Advanced Decarboxylation Techniques
Make stronger edibles, preserve terpenes, and save money
Decarboxylation at home is easy to do, but tricky to master. Yes, any beginner can toss bud on a cookie sheet and put it in the oven for an hour, but if they do it incorrectly, they can lose potency, fill their house with dank aromas, and have inadequate herbal flavors.
All of these errors can be prevented with the advanced techniques we share in this guide. We’ll share:
- How to get better conversion rates of psychoactive compounds
- How to decarb in minutes
- How to decrease or increase the herbal flavor to suit personal taste
- How to release less aromas while decarbing
How to decarb more efficiently/improve conversion
The main reason for decarbing is to get more potency out of your herb, so you don’t have to buy as much to get the same buzz. Studies indicate that under standard smoking conditions, the efficiency of conversion due to decarboxylation ranges from 30-70%. With a potential loss of up to 70%, that’s a lot of money going up in smoke! This is one of the many reasons why people choose to do a separate decarb and use edibles instead of smoking.
If you decarb in a home oven and use efficiency-boosting techniques, you can consistently reach 70% or better. The best ways to start making gains are by optimizing the time and temperature of decarbing, calibrating your oven, freezing trichomes, and controlling oxidation.
What is the best temperature for decarbing?
Between 230° F to 266° F is the ideal range for decarbing. At lower temperatures, you may get incomplete conversion and oxidation. At higher temperatures, you increase the risk of denaturing your active compounds through oxidation and creating a sedative effect.
In our Beginners Guide to Decarboxylation, we suggest decarbing at 250° F for 30 minutes.
Calibrate your oven
If you’re using an oven to heat your herb, it’s a good idea to test your oven temperature.
You want the most consistent temperature in your oven in order to control the conversion of active ingredients in your herb but that temperature can often be off by up to twenty degrees in either direction! When you set an oven to a temperature like 250° F, it is programmed to go above that target temperature by twenty degrees and then slowly cool to twenty degrees below the target temperature before the heat comes on again. To fight this variability, put your herb in an oven-safe enclosed vessel which will provide insulation and more consistent temperatures like a DecarBox.
Some ovens are off the target temperature not because of heat cycles but because they are incorrectly calibrated. To see how accurate your oven’s thermostat is, use a secondary thermometer to check it several times once it reaches a target temperature. If it is more than 20° F above or below your temperature, your oven may be calibrated to the wrong temperature. If your oven is consistently too hot or too cold, consult your oven manual to find out how to change the calibration. If you have trouble with recalibrating, adjust the set temperature to correct for the difference.
Finding hot zones and cool zones in your oven
Not only is your oven inconsistent over time, it’s also inconsistent in temperature based on the location within your oven. Though typically the best spot to put your herb in your oven is in the center on a rack, you can find out for sure through a simple (and fun!) toast test.
Do a toast test
- Buy a loaf of inexpensive white bread.
- Arrange oven racks in areas you want to test. We recommend one in the center of the oven and one above or below it.
- Heat oven to 350° F.
- Put nine slices of bread on each rack evenly spaced.
- Check the bread every five minutes to see how they are toasting. Once some slices are getting toasty brown (about 15-20 minutes), remove the racks and examine the bread.
Where your oven is hotter, the bread will be darker in how much it is toasted. Take note of the areas that have medium toast levels – this is where you want to put your container the next time you decarb.
Most essential oils, terpenes, and psychoactive chemicals are found in the hair-like protuberances on the leaves and buds of your plant called trichomes. As part of the decarbing process, you can enhance access to these compounds and potentially increase extraction if you expose them to freezing temperatures.
To freeze trichomes after decarbing, let your bud cool for an hour, cover it, then put it into your freezer for 24 hours. Be very careful in handling the frozen product because trichomes will fall off easily and you may lose them.
Decreasing oxidation while decarbing
The amount of active ingredients in your herb will decrease due to oxidation. Oxidation is a process that turns the psychoactive chemicals in your herb into sleep-inducing compounds. Oxidation speeds up when heat is present, so decarbing without oxidizing is a challenge.
Exposure to light or oxygen also speeds up oxidation so you can decrease it by decarbing in a dark place with no air. Use an enclosed vessel, don’t turn on the oven light, and don’t run the convection oven fan in your oven for the best results.
Reduce dank aromas while decarbing
If you live in close proximity to others, heating herb in your oven can release enough herbal aromas to alert your neighbors. Reduce the dank stank of decarb by enclosing your herb in a turkey oven bag, DecarBox or sous vide bag.
How to sous vide decarb
Sous vide is a method of cooking that involves putting food in a sealed plastic bag, then cooking it at low temperatures in water heated by an electronic element. For decarbing purposes, you just replace the food with bud.
- Partially fill a pot with water, put on a level, heat resistant surface
- Attach immersion heat to the pot, submerging the heating element below the water line.
- Turn on immersion heater to heat water to 203° F
- Put bud in a plastic bag and remove all air from it before sealing
- Put bag of bud in the water for 90 minutes.
This method offers a great way to control exact temperature while containing the dank fumes. It does take an immersion heat that costs about $100, but once you have it, you can sous vide decarb without even having a stove.
Since water boils at 212° F, you are limited in your ability to decarb at higher, optimal temperatures. As a result, in order to get the most efficient decarb via sous vide method, you need to do it for a longer period of time. This lower temperature comes with the perk of preserving more aromatic terpenes but since you’re operating out of the ideal temperature range, you may create more oxidation.
How to decarb faster
If you want to increase the speed of decarbing, increase the temperature.
You can decarb in an oven in only ten minutes by increasing the heat to 266° F.
If ten minutes is too slow, you can actually decarb in only a minute in a microwave, but in most cases it is not recommended because it involves extreme and uneven heat that can reduce the quality of your product, destroy terpenes, and lead to incomplete conversion.
Ultimately, if you want the best results for your dollar it's best to take your time and decarboxylate properly.
How to decrease herbal flavor in edibles
Do you want edibles that don’t taste at all like dank herb? You can reduce strong terpenes and minimize off-flavors by using the water cure method. Since the psychoactive chemicals in herb are oil soluble, you are able to soak it in water without strongly affecting potency.
How to water cure
- Put bud in a mason jar with water. Push it down so it is not floating above the water surface.
- Change water every day for five days.
- Strain and drain bud. Put on drying racks until it dries. This typically takes two to three days.
- Proceed with decarbing or smoking.
How to increase terpenes in edibles
Maximizing terpenes not only increases the flavor of your edibles, it can also affect the quality of your high via the entourage effect.
To increase terpenes, minimize your use of heat in the decarb process because it can cause them to evaporate or get destroyed. Start protecting terpenes by lowering your activation temperature to 230° F in the oven and you won’t lose any efficiency. Sous vide decarbing is another good option because it has a max temperature of the boiling point of water – 212° F and it is impossible to burn your herb while doing it.
Some people go even further by setting their oven at the lowest possible temperature or using a slow cooker to decarb. You can try decarbing at any low temperature - just keep in mind it might be much slower and less efficient.
Slow no-heat decarb
The most extreme way to preserve terpenes is to add no heat at all! Yes, you can decarb by just keeping your herb in an air-tight container in a dark place and it will naturally decarboxylate with time. The process may take a couple of years by which time you’ll start to lose potency due to simultaneous oxidation, but you can speed up the process to a couple of months by making an oil extract.
How to make a naturally-decarbed oil extract:
- Make a herb-infused tincture with non-decarbed herb
- Allow alcohol to evaporate, leaving behind extract oil by placing in a well-ventilated area in a shallow open container for several days
- Keep the oil in a sealed container in a cool, dark place for two months
- After two months, test it once every couple of weeks to see if it is psychoactive.
Fast no-heat decarb
Using citric acid to decarb converts without requirely heat, and it works in only a week.
How to citric acid decarb:
Simply combining citric acid and water to herb can create a water soluble, decarbed form of herb. You can find citric acid in powder form in specialty food stores or online.
You will need:
- A glass mason jar
- 5 g fresh bud
- 2 ½ tsp citric acid powder
- 2 tsp water
- Mortar and pestle
- Add bud and citric acid to mortar, grind well
- Add water and continue to grind
- Put in a glass mason jar, store for a week in a cool, dark place
- Optional step: If you want a dry finished product, take it out of the jar and spread out on a sheet for a couple of days until it is dry
- Decarbed herb is ready to use! Eat, put in capsules or add to recipes. Note: it will add a significant amount of sourness.
What method of decarbing works best for you?
For every preference and priority, there is a different way to decarb. Overwhelmed by all the potential methods? To get started, we recommend deciding what temperature you want to decarb at, choose a method that works with that target and then branch off into other methods.
We’ve intended to give you a wide range of techniques but what we’ve shared is not an exhaustive list. If you’re looking for even more ways to improve your decarbing, check out our Magical Butter Users United group on Facebook.