Kief, from the Arabic word كيف (kayf), means “intoxication” or “pleasure.” Appropriately named, kief, sometimes spelled kif or keef, and often referred to as “pollen” or “dry sift,” is the collection of luminous resin trichomes from dry cannabis flower that hold high concentrations of cannabinoids and terpenes. Recognize those shimmery, powder-like crystals collecting in the corners of your stash jar? That’s kief, perhaps the most cherished form of cannabis worldwide. These precious potent particles pack a powerful, mind-altering punch.
The 411 on Trichomes
Around 50 to 100 micrometers in diameter, trichomes are tiny, bulbous glands that protrude from the surface of the buds, leaves, and stalks of late-stage cannabis plants and look like little white hairs. If you look closely enough, you may see the glands actually ooze resin. The head of these “hairs” is where cannabinoids like THC and CBD, as well as terpenes, are born.
They serve an evolutionary purpose, too. Trichomes on cannabis deter hungry herbivores from devouring the plant by creating a profound psychoactive experience meant to disorient animals and distract them from eating the entire plant. In addition, the distinct perfume created by the resin invites predators and pollinating insects to congregate nearby, further dissuading herbivores from feasting.
The OG Concentrate
Before techniques for creating live resin, BHO, and RSO came into existence, kief ruled the concentrate game. Although the exact date of kief’s origins is not known, where there’s cannabis, there’s pollen. Stories exist of ancient Chinese silk being used for “sifting” hashish and Moroccans collecting kief, then gently forming it into cakes for storage and distribution, careful to not burst precious trichomes. Moroccans commonly consumed kief mixed with indigenous tobacco in a sebsi pipe for combusting or pressed it into hash and mixed it with a sweet and savory mix of dates, honey, spices and nuts called majoun for edible consumption.
Today, cakes of kief are commonly referred to as kief pucks and they can be made easily at home using a pollen press, but there’s nothing wrong with enjoying pure unadulterated dry-sift kief all on its own.
How to Extract Kief
Sifting kief is incredibly easy if you have the right tools. For extracting modest quantities of cannabis, do yourself a favor and invest in a kief box or find a three-chamber herb grinder with a kief repository attached to the bottom. Both of these accoutrements allow kief particles to fall through a screen and collect in a separate compartment, accumulating kief almost effortlessly. Every so often, carefully open up the special kief nook, collect the crystals using a guitar pick, and store them in an airtight glass container away from sunlight.
For aficionados, kief is appreciated in varying grades. Higher grades of kief contain the most resin glands tainted by the least amount of plant matter. Using varying grades of micron screens and proper shifting techniques helps achieve this. Full melt is generally the most desired result. This is when carefully screened and sifted kief spontaneously melts and bubbles into liquid when lit, enabled by the lack of combustible cannabis plant matter. Many people choose to use a hemp-wick when smoking kief to enjoy the delicate flavors often tainted by butane.
Kief is strong, easy to collect and convenient to consume. A hit of kief can be quite powerful, since it usually tests around 50 percent while the purest extractions of kief can test up to 80 percent THC. Purchasing extraction equipment to make your own concentrates or paying retail prices in a dispensary for pre-made concentrates can be expensive. Making your own will save you money. Plus, since kief contains a high concentration of cannabinoids and terpenes, it’s an excellent way to avoid combusting unnecessary plant matter and reducing the amount of charred material entering your lungs. Twax your joint or bowl, add a pinch to your cup of coffee or tea, make rosin with this easy recipe, use it to cook edibles, and/or turn it into hash.
Kief’s Relationship to Hash
Extracting kief and making hash are the most low-tech, organic ways to capture the essence of the cannabis plant. Essentially, hash is heated and pressurized kief. Once you apply heat and pressure to the glistening trichome crystals, the resin glands rupture. This process changes the taste, look, effects, and consistency of the product. The more pressure applied, the darker the hash.
There are other ways to achieve varying grades of hash, too. Ice hash is made using a completely different process involving cold temperatures that’s widely embraced today. The most important part is starting with quality cannabis. Hash-making is an art form, with its own varied culture and traditions akin to the art of making wine. You can learn the various subtleties of hash and hash-making by reading Hashish!, by Robert C. Clarke, or by attending a hash-making workshop, like the ones led by Master Hashishin Frenchy Cannoli.