Jessica Rosslee   |   November 06, 2020

Microwave Drying Technology for Cannabis & Hemp

Rapid drying speeds up processing time, but at what cost?
Jessica Rosslee is a former journalist who has dedicated her writing skills and passion for communication to the cannabis industry. Jessica has spent her life in the field of wellness and communication, committed to allowing people access to…

Italy uses microwave drying technology to dry their world-famous pasta, Germany and Poland use it to dry fruits and vegetables, and countless other applications can be found throughout the global food industry. But how could it be applied to the hemp industry?

What is Microwave Drying Technology?

Rapid, consistent, and effective- three words often used to describe the effect of microwave drying technology. But does it retain the nutritional content? What about flavor and cannabinoids?

When microwave technology is used synergistically with reduced air pressure, the results could be more efficient than traditional drying technologies (freeze-drying aside). Microwave drying can be used in combination with the reduced air pressure- which also effectively lowers the drying temperature, and the oxidation and temperature-sensitive compounds (nutrients, flavors, colors, and bioactive molecules) are retained.

How Do Microwave Technologies Work?

The microwave offers a direct volumetric (and instant) energy transfer to the plant matter. This direct energy transfer is complemented by the effects brought on by the vacuum, which allows the water to have a much lower boiling point. This lowered boiling point allows the water to evaporate at average room temperatures.

To find a quick-drying solution that didn't damage the natural compounds, Enwave developed REV™ (Radiant Energy Dehydration)- a quick, low-temperature solution that stimulates rapid drying while still maintaining the plant matter’s integrity (nutrients, flavor, and color).

The technology is an innovative amalgamation of both vacuum and microwave technologies that allows for uniform and consistent drying. By allowing for controlled moisture content, the technology can create shelf-stable commercial products and a flexible range of final moisture content.

If the microwave drying technology can be effectively used in the hemp and cannabis industry, there are several ways it could benefit the industry, including reduced mold and mildew to increased crop values for farmers, safer (more consistent) products, and reduced labor and production time. 

As mentioned earlier, microwave technology is certainly not a new invention and has been embraced for over seven decades already. Microwave drying may be a hotly contended topic by those in the hemp industry, but the results and data will swing the deciding blow. The exact data regarding how the terpene profiles are affected is essential before this collaborative effort in microwave drying technology will be an efficient and marketable solution for the hemp market.

EnWave, a Canadian Research and Development company, has also reached into the burgeoning cannabis industry with its rapid drying solution that combines both microwave and vacuum technologies.

Using both of these technologies, the result is a delicate yet quick drying process that allows the plant material to maintain its nutrient, flavanoid, terpene, and cannabinoid content.

Why Microwave Drying Technology?

Microwave drying technology has become firmly rooted in many food production processes. Now, trials for a continuous microwave system for use with fresh hemp have recently been in full swing. According to Michael Lewis, United American Hemp Co-Founder and Director of Research and Development, “...the system from United American Hemp and AMTEK is a 915MHz continuous microwave system that takes freshly harvested industrial hemp and successfully dries it to 11% moisture content in 1 minute and 55 seconds. From harvested to dry in under two minutes.”

One primary concern is that this type of fast-drying microwave technology causes the plant matter to lose a large portion of its inherent terpenes and other natural compounds- all highly sought after compounds in the industry. However,  if this is the case, then the focus will shift to a high-speed terpene extraction, which also has a place in the industry.

The system can control the amount of moisture during the drying process. But despite not yet knowing the full effect on the terpene profile, United American Hemp and AMTEK have invested both resources and time in this endeavor. Steep Hill has come on board to perform the lab analysis and possibly quell the concerns that have popped up in response to using microwave technology on hemp.

United American Hemp and AMTEK are the first to offer this technology to the U.S. cannabis industry, but the project has mixed opinions. In response to criticism on this particular project, Wilson gave a valiant response worth sharing as a conclusion;

“This industry needs men and women willing to drive our industry forward. Those attempts by these brave souls should be met with encouragement and positivity. Something cannabis itself represents.”

 

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