in nature to protect itself from herbivores in the wild. Terpenes are also known for their ability to attract carnivorous predators. As a result, they will drive any nearby herbivores away. They also attract insects for pollination purposes.

More than 30,000 terpenes have already been identified in nature.

Differences can be subtle or more extreme. For example, myrcene is commonly found in mango, hops, lemongrass, and bay leaves.

Limonene is found in citrus fruits like lemon, lime, and oranges.

A terpenes make-up correlates to identifiable, common smells and tastes we are all familiar with.

Adding Flavor To Meals With Terpenes

a person is cooking a meals

Terpenes can be found in a wide variety of different fruits and plants. Terpenes can also be used in cooking and baking.

Some terpenes pair well with certain foods.

For example, limonene would be a great terpene to add to tangy and sweet dishes, such as strawberry shortcake, key lime pie, or caesar salad.

Myrcene pairs well with more savory dishes due to its herbal notes. It’s said to be a pleasant addition to quiche, salmon, or a grilled cheese sandwich.

Caryophyllene has a distinct black pepper flavor. This terpene compliments eggs, steak, and chicken.

Pinene could easily take the place of pine nuts in your favorite dishes. Think homemade pesto, roasted cauliflower with pine nuts, or mashed potatoes.

Linalool has an enchanting floral scent; it is also found in lavender. Therefore, it would pair with anything lavender would go well with. Such as any dish containing vanilla, dark chocolate, and crème brûlée.

Some foods bind to cannabinoids, which in turn can make you feel higher in a sense. They include sweet potato, omega-3 rich foods like salmon, nuts, avocados, and herbs containing pinene, mangoes, and broccoli.

Learn more: How to Use Terpenes

Foods High in Terpenes

variety of fruits

There are so many plants that produce terpenes it would be impossible to list them all. But here are some of the most well-known food sources that come packed with health-promoting terpenes of all different kinds:

1. Mangos

For many years, cannabis enthusiasts have claimed that eating mangoes before or while ingesting cannabis can result in a more intense high. It’s thought that the terpene myrcene is responsible for this interaction.

Once you eat a mango, the fruit’s terpenes (mainly myrcene) will enter your bloodstream and interact with the THC in a way where it increases your high. This may be due to myrcene’s ability to affect the blood-brain barrier, making it easier for cannabinoids to reach the brain.

If enhancing your high doesn’t interest you, you can always eat mangos for their other many benefits. This may include anxiolytic, sedative, or anti-inflammatory properties.

2. Apples

Different apples provide different terpene profiles. You can go for something incredibly sweet and juicy like a Fuji or Honeycrisp, or you can choose something more tart and sour, like a Granny Smith.

Royal Gala and other more modern varieties of apples typically have much lower terpene content. The Royal Gala had around 5-15x fewer terpenes compared to heritage varieties like Belle Bonne or King David.

The most common terpene found in apples is alpha-farnesene; other terpenes such as farnesol and beta-farnesene are also found in apples. These types of terpenes prove to be effective insect repellents. Alpha-farnesene may be responsible for some of the fruity, sharp, green apple scents and tastes that a few different strains of cannabis possess.

Limonene and nerolidol are also found in apples; these make up the other notes you commonly taste and smell when consuming an apple. Apple blossoms have a unique floral smell, which linalool is heavily responsible for. Linalool can also be found in Cannabis and will give off more floral aromas and flavors.

3. Citrus Fruits

Citrus fruits have large amounts of terpene Limonene. It is what gives them their signature sharp, sour, citrus scent. Limonene can be found in lemons, limes, oranges, grapefruits, mandarin, and much more.

Besides the bonus Vitamin C has on our health, limonene also boasts a handful of health benefits. It has been thought to help reduce heartburn and acid reflux, it also may aid in dissolving gallstones, reducing skin inflammation, and it also possesses some degree of anxiolytic properties.

4. Herbs & Spices

Many herbs and spices contain terpenes. All of the wonderful scents you associate with holidays, such as spices and rosemary for Christmas and thanksgiving, are only enticing because of their unique terpenes.

Beta-caryophyllene is found in a variety of different spices and herbs. It’s an effective anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, and mood enhancer. You can find this particular terpene in basil, rosemary, cinnamon, oregano, cloves, lavender, and black pepper. Surprisingly, this terpene can also be found in broccoli.

Beta-caryophyllene is also a common cannabis terpene that can give off a warm, spicy, black-pepper flavor and smell to your buds.

5. Beer

Beer is swimming in terpenes. All of those unique, bold scents and flavors in beer are due to the hops and the special, or should we say, “delightfully refreshing” terpenes.

The most common terpenes found in hops’ essential oil are myrcene, alpha-caryophyllene, and caryophyllene. Some IPA’s are even brewed in a way that optimizes terpene content (dry-hopping).

Exploring Terpenes From Food

different type of spices

There is solid evidence suggesting that terpenes have direct physiological effects on the body.

Terpenes are one of the most significant compounds used in essential oils and aromatherapy. They are commonly derived from plants, including herbs, teas, and of course, cannabis. These terpenes create unique combinations that give things their fragrance, flavor, and appearance.

Terpenes are valued for their benefits. They are found in spices, teas, food, and essential oils that many of us ingest or use daily! It can also be found in some herbs that are known to possess valuable anti-inflammatory benefits, such as curcumin and thyme.

1. Pinene

Commonly found in pine nuts, dill, basil, and parsley.

Woodsy, pine-like aroma. Used as an anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and bronchial dilator. Cannabis strains with higher levels of Pinene include OG Kush, Blue Dream, and Haze Berry.

2. Humulene

Commonly found in hops, sage, and ginseng.

This terpene has a herbal, spicy aroma. It’s used as an anti-inflammatory and appetite suppressant. Cannabis strains with higher levels of Humulene include Sour Diesel, Gelato, and Atlantis.

3. Limonene

Commonly found in oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruit, and mandarins.

Limonene has a sharp, citrusy aroma. It’s used as an anti-anxiety, anti-depressant, and mood enhancer. Commonly found in oranges, lemons, limes, grapefruit, and mandarins. Cannabis strains with higher levels of Limonene include Wedding Cake, Berry White, and Quantum Kush.

4. Myrcene

Commonly found in mangoes, hops, and guava.

Myrcene has an Earthy, musky, and woodsy aroma. It’s used for relaxation and anti-anxiety. Cannabis strains with higher levels of myrcene include Girl Scout Cookies, Grape Ape, and OG Kush.

5. Borneol

Commonly found in rosemary, ginger, and thyme.

Borneol has a metallic, minty aroma. It’s used as an analgesic and anti-inflammatory. Cannabis strains with higher levels of Borneol include K-13 Haze, Golden Haze, and Amnesia Haze.

6. Phytol

Commonly found in the skin of nuts.

Phytol has a fresh, floral aroma. It’s used as an anti-anxiety, anti-inflammatory, and sedative. Cannabis strains with higher levels of Phytol include Sour Diesel, Cheese, and Blue Dream.

7. Eucalyptol

Commonly found in cardamom, pepper, and cranberry.

Eucalyptol has a menthol, minty aroma. It’s used as an antibacterial and ant-fungal. Cannabis strains with higher levels of Eucalyptol include Girl Scout Cookies, Headband, and AC/DC.

8. Sabinene

Commonly found in nutmeg.

Sabinene has a spicy, woodsy, and peppery aroma. It’s used as a digestive aid, antioxidant, and antibacterial. Cannabis strains with higher levels of Sabanine include Super Silver Haze.

Terpenes in Essential Oils

Not only are terpenes found in many of the foods we know and love, but one of the most prominent uses of terpenes is aromatherapy with terpene-packed essential oils.

Terpenes vs. Terpenoids

You may have heard both the terms terpene and terpenoid, and you may be wondering if there is a difference.

Essentially, both of these compounds are alike except for one key difference.

  • Terpenes: are produced from the plant, especially in trichomes (in the case of cannabis.) They’re considered organic hydrocarbons.
  • Terpenoids: have a few additional atoms that experience oxidation. This happens when cannabis is cured and dried.

Final Thoughts: Common Terpenes Found in Foods

Terpenes are one of nature’s gifts for us humans to enjoy.

Without terpenes, the world would be a much more bland place. Think about it, your favorite fall apple cider with cloves, apples, and cinnamon sticks is only as fragrant and delightful as the terpenes allow it to be. Your lemongrass and ginger power smoothie, your ice-cold glass of orange juice in the morning, your favorite curry dish are all indescribably flavorful and smell intoxicating because of the unique terpenes that can be found in them.

Terpenes can be easily bought from online stores. They can enhance our kitchen and tantalize our senses, are used in aromatherapy and may have some possible health benefits.

Terpenes are common components of our diet and are “generally recognized as safe” by the FDA. Due to being considered generally safe, it has made research and studies on terpenes possible. The more we expand our knowledge on these complex, interesting compounds, the closer we are to understanding terpenes’ full benefits and effects.

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