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How Cool is Your Cure?

Cannatrol Helps Cultivators Establish Command Over The Dry Cure Process

When you walk through a field of something like wildflowers, or desert sage, or cannabis, unless you’re lacking in olfaction, you can’t help but notice and inhale the honeyed fragrances wafting into your nose. While this is certainly a pleasing and wonderful experience, there’s a problem. If you can smell the substance, it’s no longer in the plant, which in the case of cannabis, results in a loss of precious terpenes. Blasphemy!

A farmer harvests crops, and moves on to dry and then – cure, which dries out the material, removing water and the propensity for microorganisms to congregate and thrive, while augmenting potency on a weight percentage. Like most things in life, balance, though, is key. To wet, and the flowers might mold; too dry, and the hit might be harsh and flavorless with the concomitant desecration of native terpenes.

Old school methods of drying and curing might include standard heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning (HVAC) equipment like window air conditioners. Some cultivators might introduce dehumidifiers, box fans and hope for the best. But, unlike many things these days, where calling something old-school might convey something a whole lot cooler than what’s contemporary, these traditions needed usurped by something better.

Cannatrol sought to change this using their expertise in the food industry. I spoke with Jane Sandelman, Chief Marketing Officer at Cannatrol, to see how and why they brought their expertise and technology to cannabis.  “We like to say a broken clock is right twice a day – so if the weather cooperates and the stars align, you get a really nice end product with the old techniques,” Jane said. “Our patent-pending technology (Vaportrol™) was developed for aging cheese, and then migrated to dry-curing and aging meats. Applying our knowledge and technology to cannabis was a natural progression. The parameters are different for each industry; the physics are the same.”

Cannatrol wanted to be involved with cannabis due to their own personal -experience with the dry, harsh, and inconsistent products available at – dispensaries around the US. “We found a few medical growers in our home state of Vermont who were willing to beta test our technology – and now they say, ‘I wouldn’t dry or cure my meds any other way’,” Jane exclaimed.

Cannatrol recently installed a system in the largest medical dispensary in Vermont. The dispensary owners compared buds cured using the Cannatrol strategy to their “standard” technique of using air conditioners, fans and dehumidifiers. “In a sensory panel, the flowers that came out of our system were preferred 2 to 1,” Jane provided.

An improper cure can extinguish volatile molecules like terpenes (the ensemble). “There’s no doubt that terpenes are compromised,” Jane said. “One of our growers always says, ‘if you smell it, it’s gone…’.”

Words of truth. But, drying and curing in a cool and consistent environment better locks in terpenes, releasing them when the flowers are pried open or ground before use (aka The Proper Way).

“And, of course, when you over-dry, you lose valuable weight” Jane illuminated. “By drying to the correct moisture level, you deliver a superior bud, and your final sale weight can be as much as 3% higher – for the commercial grower, that’s pure profit.”

A cultivator needn’t feel bashful about wanting to establish dominion over their plants. After all, the harvests provide needed therapy for millions, and a sense of livelihood for the farmer. “With our cannabis systems (large and small), our Vaportrol™ Technology gives complete control and consistency – winter or summer, dry mountains or humid coast,” Jane added. “We control temperature and dew point (vapor pressure) separately in a sealed environment in which the user has 100% control all the time.”

In order to understand how Cannatrol’s technology works, a primer on vapor pressure is warranted. Vapor Pressure is a measurement that’s used when talking about environmental conditions and is related to evaporation. It confers how much moisture is in the air and how much more moisture the air can hold until it is saturated. When a flower is drying in any environment, the flower and its atmospheric surroundings have different vapor pressures. The difference between the vapor pressure of the flower and the vapor pressure of the air is the Vapor Pressure Difference (VPD) (not to be confused with Vapor Pressure Deficit).

And with nature being the great equalizer, preferring balance, the greater the difference between the vapor pressure of the flower compared to its surroundings, the faster the water will migrate from the flower to the atmosphere to achieve equality. Thus, as the VPD decreases, the rate that water moves from flower to surroundings diminishes. When the flower vapor pressure is in balance with surroundings, the air is saturated, and the plants cannot give off water,

“Vapor pressure and dew point are directly related,” Jane explained. “So, controlling the dew point gives you control of the vapor pressure. Simply put, this gives you control of the rate that water leaves the flower.”

It’s easy, therefore, to understand why Cannatrol sought to establish more control over parameters that enable cultivators to retain the chemistry native to fresh plants. The technology, however, isn’t just strictly available to larger farms. “Our smallest box is called The Cannatrol Cool Cure, and it’s designed for the smaller, home grower,” Jane remarked. “That box will handle about 2.5 pounds of wet flower and yields stable, usable buds in 8 days — 4 days dry time, 4 days cure.”

“We like to cure a bit longer,” Jane continued. “But if we need to cycle more buds through the box, we’ll remove them after 8 days and seal them up with a humidity pack. There’s no burping required because you are stable.”

Cannatrol has larger, modular systems that hold from 100 pounds of wet harvest on up. These large systems are designed in cooperation with a company called Sanitary Design Industries (SDI), that builds the Vaportrol™ Technology and Cannatrol system into the modular kits and custom-sized rooms. “Working with SDI, we can size the systems to the correct production scale and cycle of each of our clients,” Jane commented.

“Whether using a small or large system, the dry cycle takes about 4 days (but may vary depending on the density of the flower),” Jane discussed. “After 4 days, the flower should be in the optimal water activity range where the danger of mold has passed, but terpene retention is optimal. From there, the buds can start the cure process.”

The larger systems include scales that monitor real-time weight loss, such that target ranges can be better achieved. “We also recommend the use of a water activity meter to get the buds exactly where you want them,” Jane explained. “A water activity level of 0.65 gets you a product that is free from the danger of mold and is not over dried. Once you have reached this water activity you can level out your conditions and cure while removing only minimal amouts of water.”

We’ve discussed the need for terpene retention during the drying and curing of flowers. A warmer environment means more terpenes will be surrendered. Drying at a cool, stable temperature, however, can preserve terpenes. “And by controlling the vapor pressure,” Jane commented, “you gently remove water by balancing the environmental conditions with the actual vapor pressure of the buds. It’s a balancing act.”

Spending time and resources to create something, a beer, a wine, a dish, a blog article, or a cannabis cultivar, and negating critical steps at the end of the process are a fool’s mission. Just because your novel, exhilarating plant smells like a ripe cheese or your favorite fruity cereal, an improper dry and cure can result in a rotten display of microorganism infestation and/or the removal of wonderful constituents in the terpene profile.

“Growers put so much time, effort and money into the grow process with the finest genetics, healthy nutrients, lights and techniques,” Jane passionately exclaimed. “The two final steps are so important. Drying and curing are the last critical steps in producing a truly premium smokable flower. It only makes sense to standardize and fine-tune this process to get the absolute best from the product.”

About the author

Jason S. Lupoi, Ph.D.

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