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Nuances of Cannabis Aroma


Have you ever encountered cannabis that smelled so delightful that it reminded you of your favorite fruit or maybe brought up a memory? Although you may be tempted to say it’s just terpenes, there’s a whole host of other aroma compounds out there that provide said nuances. From new research that came out last fall, terpenes aren’t the only molecules that contribute to the aroma; some of these aroma molecules are known as flavorants which include esters, sulfur volatiles, alcohols, and aldehydes. I will be focusing more on the esters and sulfur volatiles in this article. 

A fantastic read on aromas is the book,  Nose Dive: A Field Guide to the World’s Smells which covers the vast array of aromas found in nature and is worth the read if you’re particularly fascinated by the science of aromas. This is a recommended read by some of the council members of Ganjier as it does reference cannabis a bit, but overall shows you ho

w fascinating and important aromas are in this world. 

What are Esters? 

 One particularly relevant section is on esters which are hybrid molecules that are made by one acid and one alcohol molecule which from these two compounds create a vast array of combinations from this basic formula. Esters are mainly produced by fruits which is a good indication as to why these molecules are also found in fruit-forward cannabis cultivars as they are quite popular in the market. Because of this, I currently have some fresh-pressed Strawnana and Lemon Freeze Pop badder in my fridge and Berry Runtz flower in my box as I type this.  

Esters also have 2 subgroups called lactones and furanones which provide a creamy, coconut,  and caramel-like scent respectively. From the way lactones are described, it would most definitely be the type of compound that would be found in cultivars such as Cereal Milk or Grapes and Cream. An experience that I’ll never forget is when I dabbed a bit of Cereal Milk that I bought through a previous coworker and the flavor and aroma were nothing like I had before. If a furanone was found in a cultivar, it might show up in a Koffee cultivar or maybe a Truffles pheno. 

When I was a budtender, I would smell the different batches of flower that were delivered to be able to describe them to my customers. It’s even better if it was a cultivar I was familiar with so I could talk about my experience with it. It seemed like a good amount of the time there were random names that were just trying to catch the eye rather than describing the cultivar. I understand that brands want to differentiate themselves and say that they are creating “new” cultivars; however, in my experience, it’s just using the same cultivars with a catchy name. Ambiguous names for cultivars for marketability can both confuse and cause a disconnect with the consumer as entertaining names can only go so far. I suggest adding genetics, terpenes, and a vivid description of the flavor if a brand decides to use a completely different name for its product. 

There are some compounds that Abstrax Tech mentions in their study that are worth mentioning such as the tropical volatile sulfur compound, indole, and skatole. These are notable as they contribute to the exotic cannabis cultivars and have not been noted previously in cannabis. I think it’s pretty fascinating that more compounds have been found in cannabis that we can pinpoint to what is being attributed to these nuanced aromas. 

What is a tropical volatile sulfur compound?  

According to AbstraxTech’s data, this is a type of flavorant that has quite strong citrus and tropical fruit aromas. It is also unique as the cultivars that contained this type of compound ranked high on their exotic score. Although limonene and myrcene can help give a fruity aroma to cannabis, this compound gives more of an edge to the aroma. Although customers will not know what this is, this can be an opportunity to educate your consumers on another fascinating compound that is found in the plant and how it contributes to aroma and flavor. 

What are Indole & Skatole? 

The main thing these two compounds have in common is that they are found in animal smells which seems that they help give that “dank” smell to weed. These compounds show up in tiny amounts in cannabis and a little goes a long way with these compounds. 

Indole has a floral, musty, mothball-like aroma that can also be found in jasmine and lily species. From what Abstrax Tech found in their data, Indole came up in each cultivar, but in minimal amounts.  On the other hand, skatole is most known for the molecule found in skat (poop), but in cannabis, it comes in minimal amounts that bring out a savory aroma that would be found in cultivars such as GMO or Han Solo Burger. These kinds of cultivars are great to highlight as they have a more unique profile than the average cultivar on the market that a budtender should highlight. When a dispensary highlights flower with unique profiles, this should be reflected in the description on the online menu. 


Cannabis has a whole chemoprofile to be taken into account as well as observing the physical product when buying flower. It’s pretty fascinating how there are so many different compounds in cannabis and yet it seems that cannabis marketers just want to focus on the THC, CBD & some terpenes. There’s so much more to talk about and show customers that this plant is amazingly diverse due to these nuances. While terpenes have value, they’re not the only compounds that provide the nuances in aroma. Utilize these aromas to your advantage when marketing flower or concentrate. It’s good to know why the weed smells the way it does and how many other compounds are doing the work besides terpenes. 

Note: I use cultivars instead of strain as cultivar is the better word here to describe varieties of cannabis. Legacy Cannabis Breeder Kevin Jodrey has talked about this on YouTube and in the Ganjier program. 


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