Thanks to steadily evolving research, a recent study has revealed breakthrough findings of new aromatic compounds naturally produced in the flower. Scientists have discovered that, though terpenes may play a crucial role, they are not the sole differentiators influencing the unique flavours and scents in exotic varieties.
The study, titled Minor, Nonterpenoid Volatile Compounds Drive the Aroma Differences of Exotic Cannabis, uncovered influential aromatic compounds and "flavourants" that take smell science beyond terpenes. This means there are newly identified scent compounds for us nerds to explore! Let's discover some of these previously unknown volatiles that have just been found in the characteristic scents of exotic varieties.
The strains selected for this study represent diverse "exotics." These are varieties known for their unusually sweet or savoury profiles. Among them were popular strains like Papaya Peach, Zkittlez 710, Banana Scream, Bubba Kush, Trainwreck, Bacio Gelato, and GMO Cookies. The goal was to uncover specific scent characteristics of these exotic varieties and investigate which volatile compounds contribute to their distinct aromas.
In order to examine the "volatile fingerprints" of the 31 unique strains, preserving any low-concentration volatile characteristics was essential. Fresh frozen flower was processed into ice hash, freeze-dried, and carefully heat-pressed to produce an extremely pure extract known as ice hash rosin, which provided robust aromatic samples for the study.
Once the material was prepared, a comprehensive analysis followed. It included a human sensory panel smelling and identifying nuanced aromatics with the most effective tool: the nose. The panel findings were followed by advanced scientific procedures, including two-dimensional gas chromatography, time-of-flight mass spectrometry, and flame ionization detection (GCxGC-TOF-MS/FID).
By successfully preserving the minute aromatic properties of each variety, they were able to precisely identify new compounds that were previously unknown but significantly impact the aromatic composition of sweet and savoury strains.
Sweet and Savory
The results identified two key groups of aromatic compounds that contribute significantly to exotic aromas: Tropical Volatile Sulfur Compounds and heterocyclic compounds, specifically indole and skatole. These components are responsible for distinct sweet and fruity notes on one end of the spectrum and intense chemical and savoury scents on the other.
Tropical Volatile Sulfur Compounds
You may remember prenylated VSCs from a previous study on skunk smells in various strains. Tropical VSCs, however, are responsible for the exotic citrus and tropical notes in sweet and fruity strains like Tangie and Tropicana Cookies. This new class of compounds has been dubbed tropicannasulfurs, and likely includes strains that exude a pervasive fruity-citrus scent reminiscent of papaya or guava fruits.
On the other end of the aroma spectrum sits Indole and Skatole. These volatiles are known for their rich, intense chemical and savoury scents and can be found in strains like GMO and 710 Chem. Prepare to be surprised because these compounds are commonly found in other unexpected materials!
Skatole is a complex scent that is associated with fecal odour. Yes, it is naturally found in poop, particularly bird and mammalian feces. It is also a characteristic smell of grilling, roasting and charring meats, especially cooked lamb and pork. Skatole is also found in cigarette smoke. To highlight this compound's versatility, you can also find it in flowers like jasmine, orange blossom, and tuberose.
Skatole is a complex and dynamic smell that changes depending on its concentration and which other aromatic compounds are present. At lower concentrations, skatole gives strains like GMO and Chemdawg their savoury, gassy scent and generally, when present in buds, delivers funky, earthy, and chem smells.
Take away one carbon atom, and you have indole. "Musty yet penetrating," indole gives strains a floral mothball-like scent. It is also found in many exotic white flowers, edible squash blossoms, and flowers that mimic animal remains.
A Complex Interplay of Compounds
Whether sweet or savoury, this vigorous study emphasizes that the distinctive aroma of different strains is not the result of a single molecule but rather a complex interplay of numerous aromatic compounds. These additional compounds, called "flavourants," include esters, alcohols, ketones, sulfurs, and more. The combination of all these compounds contributes to the wide range of familiar and unfamiliar smells we find in different strains.
Even More Novel Compounds
Senecioates are similar to VSCs and offer a spectrum of smell that includes fruity and sweet fusel base notes and sometimes even notes of banana.
Esters are found in most fruits and have been a point of interest for cannasseurs and wine connoisseurs. More than 30 esters have been identified in cannabis. They have a wide range of aroma characteristics, even within a single sample. When analyzing the Banana Scream sample, over 15 esters were identified with aromas ranging from fruit, blackberry, pineapple, and banana.
Methyl, dimethyl, and ethyl anthranilate are compounds known for exuding different grape-like aromas. For example, Methyl anthranilate gives off a concord grape scent.
Phenethyln-butrate, isobutrate, and n-propanoate were discovered in a few of the exotic varieties responsible for a sweet, honey-like aroma. Interestingly, the study notes that these varieties were recently bred, which suggests that this class of compounds is only found in modern strains.
6-amyl-a-pyrone is a lactone with a creamy coconut aroma. It can also be found in peaches and has been discovered in fungus common in soil. This is the first time these small molecules have been directly attributed to the smell of creamy-sweet strain varieties.
Significance for Consumers
For consumers, this research is a game-changer. It provides a more substantial understanding of compounds found in complex aromatic bouquets of exotic strains. Additionally, the discovery of these new compounds has the potential to accurately classify varieties in the future.
Enthusiasts can now explore the aromatic landscape beyond terpenes, appreciating the intricate interplay of compounds that contribute to the diverse and captivating scents of the plant. This discovery enhances our understanding of different strains and paves the way for a new era of aromatic innovation.
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Author:Amanda Breeze is an enthusiastic educator on all things terpenes and aroma. She hosts The Smoking Spot podcast, featuring stories and sensory evaluations of our favourite plant. Follow her on Instagram: @emerald.temple.living