Cannabis terroir? Yes, it’s a thing

Published: January 15, 2020 · Updated: August 28, 2020

Cannabis terroir Photo by nevodka/Shutterstock

Connoisseurs are as interested in the story of the bud—cannabis terroir, or where it comes from—as where it will take them.

Don’t rush to puff—appreciate your cannabis bud. Hold it up to the light. Examine the tiny orange hairs, the delicate leaves, and the sugary crystals. Now, go ahead, smell it. Not a snort. More like little sniffs. Close your eyes. Let the smell roll around in your sinuses and mouth. Taste it. Feel it. Savour it.

Sound familiar? Just as there’s a method to wine tasting, so too for cannabis appreciation. It’s part of a growing recognition that cannabis has terroir just like wine.

“In the wine industry we talk about terroir a lot,” says Jamie Evans, the founder of The Herb Somm, a cannabis blog and lifestyle brand. “It’s just as relevant to cannabis growers. A pinot noir grown in California or Ontario tastes different. Same for the same strain of cannabis grown in two different regions. Each has a distinct flavour and aroma.”

French winemakers coined “terroir” in the 1970s as a marketing offensive against emerging wine regions, especially Australia and the U.S. The term refers to the environmental factors unique to growing on a specific farm or even field, including weather, topography, soil composition, and cultivation and processing practices. Essentially, it’s a belief that a vintner is bottling the place as much as the grape.

Many cannabis growers believe they are doing the same. A cannabis flower sold in a dispensary is the sum of the specific moisture, sun and soil conditions, pollination, fertilization—everything that happened while the plant was growing on that farm. And, as with wine, harvesting, curing, and storing also play important roles.

There’s some science to back up the comparison. Grapes and cannabis both contain terpenes, the chemical compounds that impart smell and flavour in plants. Scientists have identified 50 different terpenes in wines and more than 200 in cannabis.

“It’s so fascinating to come to cannabis and find so many similarities and parallels with wine,” says Evans, who started her culinary career as a sommelier. “Cannabis growers are just as passionate as winemakers. They talk about the same things.”

Learning to “taste” the two products is almost an identical process. Humans sense more than 75 per cent of flavour through smell, leaving less than 25 per cent for taste.

“A big part of terroir appreciation is in the nose, especially with cannabis,” Evans says.

To train yourself, Evans recommends that you work through your spice cabinet, learning the smell of rosemary, thyme, cloves, and cinnamon. When you can identify them blind move on to fresh herbs, fruit, and flowers. Most smells are actually terpenes. For instance, the cannabis terpene limonene smells like lemons. By building your vocabulary of smells, you will be able to pick out and appreciate the hints in the wine or cannabis.

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After smell, the best way to enjoy cannabis terroir is in food. Because terpenes are combustible, smoking or vaping destroys most of the aromas. They go up in smoke, literally, Evans says. But infuse them in oils, and cannabis imparts subtle and complex flavours into dishes.

“It’s an unexplored ingredient,” she says. “Chefs are excited to cook with it. It’s a new flavour to work with. A new challenge. I believe cannabis is destined to be a gourmet product just like wine.”

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