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What Are Cannabis Flavorants?

Cannabis flavorants, not terpenes, are responsible for the unique and diverse flavors and aromas of cannabis.

While the term “flavorants” has been used to describe food additives for quite some time, cannabis flavorants are something else entirely. In the context of cannabis, flavorants are non-terpene compounds (esters, volatile sulfur compounds, alcohols, etc.) found in low concentrations that are responsible for the unique and diverse aromas of cannabis. 

Yes, you read that right. Flavorants, not terpenes, are what make your favorite cultivars smell the way they do. That makes it sound like we just stumbled upon this information, but it took a LOT of time and research. 

Initially, we set out to discover the chemical origins of exotic cannabis aroma, but we had no idea just how groundbreaking our results would be. Like how d-Limonene isn’t the citrus flavor-maker we always thought it was! Or that one of the flavorants we discovered is also found in feces—gross, but it only gets weirder and cooler.

We encourage you to read our Science of Exotic Part I, II, III, and our upcoming Part IV for all the details on our research, but today we’re focusing on these special compounds. Read on and learn more about cannabis flavorants, individual cannabis flavorants, and their potential impact on the cannabis industry.


The Dawn of Cannabis Flavorants

To discover the chemical origins of exotic cannabis aromas, we gathered thirty-one different varieties. A panel of sensory analysts completed a detailed sensory panel by describing the aroma of each variety. This involved rating the “exotic score” of each sample on a scale of 0 to 100 and using any terminology they found useful.

From there, a chemical analysis helped us understand why our sensory panel ranked varieties the way they did. This involved analyzing each sample using our advanced 2-dimensional gas chromatography (GCxGC) and comparing those results to our sensory panel responses.

Before we uncovered flavorants, we first discovered that terpenes alone couldn’t be solely responsible for aroma. We noticed that Grape Pie x Do-Si-Dos was the highest-ranked variety on our Exotic Cannabis Aroma Spectrum, but it shared the same dominant terpenes with the lowest-ranked GMO. If you’re familiar with their aromas, you know they’re very different. 

Obviously, our understanding of cannabis aroma was missing a key element. Enter flavorants.

What Are Cannabis Flavorants?

When we compared things like esters, volatile sulfur compounds, alcohols, etc., we found clear differences between varieties. This class of compounds we are referring to as “flavorants” was concluded to be responsible for many of the unique and diverse flavors within cannabis.

Once we found the missing piece of the puzzle, we performed additional analyses and identified more than sixty unique flavorant compounds. This led to additional testing to understand how these new compounds fit into our understanding and perception of cannabis aroma.


Figure 1. Sankey diagram showing the phytochemical makeup of cannabis.

One of the most fascinating aspects of flavorants is that, despite them being found in minuscule quantities like parts per billion or even parts per trillion, the distinct positive correlation between this minor percentage and a variety’s Exotic Score indicates that their influence on aroma is disproportionally significant. 

Put more simply, even when flavorants are present in small amounts, they have a significant impact on cannabis aroma. Let’s look at three such flavorants.

Cannabis Flavorant: Skatole

This heterocyclic compound changes drastically at various concentrations and in the presence of other aroma compounds. Oddly enough, it’s found in mammalian feces, it’s a key compound in the perfuming industry, and it’s even used to flavor vanilla ice cream. So, calling Skatole’s aroma complex is putting it lightly.

Trace amounts of Skatole are often found in savory cannabis varieties like GMO Cookies, 710 Chem, etc. Its presence in sweet, exotic varieties like Fruity Pebbles, however, leads us to believe that Skatole may amplify lush, sweet fragrances. It may also play a pivotal role in the “overripe” or “rotten fruit” aroma of some cultivars.

Cannabis Flavorant: Indole (1H-indole)

Indole is milder than Skatole and has a sharp chemical and ammoniacal fragrance. When diluted, it can even have a slight floral aroma.

It’s also worth noting that Indole was present in nearly every sample, while Skatole was only found in certain varieties. The funkiness it lends to varieties combined with its presence throughout our samples suggests that it plays a pivotal role in the quintessential aroma of cannabis. Plus, Indole may play an important role outside of cannabis. 

Figure 2. Schematic illustrating the relationship between Indole and many natural compounds found in nature.

The Indole structure is the core structure of many biologically important compounds within plants, humans, and animals. It’s also the key component of tryptophan and melatonin and the main functional group of psychedelic tryptamines such as psilocybin, dimethyltryptamine (DMT), and lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD). Obviously, there’s a lot going on with Indole, and we’ve only just scratched the surface.

Cannabis Flavorants: Tropicannasulfurs

Okay, so this is actually a group of compounds we’ve named Tropicannasulfur Compounds (TCSC). Using specialized techniques, we identified 3-mercaptohexyl acetate (3MHA),  3-mercaptohexanol (3MH), and 3-mercaptohexyl butyrate (3MHB).


Figure 3. Chemical structure and aroma descriptors for newly discovered tropicannasulfur compounds.

While these compounds are unique compared to others found in cannabis, they do share a family tie with other recently discovered molecules: cannasulfur compounds (CSCs). Turns out that 3MHA, 3MH, and 3MHB are a subset of cannasulfur compounds. Considering their unique aroma and chemical properties, we’ve coined the term tropicannasulfur compounds (TCSCs), and we’ve retroactively renamed the gassy, dank CSCs as prenylated cannasulfur compounds (PCSCs).

When combined with other compounds in cannabis, such as PCSCs and terpenes, TCSCs impart a citrus-forward aroma with underlying notes of funk, petroleum, and/or sulfur. Plus, like other members of the cannasulfur family, even the smallest amount of these compounds will have a BIG impact. Think loud aromas that can’t be ignored.

Will the Discovery of Cannabis Flavorants Change the Industry?

Absolutely! Yes, flavorants are changing the way we understand cannabis aroma, but it’s also a game changer for consumers, manufacturers, marketers, and regulators.

Providing more comprehensive and accurate product information will make it easier for consumers to find their desired products. Currently, COAs only contain cannabinoid and terpene information, which we now know can be misleading. With a greater chemical understanding of cannabis aroma, testing accuracy will improve, and cannabis labeling can resolve misconceptions. 

Manufacturers who understand this information can have greater control over product development and the consumer experience. Plus, it’s important to remember that we’re just getting started. With more time and research, there’s potential for flavorants to possess additional functional applications.

Abstrax Tech: The Leading Experts on Cannabis Flavorants 

At Abstrax Tech, we conduct industry-leading, peer-reviewed research on cannabis to push the industry forward with better education and collaboration. We are passionate about the cannabis industry and will continue promoting excellence in research and innovation. 

Do you have questions about incorporating flavorants into your formulations? Want expert assistance developing the right aroma, flavor, and effects for your products? We’re here to help.

Contact us today, and let’s move the industry forward with innovative, research-informed products.

Experience Flavorants Today!

Revel in the next evolution of botanical aromatics with bright petroleum-fueled Orange Apricot. Tropicannasulfurs create an exhilarating medley of Tangie-forward citrus with deafeningly loud notes of sweet gas. Welcome to the future.

As the first to benefit from our breakthrough discovery, GMO is kicking off the next era of botanical aromatics. Flavorants Skatole and Indole multiply its notoriously savory and funky notes for a loud, gassy, and undeniably pungent finish.

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