Using Terpenes for Pairing Cannabis With Food

Fresh Basil
Photo by: Coprid/Shutterstock

When you think of pairing cannabis with food, you might be thinking of which flavor of Doritos will tickle your fancy rather than envisioning a sophisticated spread. But thanks to the proliferation of cannabis chefs and greater understanding of terpenes, pairing cannabis with your cuisine is now a legitimate practice. We've covered a couple of great cannabis and food pairings in a previous article, but we'd like to give you more of a DIY guide to choosing pairings yourself.

Tasting Terpenes

ground weed

In recent years, it's become clear that much of our experience with different cannabis strains comes down to terpenes. Terpenes are chemical compounds found in every type of plant. That includes fruits, veggies, and (of course) cannabis. These compounds are what give your favorite strains their personality and aromatic punch. While marijuana research is still hobbled by archaic federal policies, there are a couple theories on how terpenes affect the experience of particular marijuana strains. Some research suggests that terps contribute to the entourage effect, where the multiple cannabinoids and terpenes found in a strain create a cumulative beneficial effect that's greater than the sum of their parts.

But from the average person's perspective, terpenes are the stuff that makes marijuana smell amazing. And because taste is so heavily influenced by smell, terpenes have a huge effect on what foods pair best with what strains. Terpenes are produced by the resin glands of the flower, and they help give sticky buds their signature profiles. When pairing cannabis with food, your nose certainly knows.

Matching the Aromas of Marijuana

lots of citrus

There are tens of different terpenes, and hundreds if you consider the multiple chemical forms they come in. But several stand out in the world of weed, and they can be used for pairing cannabis with food. Here are three of the most common terpenes found in popular strains, and some tips on how to pick a dish for them:

1. Limonene

The easiest terp to identify, limonene is that invigorating citrusy scent that you get from peeling a fresh tangerine. Lemon zest is another prime example of limonene, as is the crisp citrus smell of cleaning agents like Pine-Sol.

High-limonene strains are the perfect accent to bright dishes that feature lemon and/or white wine. You want to use a protein that allows the citrus to shine, so think white meat like chicken, as well as white fish. Salads are an ideal pairing for limonene strains, as most dressings are vinegar-based and play off the terpene's citric pizazz. To add complexity and depth, pair limonene with a dish that features fresh black pepper.

Limonene Strains: Super Lemon Haze, Jack Herer, Lemon Skunk

2. Pinene

Pinene is another easily identified terpene that can be found in a multitude of popular strains. Its scent is woodsy, earthy, and at times a little spicy.

While pinene provides a burst of freshness, it's an excellent pairing for any number of dishes thanks to its herbal affinity. Any dish that utilizes some of the earthier-tasting herbs such as rosemary or thyme will be enhanced by the flavor of a pinene-heavy strain. And because pinene is often found in combination with limonene, it goes well with a whole host of dishes. Pinene can also add a new layer to the experience of most red wines. Red meat can benefit from the accompanying lightness of pinene, too.

Pinene Strains: Strawberry Cough, Island Sweet Skunk, Romulan

3. Caryophyllene

Caryophyllene is a rich, spicy terpene found in cloves and black pepper, as well as herbs like oregano and basil. Hops have a notable caryophyllene presence as well, which makes dark beers excellent companions to this terpene.

Strains with a caryophyllene kick go well with big, bold flavors. Think red meat, mushrooms, and red wines. Deep flavors from caramelization or braising are ideal companions, and nearly any combination of roasted winter vegetables will pair well with the spice of a caryophyllene strain. Brussels sprouts are a particularly wonderful pairing when lightly caramelized by pan sear… but we won't tell you what to do!

Caryophyllene Strains: Chemdawg, Sour Diesel, Skywalker OG

The Best Way to Pair

jar of cannabis flower

One more note: The best method for pairing cannabis and food is to use a vaporizer. Smoking destroys many terpenes upon combustion, while vaping at low temperatures is known to enhance their flavor.

Once you start identifying the primary terps in your bud or concentrates, pairing cannabis with food becomes an intuitive sensory experience. To pick it up faster, you can try methodically switching the order of your consumption. That is, try eating half your dish of food first and then take a hit to see how the flavors and aromas work together. Reversing the order halfway through your meal will reveal a different side of the interaction between the terps in your cannabis and the flavor profiles of your food. Even if you stumble on some combinations that aren't your favorite, the worst that happens is you save the weed for later! It's a rewarding hobby, and we hope you try it sometime soon!