Terpenes are a large and diverse class of natural organic compounds found in fruits, herbs, flowers and trees. Specifically, they are aromatic hydrocarbons that give plants their distinct aromas and flavours, as well as play the vital role of protecting plants from parasites and other environmental stressors.
How are terpenes used outside of nature?
Terpenes synergize with other plant compounds to produce a range of effects on the body in a series of interactions known as the Entourage Effect. Most notably, they’re largely responsible for many of the medicinal effects associated with cannabis. In fact, terpenes contribute significantly to the distinct aromas and flavours of indica and sativa strains like the Cannalope Haze strain.
There are countless methods that can be used to extract terpenes from plants and herbs to create essential oils, flavourings, fragrances, and other products with medicinal or therapeutic uses. They range from steam distillation, solvent extraction, cold pressing and molecular distillation.
Extracted terpenes are regularly used in various industries to make everything from bath products to floor cleaners and detergents. However, it’s worth noting that their use and benefits aren’t limited to disinfecting and deodorizing. In recent years, they’ve grown quite popular in the formulation of consumables across multiple markets, including in the alcohol and vaping industries.
Why Use Terpenes in Mixed Drinks?
Unlike synthetic flavourings, terpenes are naturally occurring and have the added benefits of various medicinal properties. For example, while the terpene linalool can add a welcome hint of spice and sweetness to any cocktail, it can also help you calm your mind and relax. A citrus martini enhanced with an infusion of limonene isn’t just refreshingly bold; it makes a potent stress-buster with anti-inflammatory side benefits.
Because terpenes allow for precise customization in terms of both flavour and aroma, they’ve been incorporated into fine dining events like “An Exploration of Terpenes” held in the James Beard House in New York. This event featured Holden Jagger and Rachel Burkons from the Los Angeles hospitality consulting group, Altered Plates.
Needless to say, the added customizability afforded by terpenes has also drawn the interest of product manufacturers and experimental establishments on the cutting edge of the beverage industry. By simply adding a drop or two of complementary terpenes to a mixture, bartenders and craft beer enthusiasts are able to easily alter the consumer experience while adding health benefits to their drinks.
The Current Science on The Benefits of Terpenes
The utilization of terpenes is nothing new, but the concept of using terpene isolates for their unique health properties broke into the mainstream once cannabis legalization began to pick up steam across the US. The research found that terpenes are largely responsible for pain relieving properties, sparking increased interest even in the consumer market.
Terpenes are also commonly used for their anti-inflammatory properties. Certain terpenes like myrcene reduce symptoms of chronic inflammatory disorders by signalling the body to reduce the release of pro-inflammatory neurotransmitters like cytokines, while simultaneously reducing the body’s sensitivity and response to them.
There are even terpenes that present a broad spectrum of benefits like curcumin. This single terpene has been found to have “anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anticancer, antiseptic, antiplasmodial, astringent, digestive, diuretic, and many other properties.”
Sample Recipe: Christmas Spiced Brandy Alexander Cocktail
In the spirit of the holiday season, we’ll go over how to add a terpene twist to a winter favourite in the world of mixology: the Brandy Alexander. Below is the recipe for a single serving, but this can easily be made into party-friendly quantities and served by the pitcher.
What You’ll Need:
1½ cups crushed ice
2 oz cognac (can replace with a mixture of pear and peach juice)
1 oz dark créme de cacao
1 tsp of cooled coffee or 1oz of Kahlua
1 oz heavy mixing cream
¼ oz vanilla simple syrup
1 drop limonene terpene Isolate
1 drop caryophyllene terpene isolate
freshly ground nutmeg
How to Make It:
Leave your coupe or martini glass to chill in the freezer for at least 15 minutes while adding all your ingredients to the shaker except the nutmeg. Shake until sufficiently mixed and well-chilled (15-20 seconds) before straining into your chilled glass. Garnish with nutmeg to taste.