New Hemp Aromas Behind a New Category in Europe’s Food & Beverage Industry

author: Shemek Fedyczkowski

As the food and beverage industry continually looks to new trends, it’s no surprise that hemp terpenes are beginning to make an appearance on consumer products. The Food & Beverage industry has for years sought to tap into the hemp & cannabis trends and consumer consciousness of health benefits along with the clear popularity in young and older consumer groups.

If one considers the very broad categories, from confectionary, energy drinks, alcohols and the broad wellness & health food categories it’s clear this new category has tremendous market potential.

Until now hemp branded products such as energy drinks, chocolates or granola bars have used hemp seed oil or hemp seeds as an ingredient. Unfortunately, hemp seeds have several limitations in packaged products resulting in poor acceptance by consumers. However, another compound derived from hemp has proven far more effective, hemp terpene aromas.

This article outlines the pros and cons of hemp seed oil and seeds versus natural hemp terpene extracts in food, beverage consumer packaged goods that also includes alcoholic products. Finally, we will describe how Sequoya is leading the development of hemp aroma extracts specifically for applications in F&B and working with some of the world’s largest companies behind consumer packaged goods to create a list of products in this new category.

To begin, it’s worth outlining the very broad possibilities in food, beverage and alcohol products. Several major consumer goods brands have launched products under this category; namely, Rockstar drinks with one product with hemp, numerous craft beers branded with a hemp leaf and confectionery products such as gummies and chocolates. However, the list of products that may well lend themselves to hemp branding goes a lot deeper and further.

The reality is that nearly every major food, beverage and alcohol company’s marketing department has at some point discussed launching products branded with hemp for product positioning or even products containing hemp as a nutritional products.

CBD Not a Viable Derivative For F&B Products

Usually the first go to hemp derivative is CBD (cannabidiol) which is one of over 120 cannabinoids in hemp. The challenge has been in the fact that in Europe CBD is under review by the European commission as to whether it falls under Novel Food. Novel Food is defined as food not consumed to a significant degree by humans before 15 May 1997, the year Europe’s regulation on novel food was applied. As the European commission deliberates if CBD falls under Novel Food or not CBD doesn’t have the legal framework to be applied in F&B. This is an ongoing debate with EIHA (European Industrial Hemp Association) who firmly argues that CBD has a long history of use as a food among consumers and should not be considered a Novel Food.

And indeed Jan. 26th 2023, the American regulatory body FDA concluded that Existing Regulatory Frameworks for Foods and Supplements are Not Appropriate for Cannabidiol (CBD).

Since the framework of legal use of CBD is still undefined major brands have looked to use other compounds that don’t fall under Novel Food or FDA’s restrictions; mainly, whole hemp seeds & refined derivatives, hemp flower in foods, beverages and even alcohols. This includes such obvious categories such as energy drinks, sweets and alcohols, including new categories arise as pasta made from natural hemp flour as it’s rich on omega 3 and omega 6.

Hemp Seeds & Oil a Poor Alternative to F&B Product Experience

F&B brands use hemp seed oil because it’s a hemp derivative which doesn’t fall under Europe’s Novel Food and ultimately makes possible labeling products with hemp or cannabis branding.

The issue with hemp seed oil, whole hemp seeds or hemp flower is that it simply doesn’t offer any flavor or aroma that the hemp label may promise.

Natural Hemp Terpene Extracts A Practical Alternative

Aside from hemp seeds, hemp seed oil, whole plant or cannabinoids compounds (e.g CBD or CBG), there’s a third derivative in the compounds responsible for the hemp plants distinctly-smelling fragrance and flavors called ‘hemp terpenes’. In considering the array of benefits to both the consumer experience and regulatory aspects, Hemp Terpenes will add aroma, flavor, are both safe and legal and when applied in an aroma extract form require very minimal amounts as an additive in the final formulation.

Hemp terpene aroma extracts, pose a viable and easily applicable derivative from hemp or cannabis for consumer goods products in foods, beverages, alcohols; including the growing interest for applications in vape products, supplements and even cosmetics.

Let’s dive into the reasons why hemp terpenes offer so much potential it’s likely to be an ingredient behind a list of new product categories.

Should anyone still have doubts regarding the legal and safe use of hemp terpenes, it’s essential to understand this ingredient is a terpene blend forming the aroma. Natural hemp aroma blends consist of natural plant terpenes (Pinene, Limonene, Linalool) already broadly applied in foods & beverage. Therefore, food & beverage product manufacturers using hemp terpene aromas apply the same food standards & practices as with a myriad of aromas applied in everyday foods.

Like all aromas, if properly manufactured, food grade standardized hemp terpenes are obtained precisely like the more common aromas and fragrances used in foods today.

However, I can say working with our laboratory R&D team on developing a standardized, scalable and consistent Hemp Terpene product was a process spanning 18 months. Ultimately, We have terpene blends that are not only free of substances restricted by Novel Food, but also offer extensive standardization and batch-to-batch product reproducibility, specification precision and manufacturing scaling.

Applying to F&B products, hemp terpene aromas give products the distinctly-smelling aroma and flavor a hemp branded label promises, which is what counts in F&B products. While adding ingredients according to the label is a regulatory requirement (i.e.: hemp seeds for the sake of listing this in ingredients), delivering a sensory experience the labels promise is absolutely vital to the products commercial success.

Using natural hemp terpene aromas applies common food practices in using aroma and at the same time elevates the product by delivering a whole new sensory experience that’s sure to make an impression.

Hemp aroma terpenes offer an entirely new level of sensory experience across the board in food, beverage and alcoholic products. Sourcing a quality ingredient, such as a pure natural extract that avoids dilution in a carrier is also key to ensuring broad applications.

What are terpenes?

Terpenes are natural compounds that commonly lend plants their distinctive natural fragrance. Practically all plants contain terpenes, more common sources encountered include: aromatic herbs, like sage and thyme, citrus fruits, pine tree, cannabis. Worth noting that the odor or smell emanating from plants is almost always a combination of natural terpenes that together form the distinctive terpene fragrance profile. For example, terpenes that constitute the essential oil of sweet orange are a-pinene, camphene, sabinene, b-pinene, myrcene, d-3-carene, d-limonene, terpinolene, a-copaene, b-elemene, b-caryophyllene, a-cadinene, a-humulene, b-farnesene, valencene, and d-cadinene. The major terpene by far is d-limonene, which accounts for almost 95% of the volatile fraction of the oil.

As consumers we experience aromas derived from terpenes everyday, such as a simple citrus terpenes to a mixture of terpenes forming a broad array of aromas in our everyday food. Indeed quite common are complex terpene profiles that mix with an array of food product ingredients, for example vanilla & banana aromas in yogurt products.

Differentiating Terpenes from Cannabinoids

Now that we understand what terpenes are, it’s equally vital to understand what they are NOT. All plants and herbs have both terpenes and other compounds. Some compounds have absolutely or relatively benign properties and others are used as for their active constituents.

A good start is looking at common culinary herbs, culinary herbs are often used for their aroma in dishes, while some are also known for their health or even medicinal benefits. Culinary herbs contain fragrant terpenes, more specifically essential oils used for their aromas, while other compounds may be known for health or medicinal benefits, much like with hemp or cannabis. These are sometimes known as active ingredients, some are isolated for specific applications.

Case in point is Rosemary, is a common household culinary spice for flavoring, while having a long history of powerful antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties, recent studies attributed these properties to carnosic and rosmarinic acids present in rosemary.

However, rosemary contains abundant volatile terpene constituents responsible for the distinct aroma & flavor such as α-pinene, camphene, 1,8-cineole, β-pinene, camphor, borneol, verbenone, and limonene. It’s therefore applicable to isolate the Rosemary terpenes for purely the Rosemary aromas for various applications in food flavoring or essential oils.

Hemp like rosemary is rich in terpenes, including terpenes mentioned above. Thus in hemp terpene extracts we can find α-pinene and β-pinene, camphor and borneol as well. Additionally, Limonene associated with citrus fruits can also be found in hemp. Hemp terpenes are therefore not new compounds – they are widely used in the food industry.

Sequoya’s Hemp Terpene Aromas for Food & Beverages

Much like citrus, lemongrass, orange (neral), vanilla (vanillin), hemp and cannabis plants contain distinctly-smelling aromas, and there’s an increasingly broadening potential to launch new products using the hemp aroma. In fact, there are new product applications being discovered regularly in nearly food & beverage categories.

Hemp aromas may also be infused with existing products (i.e.: health foods, organic product categories) and will undoubtedly be used to launch an entirely new category of products with its very distinct fragrance.

As mentioned at the start of the article, some obvious products include sweets (hemp chocolate, hemp cookies, hemp gummies, ice cream), beverages (hemp branded energy drinks, hemp & lemongrass smoothies and organic drinks), alcoholic beverages (beers, vodkas, gins) with hemp terpene aromas and cannabis leaf branding.

As Sequoya regularly receives new inquiries from F&B companies, we see new product ,concepts which fall into purely marketing concepts using the hemp aroma; as well as, falling into functional health food products to emphasize the beneficial properties of these products. To list a few, a pasta product based on hemp flour for it’s Omega 3 and Omega 6 properties and dairy products, specifically in yogurt and bottled milkshake products as just two of many examples.

Given the clear potential, Sequoya’s F&B product development team goal was to develop an aroma ingredient that would have broad applications in foods & beverages, in addition alcoholic products. While there are many terpenes in hemp, Sequoya R&D and product development spent just under 2 years developing standardized hemp aroma terpene profiles which can be broadly applied and scaled in production.

The team isolated a specific terpenes profile for applications in food & beverages. The other vital decision was to ensure the product was derived naturally and was 100% extract, void of carriers to avoid further variables during manufacturing on the client side.

Using a natural set of primary terpenes, our team used key primary terpenes and developed 3 hemp derived aromas profiles, these aromas where selected based on the three most popular cannabis strains: Sativa, Amnesia, OG Kush.

This range of hemp aroma profiles increases the range of products which can be applied given the various ingredients in foods & beverages that may influence the aromas.

Pure Hemp 100% Aroma Extract vs an Essence

When discussing food aromas it’s important to distinguish between an extract and an essence aroma or flavor, while they are sometimes used interchangeably they are in fact very different. In short, an extract is a natural plant derivative, less processed and provides a stronger and more pure aroma (i.e.: vanilla flavour) whereas an essence is chemically produced & synthetic.

Synthetically produced aroma essence is less expensive to produce, yet it has little to do with the natural constituent. These aromas are chemically-produced to mimic naturally-occurring aromas. For example, you will often find vanilla essence contains very little or no real vanillin, as it’s made using artificial flavours and colours. Finally, an essence can also be high in additional additives to stabilize and preserve.

At Sequoya we made a decision that the final product had to be all natural, derived from hemp terpenes and it had to be a 100% extract.

Sequoya’s Natural Hemp Terpene Aroma Extracts, EU’s first.

Our European facility has been producing natural hemp terpenes for several years for use in formulations for supplements and nutraceuticals. Our team has developed a proprietary end-to-end process for extracting & scaling hemp & cannabis terpenes.

It was therefore natural for Sequoya to develop a functional and practical hemp derivative solution for the food & beverage industry. Ultimately product development spanned 18 months and was a complete success, it delivered Europe’s first hemp derived ingredient that delivered an aroma & flavour experience when infused in F&B products. The solution is equally safe, entirely legal, natural and able to be applied broadly in foods, beverages & alcohols.

3 Hemp Aroma Profiles

The result was having developed a set of three (3) hemp aroma profiles standardized terpene profiles for consistency and scale; namely, Sativa, Amnesia & OG Kush.

100% Pure Extract, No Carrier Oils

Worth mentioning, Sequoya’s hemp terpene aromas are natural & derived from hemp terpenes and 100% extracts. Our team felt the best form was a 100% extract delivering an aroma that was void of using carriers & hence avoiding additional variables for manufacturers or product quality. This ultimately eases the process of integration with myriad of ingredients in consumer foods & beverages and stays in line with today’s trends of natural products.

0.01% – 0.02% of The Total Product Mass

The other benefit of a 100% aroma extract is the minimal application needed in the total mass of the products. Chocolate manufacturers arrive at an appropriate flavor or aroma balance randing 0.01% and 0.02% of the total product mass. The minimal proportions needed have obvious advantages for consumer packaged foods & beverage manufacturers.

Using natural hemp terpene aromas applies common food practices in using aroma and at the same time elevates the product to not only what the label promises but when using quality hemp terpene aroma concentrates the product delivers a whole new sensory experience that’s sure to make an impression.

Hemp aroma terpenes offer an entirely new level of sensory experience across the board in food, beverage and alcoholic products. Sourcing a quality ingredient, such as a pure natural extract that avoids dilution in a carrier is also key to ensuring broad applications.

Hemp Terpene-Infused Foods & Beverages, A Growing Category

The fact is practically all consumer F&B goods companies have at some stage looked to capitalize on this growing trend and launching products labeled with a hemp leaf or including hemp derivatives in products.

For these companies the challenge was in finding hemp ingredients that where both legal and delivered a sensory experience to consumers. For these companies, not having a company to turn to for consultation and supply meant that these products were placed on hold in lieu of more standard end routine ingredients.

Hemp Aromas Poised for Acceptance Across Consumer Groups

At this stage it seems European and indeed global consumers across all ages and groups seem ready for products with hemp derivatives, particularly the safe aroma variety. The younger consumer groups will look to hemp leaf branded products and older groups will seek other product categories, mainly in the health foods category which take note of certain beneficial properties of hemp terpenes.

It’s now up to F&B product manufacturers to capitalize by launching hemp and cannabis branded products that deliver the full sensory aroma and flavours the brand promises.

Needless to say our team is excited to have developed & launched Europe’s first Natural Hemp Aroma specifically for applications in Food & Beverage. Since launch our team has started collaborating with over a dozen F&B manufacturers, the response from product companies has been very positive. There are now R&D projects across many categories.

Given the very broad product applications in food & beverage, we expect to see a full range of products over the following 18 months. The marketing, labels and products will surely be creative, novel and deliver a whole new category of products to consumers that’s sure to be a mainstay on retail shore shelves.

Sequoya’s ingredients behind thousands of consumer products

Sequoya is a Canadian / European company with it’s European state of the art facility specializing in hemp derivatives and herbal supplement bioingredients applied in supplements, food & beverage and pharmaceuticals. Sequoya’s European facility is built with a proven capability for innovating product development and end-to-end manufacturing ingredients; as well as, finished private label products and a long line of white label products.

Our European team served over 250 clients worldwide, having developed over 300 formulations has built a reputation for innovating formulations with natural ingredients & bioingredients while working with some of the largest brands in supplements, nutraceuticals, food & beverage, including pharmaceuticals. We are dedicated to continually innovating as well as collaborating closely with clients.

Sequoya’s European facility boasts manufacturing the widest range if hemp & cannabis derivatives of any facility in Europe; namely, cannabinoid rich full spectrum oils, broad spectrum oils, CBD Distillates, CBD isolates and natural hemp terpene aroma extracts. The list is too long to list; although, if you’re curious about any of our products please contact our European team directly for an introduction to our team.