Terpenes vs. Terpenoids

What's the Difference?

Terpenes and terpenoids are both organic compounds found in various plants and essential oils. The main difference between the two lies in their chemical structure. Terpenes are hydrocarbons, meaning they consist solely of carbon and hydrogen atoms. On the other hand, terpenoids are modified terpenes that have undergone oxidation or chemical modification, resulting in the addition of functional groups such as oxygen. This modification gives terpenoids additional properties and potential benefits. While terpenes are responsible for the distinct aroma and flavor of plants, terpenoids often possess medicinal properties and are commonly used in pharmaceuticals and natural remedies.


DefinitionHydrocarbons produced by plantsModified terpenes with additional functional groups
StructureConsist of repeating isoprene unitsCan have additional functional groups like oxygen
SourceFound in essential oils of plantsDerived from terpenes through chemical modifications
FunctionContribute to the aroma and flavor of plantsCan have various biological activities
ExamplesLimonene, pinene, myrceneGeranyl pyrophosphate, farnesyl pyrophosphate

Further Detail


Terpenes and terpenoids are organic compounds found in various plants and are responsible for their distinct aromas and flavors. While these terms are often used interchangeably, there are subtle differences between terpenes and terpenoids. In this article, we will explore the attributes of both compounds and shed light on their unique characteristics.


Terpenes are naturally occurring hydrocarbons found in the essential oils of plants. They are responsible for the aromatic properties of many herbs, fruits, and flowers. Terpenes are synthesized in the resin glands of plants and serve various functions, including attracting pollinators and repelling predators.

One of the key attributes of terpenes is their diverse range of scents. For example, limonene, commonly found in citrus fruits, has a citrusy aroma, while pinene, abundant in pine trees, has a distinct pine scent. These scents not only contribute to the pleasant smells of plants but also have potential therapeutic benefits.

Terpenes also play a crucial role in the entourage effect, which refers to the synergistic interaction between different compounds in a plant. When terpenes are combined with cannabinoids, such as THC and CBD, they can enhance or modify their effects. This phenomenon has significant implications in the field of medical cannabis and the development of targeted therapies.

Furthermore, terpenes have been extensively studied for their potential health benefits. Some terpenes, like myrcene, have shown anti-inflammatory properties, while others, such as linalool, exhibit sedative effects. These therapeutic attributes make terpenes a subject of interest in the field of natural medicine and aromatherapy.

In summary, terpenes are hydrocarbons found in plants that contribute to their distinct aromas, have potential therapeutic benefits, and play a role in the entourage effect when combined with cannabinoids.


Terpenoids, on the other hand, are derivatives of terpenes that have undergone chemical modifications. These modifications can occur naturally within the plant or through external factors such as heat, oxidation, or enzymatic processes. Terpenoids are often more stable and less volatile than terpenes, making them suitable for various applications.

One of the key attributes of terpenoids is their increased bioavailability and potential for medicinal use. The chemical modifications in terpenoids can enhance their solubility in water, making them more easily absorbed by the body. This improved bioavailability allows for better utilization of their therapeutic properties.

Terpenoids also exhibit a broader range of biological activities compared to terpenes. For instance, some terpenoids, like artemisinin found in Artemisia annua, have potent antimalarial properties. Others, such as paclitaxel derived from the Pacific yew tree, show anticancer activity. These diverse biological activities make terpenoids valuable in drug discovery and development.

Moreover, terpenoids often have different aromas compared to their parent terpenes. The chemical modifications can alter the scent profile, resulting in unique fragrances. This attribute is particularly relevant in the perfume and fragrance industry, where terpenoids are used to create complex and captivating scents.

In summary, terpenoids are modified derivatives of terpenes that offer increased bioavailability, exhibit a broader range of biological activities, and have unique aromas compared to their parent compounds.


Terpenes and terpenoids are fascinating compounds found in plants that contribute to their aromas, flavors, and potential therapeutic benefits. While terpenes are the original hydrocarbons responsible for the distinct scents, terpenoids are modified derivatives that offer enhanced bioavailability and a broader range of biological activities. Both terpenes and terpenoids have significant applications in various industries, including medicine, aromatherapy, and fragrance. Understanding the attributes of these compounds allows us to appreciate the complexity and versatility of the natural world.

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