Cannabis enthusiast and student of the art of solventless extraction
Have you ever seen clear, smooth, oily rosin transform into a seemingly sugar-filled, clumpy, and inconsistent substance? This change in appearance is due to nucleation, and it’s a relatively common occurrence in rosin. But what is nucleation, and how does it impact the quality of your rosin? Read on to find out.
What is nucleation?
Nucleation is simply a phase change in which crystalline formations occur in a liquid. In the case of rosin, this is what happens when the rosin “sugars up”, or “butters out” as it’s commonly referred to. Once nucleation begins, fatty compounds form a site to which additional molecules attach, thereby transforming the consistency of the entire substance.
Nucleation occurs in rosin by way of specific fatty substances that are produced by the cannabis plant and make their way into the rosin. These fatty compounds can sometimes initiate a reaction that changes the appearance of rosin into a crystalline matrix.
Nucleation is a sign that fatty compounds and other so-called plant contaminants are separating themselves within the rosin, and drawing other molecules to bond to them in a crystal-like structure. These crystals separate from the terpenes and cannabinoids in rosin. Cannabinoids are the therapeutic compounds (e.g. THC) produced naturally by the cannabis plant. These separated, crystal structures are what give nucleated rosin that sugar-like consistency, as the crystals look like small grains of sugar suspended in the rosin.
When does rosin nucleate?
There are certain conditions needed for rosin to nucleate. Either one or both of the following conditions must be present for nucleation to occur.
First, rosin needs a high terpene content to act as a recrystallization solvent. These terpenes are actually solvents that facilitate the gathering of other molecules in the solution.
Second, rosin needs to have enough lipids to act as the initial binding site onto which other molecules gather to form tiny crystalline structures.
There’s a snowball effect with nucleation, whereby the phase change quickly compounds upon itself. Once the initial fatty compounds separate themselves within the rosin, others are rapidly attracted to them, causing greater separation and reorganization into a crystal structure.
Not all rosin will nucleate, and it’s still unknown why some batches of rosin nucleate and others don’t. There is speculation that moisture content plays a role in nucleation, although much additional research and formal studies are needed to confirm this theory.
The process of winterization can remove much of the lipid content in rosin, making nucleation less likely to occur.
Winterization, also referred to as dewaxing, utilizes food grade alcohol to separate lipids and waxes from the rosin. A mixture of rosin and alcohol is left to freeze for several hours, after which time the fats and lipids settle to the bottom of the solution. The liquid mixture of rosin and alcohol is then filtered through a .22 micron filter, then left over low heat so any remaining alcohol can evaporate.
By reducing the lipid content in rosin, we can effectively reduce the likelihood of winterization.
Can you Reverse Nucleation?
No. Once nucleation begins there’s no known method of reversing the process. The good news is that nucleation doesn’t affect the purity or potency of your rosin. As a matter of personal preference, some people view sugared up rosin as subpar, but in fact it has the same quality and effect as non-nucleated, homogenous rosin.
Many rosin heads view buttered out rosin as past its prime, but in fact it’s not an inferior product compared to rosin of more consistent and even texture.
Although sugared up rosin is still a high quality product, there is a chance that nucleation can lead to accelerated terpene loss. Nucleation brings terpenes to the outside of the solution, as the larger molecules gather and literally force the terpenes to the outside. Terpenes on the outside of the rosin tend to evaporate more quickly, which can impact the flavor and effect over time.
To reduce terpene evaporation, proper storage is critical. Learn more about how to properly store rosin here.
Nucleation is a phase change that impacts the look and texture of rosin. As is true with much of the science behind cannabis, a lot more research and study is needed to fully understand nucleation in rosin and its impact on our favorite solventless concentrate.
What do you think about nucleated rosin? Let us know in the comments below.