Why do some strains smell like garlic?
Lorena Cupcake, voted “best budtender in Chicago” in 2019, has answered hundreds of questions from cannabis shoppers and patients during their time as a budtender. And now they’re turning that experience into a monthly advice column, Ask a Budtender. Got a question for Cupcake? Submit your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’ve always preferred savory flower like Garlic Cookies over sweet, citrusy, and dessert-like strains. What causes those funky flavors? What other strains should I look for?
While it can seem off-putting to some, I share your love for garlic strains. When a breeder hits on a cultivar that combines the right notes of skunk, gasoline, and parmesan cheese, it’s eagerly embraced by those looking for wilder thrills than the berry-scented bud they’re used to. One of my favorite live resins is a particular jar of sauce that smells like a roast chicken when I open the lid.
In some ways, these savory strains represent a puzzle for the curious cannabis mind. There are terpenes that easily explain why bud smells like pine, lemon zest, or lavender. While garlic strains are usually heavy on myrcene — an earthy, spicy terpene that may explain some of its powerful, heavy-hitting effects — that’s not unusual, with myrcene dominant in plenty of strains with a completely different palate. After tracking down exactly where the sharp, stinky funk we love comes from, I’ve gained a deeper appreciation for these unusual strains, and I think you will too, Garlic Head.
The origins of garlic strains
The story begins in early 2013, when Spanish breeder Mamiko Seeds crossbred a new cultivar. “Chemdawg D and Forum Cookies were the two cuts involved. The Cookies clone was not even known as Forum [Cookies] yet, but just as Girl Scout Cookies,” a representative for Mamiko Seeds told me. “The original name was D-Cookies, but we renamed it Chem Cookies soon afterward to reflect that, among the different Cookies crosses from our collection, including members of the Chem family, this one represented the best of those traits that are generally associated with the Chem character.”
Later that year, a handful of those seeds labeled as “Chem D” made it to Matt, the breeder behind Skunkhouse Genetics (perhaps better known online as Skunkmasterflex). I interviewed him along with Brett, or “Respect,” who handles the business end of Skunkhouse’s massive line of seeds. It was in their hands that Chem Cookies, or rather a particular phenotype of Chem Cookies, acquired the name GMO.
“The name came organically, as ironic as that is for GMO,” Matt laughed. Out of all the seeds they sprouted, only the first female plant was flourishing; in Brett’s memory, “It was just growing out of control, it was stacking, it stunk, it looked amazing.”
“It was growing like it was modified,” Matt said, “and at the time, the Girl Scouts of America were getting a bunch of flak for having a bunch of chemicals and GMOs in their cookies.” Dubbing the plant “GMO” seemed like a natural progression from Chem Cookies, though over the years, the unusual moniker would lead more than one cannabis consumer to question if the strain had truly been created through conventional crossbreeding.
Those concerns lead to even more naming creativity, like the backronym Garlic Mushrooms Onion. Brett told me it was a dispensary in Ann Arbor that originally renamed its GMO flower “Garlic Cookies” to appeal to a crunchy clientele opposed to genetic modification.
Why does cannabis taste like garlic?
While earthy myrcene and peppery caryophyllene explain some of the dinner-in-the-oven bouquet of savory strains, there’s an additional sharp funk that sometimes reminds me of body odor or garlic breath. I spoke to “Queen of Terpenes” Dr. Susan Trapp to shed some light on the stinky subject of 3-Methyl-2-butene-1-thiol. Also known as 3-MBT, it’s part of a group of organic sulfur compounds known as thiols.
“You can actually find [3-MBT] in the cannabis plant,” Dr. Trapp said. “I think that’s what is really giving it a really garlicky, skunky smell, is that sulfur group. That’s that cheesy, metallic, kind of musty, Limburger cheese-like flavor.”
While the cabbagey compound has been positively identified in cannabis, 3-MBT is much more familiar to beer nerds as the source of lightstruck brew’s skunky flavor. Beer is often packaged in dark bottles to prevent photooxidation, a complex process where UV rays cause a chemical reaction to compounds found in hops.
Since skunked beers with high levels of thiols are considered undrinkable, that might make thiol content in cannabis sound like a flaw; it’s not. These super-efficient antioxidants contribute to flavor in wine, beer, and cannabis. Sulfur is an essential mineral for plants, helping build amino acids. Thiols even lend the namesake musk scent to strains like Skunk.
Whether it’s on the menu at a restaurant or a dispensary, garlic is a star; an olfactory attention-grabber that indulges our human hunger for the “fifth taste” of umami. While Garlic Margy or Garlic Breath might not be the most discreet strains to smoke, as long as those around you don’t mind the scent of marinara and meatballs, they might be some of the best.
Potent strains for the garlic lover
These days, most savory strains are distant descendants of Chem Cookies genetics. In the eight years since naming it their first GMO plant, Skunkhouse has continued innovating new strains for the garlic lover. “We just did a Big Papa, which is really garlic, papaya funk,” Brett said. “We have a modified Banana Punch line that’s coming out.” If you’re not up for starting from seed, try tracking down some of Skunkhouse’stheir most famous creations at your local dispensary.
Han Solo Burger (GMO x Larry OG F8)
After nine years of tinkering with Larry OG genetics, Skunkhouse Genetics took an outstanding Larry OG F8 male and crossed it with a potent, pungent GMO. This hybrid is known for an earthy umami scent similar to a big meaty burger.
GMOBX or Donny Burger (Han Solo Burger x GMO)
The last two letters in GMOBX stand for “backcross,” a cannabis breeding technique where an exceptional male plant is bred with one of its original parents, helping stabilize and lock in traits that both plants share. Tokers love this strain for the super cheesy flavor, while growers prize the faster flowering time.
Double Burger (GMO x Donny Burger)
Cross GMO with GMOBX and you get the next generation in the GMO line: Double Burger, a heavy indica hybrid with a whopping noseful of black pepper, garlic, and caramelized onions.
I could keep going forever (yes, there is a Triple Burger), but I think you get the general idea: “burger” is an important keyword to scan for when browsing your local dispensary’s menu.
You can also favorite strains on your Weedmaps profile to get a notification when they appear at a dispensary near you.
Need advice on how to incorporate cannabis into your lifestyle? Write Cupcake at email@example.com
Featured image by Gina Coleman/Weedmaps