So, you’ve decided to give dabbing a shot. Now what? Even if you already know exactly how to choose the best flower for your needs, figuring out which concentrates are the best for dabbing might be a head scratcher for you.
In this post we’ll cover the differences between concentrates and extracts, the basic kinds of cannabis concentrates, and how to choose a great, high-grade concentrate for dabbing.
Concentrates and Extracts Are Not the Same
All cannabis extracts are concentrates, but not all cannabis concentrates are extracts. Wait, what?
There is a difference that relates to the method for collecting trichomes, although people use the terms interchangeably, for the most part. The distinction is that to make extracts you use a solvent such as carbon dioxide, butane, or alcohol. In other words, extracts are a kind of concentrate created using solvents rather than physical or mechanical extraction methods to remove the trichomes from the cannabis plant.
It’s like vanilla extract versus using a vanilla bean. The extract is made using alcohol which “extracts” the vanilla essence from the bean. If you use the bean itself, you’re physically opening it up and scraping out the vanilla essence—that’s a physical method. And these techniques produce different results with different consistencies; the vanilla extract is a shelf-stable liquid that smells not only of vanilla, but also of alcohol. The middle of the vanilla bean is a sticky paste that goes bad quickly unless it’s stabilized for storage.
CO2-extracted wax, butane hash oil (BHO), and Rick Simpson Oil (RSO) are types of cannabis extracts. Each version of these can come in various textures such as badder, budder, crumble, and shatter, although you’re not as likely to see RSO in as many forms. Dry sift and rosin are examples of concentrates that are made without using solvents. Kief is often placed in this category although it is not strictly a manufactured concentrate.
Concentrates In Focus
Product names of dabs can be confusing, but typically, each word in a name has meaning. For example, a product called “Candyland Nug Run Badder” refers to something specific:
- The cannabis plant strain and materials the manufacturer used to create the concentrate, Candyland nugs, not shake and trim;
- The processing techniques and resulting textures, in this case BHO extraction and a badder consistency;
- And a product intended for dabbing and vaping.
Cannabis is the source of all of these concentrates, but not all concentrates begin with the same part of the cannabis plant—and these differences affect the cannabinoid and terpene profile of the resulting cannabis concentrate. And the potency and flavor of concentrates may vary even if they’re made from the same part of the plant if the quality and grade of the starting cannabis is different.
Process type and consistency
Cannabis trichomes are the glands that produce cannabinoids and terpenes, and concentrates are simply concentrated versions of those trichomes, separated from the rest of the plant matter. There are many ways to separate the plant matter and the trichomes, each requiring its own methods, particular materials, and/or mechanical actions to create a specific concentrate.
Terms like badder, budder, crumble, oil, sauce, shatter, and sugar all refer to the appearance and consistency of a concentrate—its color, malleability, and texture. These concepts give shoppers a sense of the way a concentrate will feel and look in the container, but not always how it will perform.
Here are some of the most common concentrates on the market.
Shatter is among the most versatile forms of cannabis concentrate, and manufacturers can use a variety of solvent extraction methods, including BHO, CO2, EHO, and PHO, to make it. Actually, many other concentrates, such as crumble, badder, and budder, begin as shatter.
Shatter itself often has an elastic, taffy-like, “snap and pull” texture, but is also famous for its similarity to glass—you may find out how brittle shatter can be if you drop some and it shatters on contact with the sink or the floor. Vape shatter with a dab rig.
Badder and Budder
To get badder or budder, you start with terpene-rich shatter and whip it into an opaque, more creamy product. Technicians introduce and redistribute air molecules during this agitation process to achieve a frosting-like consistency by whipping the shatter at even, low temperatures over time—like you might whip air into a mixture of some kind as a cook or baker. How dense the resulting badder or budder texture is depends on the volume of the air molecules that get whipped in.
Next step: crumble! Badder or budder that is dried and purged at low temperatures in a vacuum oven becomes crumble—a dry, crumbly, waxy concentrate that retains the same cannabinoid and terpene levels as the shatter, badder, and budder that came before it.
Sugar and Sauce
Sugar refers to any cannabis concentrate that resembles wet maple sugar. These concentrates range in color from deep amber to bright yellow and are not otherwise uniform.
In contrast, sauce is stickier, thicker, and more viscous than sugar although it is similarly colored, ranging from dark yellow to deep amber. The real point of difference between sauce and sugar, though, is that sauce has a more prominent crystalline structure that is more regular and uniform throughout due to more crystallization.
Just like with any other kind of crystallization from rock candy on down, making cannabis or THC crystals involves creating a cannabis or THC solution and then reducing it down to form crystals. These products look like larger, semi-transparent or transparent crystals—sort of like rock candy, coarse kosher salt, or decorative sugar.
Sometimes products such as terp sauce will come with THC diamonds in it—that’s a regular sauce concentrate with extra THC crystals. However, the crystals themselves are usually just the single cannabinoid.
Finally, manufacturers create distillates by exposing a decarboxylated and winterized extract to vacuum and heat conditions. This separates the cannabinoids by their boiling points, which are all slightly different. The resulting product’s active ingredient is usually solely THC, unless other cannabinoids, terpenes, or other ingredients have been added back in after processing.
How to Choose the Best Dabs
Assess several factors before buying:
This is partly personal preference, but you can use smaller amounts of a more potent dab to stretch your budget if you’re careful.
This is also partly personal preference, but to us, dabbing is all about taste and flavor. There’s not as much point in dabbing something like distillate, which is just the THC, for example.
We love to dab live resins, hash rosins, bubble hash, and very terpy waxes, shatters, and badders. Those are chock full of terpenes and cannabinoids, and they taste and smell great. Look for products made from nugs or buds, not shake and trim.
How do you make sure dabs are safe? Buy them from a dispensary. Why does this keep you safe? Because regulation required in most places typically demands: use of only closed-loop extraction methods and high-grade solvents; manufacturer use of trained extraction professionals only; and lab testing for all products to measure concentrate potency and purity. These steps tend to eliminate the health and safety production problems people think about related to dabbing.
How do those dabs look? If they are very dark or very green, there are leftover plant matter and possibly other contaminants, and that’s a lower-quality product. If it’s translucent (unless it’s a whipped product) and clear to bright yellow to deep amber, it was produced well, with few to no impurities in the final product.
Dabs should smell amazing, so always use your nose. Most of what we perceive as taste is really smell, so inhaling the aroma of your dabs will give you a clue about how they will hit and taste. A powerful fragrance is usually going to signal more potent, flavorful dabs.
That famous, dank, sweet-earth scent that a jar of high grade cannabis boasts should be present if a concentrate was made with bud or nugs. No or low smell typically signals dabs made with low-quality cannabis or trim. As the cannabis plant dries, it loses aroma and flavor in the way of terpenes, and that can also happen in processing. (This is why live resin is so nice—it’s made from the best parts of fresh, high-grade cannabis plants.)
After buying, you still can and should assess quality:
Dabbing trim run concentrates produces a flavor that is distinctly plant-y due to the chlorophyll that is still present. If you get some bitter, plant-y dabs, you’ll know that may be the cause.
Be much more careful, however, about any unpleasant, burning, or chemically tastes, which can be the sign of more serious contaminants. Don’t continue to dab anything that tastes like chemicals.
Flame and listen
For one final test of a new product, put your heat source just over your first dab—just enough to make it bubble a little. Leftover solvent is the only thing that should cause a bubble to ignite or spark, so if you see that, your dabs have some contaminants. In fact, any sounds of cracking, popping, or sizzling definitely signal that contaminants, such as water or leftover butane, are present.
Final Thoughts on Best Concentrates for Dabbing
The great news is, there are lots of choices when it comes to cannabis dabs. We love the most terpene-rich options, such as live resin, bubble hash, hash rosin, shatter, badder, and budder—but we also know that quality and preference are really important. Follow this guide to picking the best concentrates for dabbing and you’ll definitely find some great choices that are delicious and safe.