America’s smokers have spoken: Runtz is the United States’ 2020 Leafly Strain of the Year! All across the nation, this fresh hybrid won over the masses with its gorgeous trichomes, phenomenal aroma, and potent effects.
As the lovechild of two other award-winning strains, Runtz consistently rose in popularity and acclaim since it debuted in December 2017. It claims the throne after Leafly’s independent review process that includes search trends, product availability, awards, and expert analysis.
Let’s dig into what makes 2020 the year of Runtz!
The experience of Runtz
In order to give Runtz our 2020 title, we must start at the most important part: the experience of it.
In southern Humboldt County, CA, longtime cannabis cultivator Jason Gellman is the founder of Ridgeline Farms–which took an Emerald Cup in 2019 for Runtz. He’ll always grow a greenhouse of the cultivar, he said.
“Growing this day and age, you look for three things: You want the look, you want the smell, and you want the taste,” says Gellman.
Runtz checks each box and tears up the scorecard.
Gellman refers to the smell of Runtz as something “like no other strain I’ve ever grown,” and describes its aroma as a syrupy berry cream with plenty of gassy notes. The color? Purple and pink in the summer, with shades that go as deep as black-purple in the fall.
“It looks amazing, it smells like candy, grapes, and gas.”Ridgeline Farms owner, grower Jason Gellman, southern Humboldt County, CA
“With Runtz, it looks amazing, it smells like candy, grapes, and gas, and you smoke it and it tastes just like it smells, which is [actually] kind of unusual,” he says.
The sedative effects of this hybrid lean more toward an indica, with a flavor similar to Gelato, according to LitHouse, a family-owned coastal cannabis operation in Mendocino County, California. It comes with a heavy body high and strong chill vibes. It doesn’t jolt you with too much THC; rather, it wraps you in a thick, relaxing aroma.
The origin of Runtz
It’s hard to track Runtz’s roots and hammer down its exact lineage, but it’s widely considered to be a cross between Gelato and Zkittlez. Gelato won Leafly’s Strain of the Year in 2018—a deliciously sweet, creamy blend of Thin Mint GSC and Sherbert.
If the lineage rumors are true, it’s clear that someone took the best of the decade-old Cookies craze and added the exotic, new award winner Zkittlez to catch the world’s attention.
“Zkittlez cleaned up the Emerald Cup [in 2018] and then what won last year? Runtz,” says Gellman.
According to the international lifestyle brand Cookies, the original Runtz genetics focused on its purple candy taste, bag appeal, aroma, and flavor. The expertly engineered strain—combined with Cookies’ masterful marketing push—became a self-fulfilling prophecy.
“I knew Runtz would work,” says Berner, rapper, entrepreneur, and co-founder of the Cookies brand. “One of the owners, Ray, came up around me and understands the recipe that made Cookies what it is. [Runtz crew co-leader Rapper Yung] LB put in lots of time on the road and in the studios, where campaigning and hard work, dedication, and solid marketing created a crazy wave.”
The impact of Runtz
With just three years on the market, Runtz reached phenomenal heights. But a great cultivar is nothing without consumer awareness and large-scale cultivation to fill millions of smoky bowls. Runtz’s story illustrates that winning combo.
According to Cookies, Runtz came from the Runtz crew of “Ray, Nick, and Yung LB” by 2017. These three original “Cookies Boyz” had always hyped the Cookies brand.
“LB, Ray, and Nick used the recipe Berner spoke about to build their own platform to launch Runtz,” says the company Cookies. “The credibility the Runtz crew had, due to their connection with Berner, helped to give them a foothold in cannabis, entertainment, and fashion.”
Indeed, Long Beach-based rapper Yung LB first debuted the hype strain at the highly influential Emerald Cup in Santa Rosa, CA, in December 2017. The California trademark was filed in early 2018. The name “Runtz” is a nod to the plant’s yield, nug size, and its Zkittlez roots.
A greenhouse of Runtz yields about 30% lower than the average strain, says Ridgeline’s Gellman.
“It is a bummer you don’t get as much yield out of it, but… everybody wants it. It’s not a slow grower, but you won’t get giant colas out of Runtz. You will get the name Runtz. That’s how it grows—in nice little chunks.”
The support of over 100 rap songs
California’s adult-use cannabis sales launched on January 1, 2018, and Runtz’s reputation had already started heating up. Search traffic for Runtz had picked up by the middle of 2018 and knowing ears started to hear it in dozens of rap songs. Yung LB’s catchphrase “Runtz up yo life!” became a way of life, and fans of exotic weed and hip-hop continued to ask around about the elusive strain.
The illicit market really pushed Runtz in rap songs, and any street vendor can buy counterfeit Runtz packaging from overseas and hide regular old Gelato in a fancy bag. As of today, over 100 rap songs mention the word “Runtz,” according to lyrics website Genius.com.
The strain’s boutique Northern California growers could not match Runtz’s demand, and “producing fire cannabis at scale had started to become a challenge,” says Cookies. So in 2018, Cookies added Runtz to their lineup, releasing White Runtz.
Now a part of Cookies, White Runtz and “other Runtz cultivars are a core part of the menu and expansion efforts in legal cannabis markets,” Cookies says.
Keeping up with popular demand
In 2019, trademarks for Runtz vapes and events were filed. Then Ridgeline Farms won the 2019 Emerald Cup with Runtz—out of 700 entrants in 14 categories. A White Runtz took 3rd place that same year, and a Runtz rosin by Kalya Extracts took 7th in Rosins.
Emerald Cup judge Nikki Lastreto calls the winning Ridgeline Runtz, “the most beautiful bud I saw in the entire competition. A Boeing 747 that takes you to space.”
Since then, demand has only grown bigger. More authentic Runtz in more legal states is on the way in 2021.
“As one of the most sought-after brands, Runtz and Cookies are partnering together to ensure authentic, quality products are accessible to consumers within legal markets,” says Cookies in a statement.
The winning chemistry of Runtz
Yes—Runtz satisfies high-THC smokers. But look to its aromatic molecules—its terpenes—for the real secret recipe. THC powers cannabis’ effects, but terpenes modulate the high, making it multidimensional and deeper rather than a single, short note.
Lab tests of Runtz reveal a recipe for success that you see in other hit varieties.
The top three terpenes in Runtz lab samples are caryophyllene, limonene, and linalool—shown as magenta, yellow, and purple in our flower graphics. The science of terpenes is in its infancy, but there is still much to point to.
- The main terpene, caryophyllene, seems to act like a chassis, providing the baseline dank, rich vehicle for the gassy, citrusy limonene and the sweet, floral linalool. Caryophyllene is the main terpene of most cannabis—so prevalent, they train drug dogs to recognize it.
- The second terpene, limonene, often conjures up citrus, but it is also physical, biting, and astringent, creating a gassy, fuel sensation.
- The third terpene, linalool, is found in lavender; it’s soft and inviting and modulates the first two terpenes. Linalool adds a berry complexity—you see linalool in Blueberry, for example.
And for the real weed nerds, that caryophyllene-limonene match is the 1-2 killer combo in relatives GSC, Thin Mint GSC, and Gelato. Consumers love it so much, it also pops up in another 2020 trendsetter, GG4.
This terp combo is so dominant, it has become a criticism of Runtz: ‘Everything is Gelato nowadays. They all taste and feel similar.’
Runtz’s soaring popularity inspired boutique growers Clout King to launch the 2020 satire flower brand, Terdz.
Runtz amok: Varieties and new crosses
Runtz genetics began to circulate widely in the California grower community beginning in 2018—either as bagseed or cuttings—creating an entire world of official and knockoff Runtz products.
Officially, Cookies sells White Runtz and Pink Runtz, and they’re doing a White Runtz feminized seed line of crosses with Compound Genetics in Oregon that includes Zruntz (Zkittlez 2.0 X White Runtz) and Rose Gold Runtz (Apples & Bananas X White Runtz).
Unofficially, 2020 became the year of Obama Runtz—an illicit market branding effort that went viral, complete with colorful packaging symbolizing hope and change. Outside of licensed stores, there’s no regulatory body arbitrating authenticity claims. While some think Obama Runtz is more likely a strain closer to Obama OG, the internet craze around Obama Runtz amused millions in 2020.
“The strain game is kind of the name game,” says Ridgeline’s Gellman. “Everybody switches names and puts names on different things that are the same things.”
For example, White Runtz and Pink Runtz don’t appear all that different.
“This year I had White Runtz and Pink Runtz side by side in the same greenhouse and honestly I could not tell the difference. Not at all. It was kind of a bummer,” says Gellman, who grew this year for Cookies.
Also, Runtz flowers ceded shelf space to manufactured products—vape carts and so-called diamond extracts of Runtz.
And next up is Azul Runtz, says Gellman—a reported cross with Blueberry Muffin that adds weight.
Expect to see more varieties of more legal Runtz in more legal states nationwide, Berner tells Leafly. “I think the next move for Runtz is major menu expansion.”
“It’s really amazing to see what people are coming up with right now. It blows my mind being in this evolution of weed,” says Gellman.
What makes a Leafly Strain of the Year?
While picking Leafly Strain of the Year did require us to put our heads together, there’s definitely more science behind the madness.
Leafly uses a combination of data and editorial expertise to narrow down the finalists: from what’s popular in individual stores, to what’s popular in different regions of the country at the same time. We look back on a strain’s performance for a calendar year or more, and analyze its trajectory in comparison to other flower trends.
‘Our independent review excluded any input or influence from outside parties, or the Leafly sales team.’
Our independent review excluded any input or influence from outside parties, or the Leafly sales team. We contacted zero live sources for this article until after we chose the 2020 Leafly Strain of the Year.
It’s all part of how we’re helping consumers master their cannabis experience. What will be the strain of 2021? It’s already out there, building followers and clout.