Terpenes are a vast, diverse class of organic compounds produced by plants. The compounds are commonly present in essential oils extracted from the plants and provide a natural defense against parasites and infestations.
Best Terpenes are responsible for the aroma and taste of a plant, and the ratios of various terpenes in a plant are known as the terpene profile. The latest developments and discoveries about terpenes have been due to the cannabis revolution, as terpenes play a crucial role in strain classification.
Terpenes and Cannabis
Cannabis is one of the plants that contain terpenes in very high quantities, with about 40 – 200 different varieties present in various strains. They are the reason for the vibrant smell of specific cannabis strains, such as lavender, pine, and even orange peels, while the grape ape strain gives you the fruity punch that you will always long for more.
Natural terpenes have tons of applications as flavoring agents in food, cosmetics, and vaping liquids. Synthetic variations and derivatives of terpenes are also useful in the production of perfumes and food additives. Terpenes also possess health benefits such as anti-inflammatory, anti-anxiety effects.
Terpene Extraction and Isolation
Although terpenes occur widely, their natural extraction requires tedious processes preformed with extra care to retain the bold and delicate flavors. This is because many traditional methods for extraction increase the risk of contamination and reduce the intensity of aroma and flavors available in the isolate. The amount of terpene extraction also depends on what strain you are using. A top quality girl scout cookies strain is assured to get you more when compared to an ordinary strain.
While there is no one right method to isolate terpenes from the plant materials that also contain fats, chlorophyll, and other plant residues, few processes have shown significant results for implementation in commercial applications with their potent cost-benefit value.
Here are some of the common ways to extract terpenes widely used in the industry today.
There are two significant categories of extraction methods used for obtaining terpenes. They are solventless and solvent-based extraction.
Solvent Less Extraction
Hydro-distillation is one of the most common methods of extracting volatile aromatic compounds. This method is also known to be the only effective way to extract lighter terpenes.
The process uses steam to pass through the plant of interest. The steam pressure helps carry the terpenes that are then carefully condensed to create a liquid with terpene distillation mixture and water. The combination then goes through a separation process to eliminate the water, leaving behind the terpene distillate ready for use.
The advantage of this technique is the adjustable steam pressure that accounts for the sensitivity of the terpenes. It helps to recover the compounds with natural characteristics.
Studies conducted by universities and laboratories enabled the discovery of a process for extracting terpenes from the atmosphere where the plants released these compounds.
It involves the use of a gas chamber where the terpene producing plant is present. The use of carefully controlled ventilation lets the air in, whereas a vacuum line connected to the set up pulls the air out of the chamber. The released air, which contains the active terpenes, is then passed through tenax resin packed pipettes that can trap the terpenes and isolate them.
Solvent Based Extraction
Volatile Solvent Extraction
As the name suggests, this process involves submerging the plant material containing the terpenes or terpenoids in a volatile solvent. The most common solvents used in this process are menthol, ethanol, or hexane.
After submerging for about two days, the terpenes and plant material bond with the solvents, ready for extraction. The mixture goes through treatments for the elimination of the plant material. This step is followed by evaporation of the solvent that leaves behind the isolated terpenes.
This method’s end product contains comparatively higher concentrations of the terpenes, as no heat gets utilized during the process. But the terpenes may contain traces of the solvents or other chemicals used during treatments. It may also carry some waxy residue from the plant mixture, making it ideal for preparing aromatic products not intended for therapeutic purposes.
Carbon dioxide is an excellent solvent for separating and preserving terpenes. The reason behind this is that the cold separation process can protect the delicate plant compounds.
The process uses a combination of heat and pressure to convert liquid CO2 to a supercritical fluid, which acts as the perfect solvent for the plant mixture. The substance is cycled through the leaves of the plant to produce a compound that contains the terpenes. The compound then goes through winterization that helps refine and remove certain compounds such as fats from the terpenes to extract a pure form of an aromatic compound.
The CO2 method of extracting terpenes is considered the most superior technique of them all as the end quality of the extracted terpenes is premium grade usable for therapeutic purposes. It retains the plant’s biomaterials’ integrity that helps enhance the aromatic compounds’ quality and characteristics.
FDA also recognizes CO2 extraction safe for industrial usage, making it a less controversial solvent than petroleum-based hydrocarbons like butane or propane that are inflammable and leave residues in the end product. The only disadvantage of the method is the inconsistency in the final product’s potency, which means a loss to the terpene profile.
The future transformations in the fast-growing cannabis industry could be the way to obtain cannabis terpene isolates with a precise aromatic profile. Innovations in the cannabis extraction methods are visibly the best way to improve the efficiency of extraction, enhancing the availability of high-quality terpenes for various applications. It could also support the use of terpenes in medicinal applications.