Fire In = Fire Out: How Starting Material Quality Impacts End Products

In some ways, cannabis extraction is a lot like cooking, especially when it comes to solventless extraction. Simple ingredients produce remarkable final dishes — or in this case, concentrates. But this simplicity is deceiving. With only ice, water, and flower in the recipe, solventless extraction makes it hard to hide the problems of low-quality inputs.

Fire in = Fire Out Picture

The cleanliness and purity of solventless extraction notoriously requires the highest quality flower to start. When done correctly, cold cured and live rosin sell for top shelf prices. But, if there were issues with the starting material, these impurities, contaminants, and low quality trichomes become immediately apparent.

As a result, solventless extractors have very quickly learned the impact of inputs, good or bad, on the final product. The finicky nature of rosin has forced brands to completely rethink product sourcing, so much so that it's now driving entire breeding programs.

Solventless Highlights the Good and the Bad

In solventless extraction, there is no room to hide. Because the process relies only on the addition of ice and cold water in order to best preserve the trichome heads and the cannabinoids and terpenes they contain, all of the complex characteristics in the input material are clearly displayed in the final product.

Without the addition of solvents or remediation technologies, this clean and pure extraction method showcases nuanced phytochemical profiles in unprecedented ways. Often, this means a more diverse cannabinoid and terpene expression than you’ll find through other extraction methods.

Solventless Highlights

Low temperature mechanical terpene separation using the Longs Peak Rosin Press

But, unlike hydrocarbon extraction or other solvent-based approaches, mechanical separation and a rosin press  do not remove lingering contaminants from cultivation. If you have poor-quality cannabis plants as the starter material, these undesirable characteristics are just as apparent in the final product and the amount of product that strain may yield. In fact, you may find that the hash you have made can not justifiably be sold as any standalone concentrate, and therefore must be melted down and infused into edibles. This is a tough reality for operators to face, especially given the promise of high-value solventless concentrates, but one that must be controlled for starting at the grow itself.

Start with Sourcing High-Quality Inputs

As we've established, what goes into the extraction process is directly reflected in what comes out. That means, unlike solvent hydrocarbon or CO2 extractors, solventless extractors aren't just looking at the cost or potency of their inputs. They have to consider everything, from genetics to growing conditions.

Speak with any solventless producer about their process and they not only highlight the clean extraction method, but they'll also speak to the sourcing of high-grade premium flower. Even in mission statements and marketing materials, flower quality is frequently highlighted. As discussed above, this focus on quality is for good reason, because high-quality solventless concentrates can only come from high-quality cannabis as the starting material.

High Quality Inputs

flower grown at Humboldt Kine farms for solventless processing

Many extractors set up in-house cultivation, often including a breeding program. Others outsource cultivation with independent farmers who align with the brand's vision and strict cultivation requirements. Still others source flower on the open market, though this means their production could be limited depending on the season, harvest quality, and wholesale prices. The ideal way to control flower quality dedicated to solventless extraction is the first option, with a grow dedicated to producing cannabis for hash.

That being said, for many operators having a cultivation facility of their own is more work than is necessary to create high-quality solventless concentrates. Papa & Berkley is a prime example of a solventless extractor dialed into the nuances of cultivation. They are exclusively solventless extractors with award-winning bubble hash. They work closely with OG (Ocean-Grown) Farm in Humboldt County, California, because they've determined that the region's microclimates produce the high-terpene, premium flower they require for the production of their chemical-free, whole-plant, full-spectrum oil.

Bubble hash and rosin manufacturers almost always micromanage their supply of cannabis plants to guarantee that the final product is not just free from contaminants but will allow them to make the full range of solventless SKUs they desire.

Trichome Morphology, an Evolving Science

But what are extractors looking for when selecting the best flower to wash? First and foremost they are examining the shape and size of the trichomes on the flowers. These trichomes play a direct role in the yield and quality of solventless extracts and, interestingly enough, does not mean that plants that produce top-shelf smokable flower will necessarily wash well in solventless extraction. For example, OGs, Hazes, and everyone's favorite, Jack Herer, have a trichome morphology that doesn't lend itself to solventless extraction.

While our understanding of the relationship between trichome structure and solventless extraction is still evolving, the leading theory of use is called the "Broken Neck" theory. Trichomes typically form with two unique substructures, the cannabinoid and terpene containing “head” and the “stalk” on which it is supported. This theory suggests that the size, shape, and fragility of the connection point between the “head” and “stalk”of the trichome dictates how well it washes off and later presses in solventless extraction. Some strains of cannabis produce trichomes with little to no distinct “head” or, if they do, the “head” is not large enough to readily separate from the stalk with agitation.

Trichome Morphology

checking trichomes for resin quality and maturity in the grow

In solventless extraction, you need a trichome that quickly breaks off in the wash but is robust enough to withstand the agitation. Then, the trichome concentration must be high enough that the final yield makes the cost of extraction worthwhile. Many operators will now use a portable microscope to examine trichome structure and development, not only to choose strains for solventless extraction, but also to determine the ideal time to harvest those strains.

Solventless Extraction, a Deceivingly Simple Process

Ice water, flower, agitation, heat, and pressure work together to produce the industry's cleanest, most flavorful product. Yet the simplicity of the process means it's impossible to hide the imperfections of a problematic starting material.

The entire solventless process hinges on one fundamental principle: Fire in = fire out. Start with premium flower, then work with rosin extraction equipment that offers the control necessary to showcase the flower's exceptional qualities.

Pure Pressure by Agrify delivers premium extraction solutions for the solventless sector. The Axis Trichome Separator offers unparalleled control, efficiency, and scalability for solventless processors. Designed for hash production, the Axis maintains material quality by mimicking hand paddling while saving labor and increasing efficiency and batch throughput. Meanwhile, our legendary Longs Peak Rosin Press is automated for repeatability and efficiency in pressing.

Learn more about the premium extraction equipment that can help you make the most of your high-quality inputs.