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Everything You Need to Know About Esters - The Little-Known Molecule that Packs a Major Punch (10 Minute Read)

A Plant of Many Aromatic Molecules

When you look for familiar aromas in flowers, you can find everything from pine to citrus, to skunk to fruit. Hundreds of scent molecules in the plant produce an eclectic range of odours, which contribute to its rich and diverse aromatics.

Terpenes in the Flowers

The smells in the flowers are a combination of terpenes mixed with other aromatic compounds! Terpenes in weed get the most attention because they represent the highest volume of scent molecules and are the most straightforward to test for, but there are other chemical families in aromatics. For example, volatile sulfur compounds are the chemical family that produces the famous stink of skunk smell. On the opposite end of the scent spectrum is the ester family. This chemical group is responsible for some of the sweet-smelling fruity aromatics in the buds. Keep reading to discover some delightful characteristics and science behind the aromatic family of Esters.

Fruity and Floral

Esters are intensely aromatic and distinctly fruity. They are well known for their contribution to the flavour of wine and are present in the pleasant floral fragrances of essential oils, commonly used in aromatherapy. Esters are one of the many volatiles that contributes to an overall fruit-like and flowery scent and flavour.

Esters in the Flowers 

Esters can dramatically impact the overall bud/flowers scent and flavour experience. In the buds, ester aromatics are present in significantly lower quantities than terpenes, and therefore are challenging to test for; however, in a 2008 study, researchers identified eleven new esters! Any strains featuring pineapple, banana, apple, pear, and strawberry scents probably contain esters.

The Overall Chemistry

This wonderful plant has very complex chemistry as it contains many chemical constituents, and research is just starting to become more widely available thanks to legalization. Early research has shown that esters do not affect cannabinoid receptors, although their presence may boost the effectiveness of other cannabinoids. When esters are present, even in small amounts, they mutually improve the therapeutic effects of the other components, including terpenes. This "entourage effect" applies to esters in aromatherapy as well! When even a small amount of esters are present in a blend, they enhance the therapeutic actions of the other constituents. Experience the difference for yourself! CannTerp has recently added a line of pure Live Resin and Live Resin Infused terpene blends, which contain esters, aldehydes and flavonoids naturally present in the plant. 

Molecular Families

The best way to understand esters is by first looking at how they are categorized in aroma sciences, specifically aromatherapy. Aromatherapy is an alternative medicine that uses smells, primarily essential oils, for their therapeutic actions. It is sometimes also called terpene therapy. Functional groups, or chemical families, are a way in which aromatherapists organize the aromatic molecules found in the essential oils of plants. Some of the functional groups of monoterpene hydrocarbons include aldehydes, ketones, phenols, alcohols, oxides, and esters. Within the Esters family are scent molecules like methyl salicylate, present in wintergreen and sweet birch (root beer's smell), and linalyl acetate, present in lavender and clary sage.

Functional Group Theory

Developed by aromatherapy expert Kurt Schnaubelt, the Functional Group Theory posits that essential oils whose main components belong to the same group will exhibit similar effects. This theory is often used to understand essential oils' therapeutic properties and actions.

An example in holistic aromatherapy is that any essential oils high in esters are widely used to balance or relax and are commonly utilized for their antispasmodic effects.

Esters in Essential Oils

Over 30 different esters produce aromas in essential oils! They represent the fruity and pleasant aromas of essential oils like neroli, petitgrain, and orange. Esters are also found in the essential oils of roman chamomile, lavender, bergamot, and jasmine.

Esters in Aromatherapy

Roman Chamomile and Lavender are excellent examples of esters' actions under Functional Group Theory. Both essential oils are commonly known for relaxation and sleep-aiding properties. Lavender essential oil has a high percentage of esters at 40% linalyl acetate. It is known for its relaxing and sedative properties and is commonly used at night to help with sleep. Similar to Lavender, Roman Chamomile essential oil is also high in esters. It contains 35% of the ester isobutyl angelate and is also known for its sedative properties.

Certain terpene isolates and blends can also provide relaxing and sedative properties, we suggest trying CannTerp’s Dream terpene blend. 

Actions of Esters

Essential oils high in esters are considered calming and aid in releasing tension, anxiety, and stress. According to Caddy Essential Oil Profiles, esters' common effects include antispasmodic actions, cheering, balancing, relaxing, and anti-inflammatory actions on all body systems, especially the nervous system. Essential oils containing esters can act as mild analgesics and digestive aids. They generally have skin-soothing properties when used topically. Oils high in esters are also considered emotionally uplifting and balancing with some adaptogen properties. Adaptogens are plants with balancing properties to encourage our bodies to reach homeostasis.

Advanced Molecular Science

Esters form when alcohols and acids react with each other; this is called esterification. The effectiveness of the antispasmodic actions in ester-rich essential oils depends on the chain length of the acid half of the molecule. For example, Geranium essential oil contains one carbon atom, so its antispasmodic action is mild. Medium antispasmodic action would occur with two carbon atoms, like in Cardamom or Rosemary essential oils. With five carbon atoms, Roman Chamomileis well-known for its antispasmodic action. And finally, Ylang Ylang is considered the strongest antispasmodic, with seven carbon atoms(1).

Food and Beverage

Much like terpenes, esters are common in the food industry, added to enhance flavours! Although in some fruits, like apples, esters are naturally produced. Curiously, esters are a principal component of wine but not from the grapes themselves. The yeast produces and releases the majority of esters during fermentation, creating intricate apple or banana flavours. Esters' peak intensity occurs at fermentation's end. Monitoring ph levels and fermentation speed will mitigate the flavour intensity. However, like other volatile aromatics, wine esters will degrade within a year, and their pronounced flavours will decline. To add additional aroma and flavour to your food/beverage, try infusing a drop or two of CannTerp’s new Flavour Boosted terpene blends. 

Combining Esters

When used in combination, esters will change the overall aromas and flavours and can vary in intensity. They can influence the distinction between a banana or pineapple flavour in wine, and it's the same in buds! Esters can impact your flower by naturally producing fruit flavours and aromas. Next time you find a delicious fruity strain, you can thank esters for bringing the diversity!

How to Include Esters: 

CannTerp's is the top resource to buy terpenes in Canada with all new product lines are formulated to replicate the natural molecules found in the plant, in order to maximize the scent, flavour and benefits of your consumption experience. The new Flavour Boosted terpene provides an extra boost of flavour from 100% naturally occurring esters, flavonoids and aldehydes.


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: 

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