Terpenes are a large class of compounds found in many plants. They are often largely or wholly responsible for the smells of plants. Analysis of the terpenes produced by aromatic plants can provide insight into the source of a particular desirable or undesirable scent. Essential oils are composed primarily of terpenes that have been steam-distilled or otherwise extracted from their respective plants.
Different plants contain varying levels of terpenes, and the terpene profile of a plant can often be diagnostic of the plant itself, allowing species identification. In some cases, the terpene profile can provide even more specific information beyond species. For example, there are actually several known strains of M. alternifolia, the Tea Tree plant, all of which can be differentiated based on the amounts of various terpenes produced by the plants. Another example is medical cannabis, where terpene profiling can be used to differentiate between different strains of C. sativa and C. indica.
At Supra Research and Development we also have the capability to differentiate between terpene enantiomers (“right-handed” and “left-handed” molecules) providing further specificity in analysis. This is accomplished using GC-MS equipped with a beta-cyclodextrin stationary phase column to allow chiral separation.