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How to Pair Food and Drinks With Cannabis Terpenes

Cannabis and food: two substances with the power to make people very happy. Few things make a better pair, and with thousands of cannabis strains and the entire wide world of food and drink at our disposal, more pairings are possible today than ever before. The question is: how to go about matching a dish or beverage with its perfect cannabis counterpart?

Regardless of whether you’re a wine-and-cheese pro or completely uninitiated to the process, don’t be intimidated by pairings – they’re easier than you think.

Basic Tenets of Pairing Cannabis with Food

Basic Tenets of Pairing Cannabis with Food
No matter what you’re matching it with, the right cannabis pairing starts with an understanding of cannabis terpenes – the naturally occurring compounds that give individual strains their unique aromas and flavors. Terpenes are found in varying concentrations in different cannabis strains, with all strains containing at least a few different terpenes. Myrcene, for instance, is what gives Jillybean its tropical fruit flavor; a high concentration of pinene imparts a foresty flavor profile to Jack Herer. Terpenes are present in food, too: you’ll find them providing aromas, flavors, and health benefits in everything from oranges and tomatoes to seafood and herbs.

What are cannabis terpenes and what do they do?

Matching these aroma and flavor profiles with other aromas and flavors that complement or accentuate them is what makes for a great pairing. Say you’re trying a new salmon recipe for dinner, and the recipe calls for a squeeze of lemon juice. A lemony strain, such as Super Lemon Haze, will help highlight those lemon flavors in the dish. Conversely, say you’ve made lemon bars for dessert; with plenty of lemon flavor packed into each bar, you might choose a strain with complementary flavors, like Blueberry, to balance out that intense citrusy sweetness.

Whether you choose comparable or contrasting flavors is up to you – there are no right or wrong answers, and pairing is all about personal preference. Do you like the pairing? Then it’s a good one. Just as everyone experiences the effects of different cannabis strains a little bit differently, everyone (even the pros) experiences flavors a little bit differently, too. Factors including your body chemistry, past experiences, and the region you’re from can all affect what you taste, so don’t waste time worrying about whether you’re doing it right.

How to Get Started with Cannabis Pairings

How to Get Started with Cannabis Pairings
If you’re a beginner, cannabis strains with high terpene levels are a great place to start; they’ll have the most pronounced aromas and flavors, which make them easier to match. Your budtender will be able to guide you toward strains with high levels of terpenes (between 2% and 4% total terpene content is generally considered high). Take a whiff of the flower and consider what you smell. Is it sweet? Citrusy? Spicy? Now, think about what foods or drinks those flavors would go well with. Sticking your nose in a jar of peppery Power Plant may be inspire you to whip up some lemon-pepper chicken. With citrus-laden Tangie, your first thought may be a big glass of iced tea.

Descriptively named strains can also clue you in to potential pairings. Agent Orange, for instance, is so named for its juicy orange aroma and flavor, so think of foods or drinks that might naturally be complemented by an orange slice, such as teriyaki chicken or a summery hefeweizen.

When pairing, the best means of consuming the strain you’ve selected is with a vaporizer compatible with cannabis flower. Vaporization lets terpene flavors shine through without burning them off like combustion does; you can even customize which terpenes you’re inhaling by tweaking the temperature settings on more advanced machines.

Regardless of your experience level, there’s simply no substitute for practice (good thing that’s the fun part). Pairing is far from an exact science, so the most important thing is to play around enough that you learn what you like. Whenever you try a new pairing, be sure to write down whether you liked it so you can learn from your experiences.

Basic Cannabis and Food Pairings to Try

Basic Cannabis and Food Pairings to Try
The following are a few basic pairings; use them to get you started, then strike out on your own!

  • Spinach Strawberry Salad with Blue Dream. A fresh, farmers market-inspired salad, particularly one with sliced berries, is only made better by this juicy, berry-forward hybrid.
  • Hawaiian Pizza and Pineapple Express. Everyone knows the pineapple chunks on a slice of Hawaiian pizza are the best part. Pair each bite with a hit of sweet, tropical Pineapple Express to highlight that flavor.
  • Chocolate Chip Cookies with Sour Diesel. Offset the sweetness of this classic dessert with the pungent, earthy flavor of Sour Diesel.

One more great thing about cannabis pairing is that cannabinoids – particularly THC – will heighten your enjoyment of flavors, textures, and colors in most any food or drink. To make the most of your pairings, try choosing dishes that exhibit rich flavors, bright colors, and unique textures. Furthermore, most cannabis strains augment our desire to chow down (hence the munchies), so it’s hard to go wrong with whatever you decide to cook up or snack on.

Pairing Cannabis with Beverages

Pairing Cannabis with Beverages
When pairing cannabis with beverages, particularly alcoholic ones, there’s another element to consider in addition to flavor: how the effects of the cannabis pair with the effects of the beverage. This additional layer to the pairing process makes it a little more challenging but also lots of fun.

Indicas, sativas, and hybrids can beget a wide range of effects: some strains are uplifting and euphoric, while others are relaxed and sleepy. The best pairings consider both the flavors of each individual constituent and how the effects of one will offset or accentuate the effects of the other. If you’re holding a Russian imperial stout with 12 percent alcohol by volume, you’d probably better steer clear of potent, body-heavy indicas like Granddaddy Purple, unless you want to end up napping all afternoon in an armchair (though that can be enjoyable, too). On the other hand, pairing an after-dinner espresso with an energetic sativa might be a recipe for disaster if you don’t want to be up all night – so consider switching your strain choice, or brewing a shot of decaf.

Note: With pairing cannabis with alcohol, it’s imperative that you consume responsibly. Always practice moderation, and never drive under the influence of THC, alcohol, or both.

Brett Konen's Bio Image
Brett Konen

Brett is a former editor at Leafly who loves travel, craft cocktails, and shining a spotlight on unique lifestyle trends.

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