Some cultivars climb so high in popularity that everyone tries their hand at growing them. When that happens, as it did with Blue Dream in the early 2000s, the market sees a glut (along with more than a few imposters) and connoisseurs turn away. After all, who wants to smoke what everyone else is smoking? When a cultivar reaches the peak of popularity on that bell-curved graph all strains take, it becomes pot for proletarians rather than bud for the bourgeoisie. The truth is (and here’s where things get controversial) Blue Dream made it into the joints and bowls of almost everyone reading this because it was and is a great hybrid. And guess what? So is Gelato. In fact, Gelato is likely the strain with the most impact on the marijuana we’ve smoked over the past 10 years. Heavy smokers and heady bois will tell you they are sick of it. They might even talk down its relevance. But Gelato’s proven staying power is most clearly seen through its prolific progeny of offspring, which continues to win awards, dominate cups, and define the tastes, aromas, and high that cannabis smokers all around the globe cannot get enough of. The cultivars which have broken free from the seed packs and defined the most popular tastes for weed in recent times, Runtz and Lemon Cherry Gelato, are a Gelato cross and a Gelato phenotype. Many hype strains of today come and go within the short span of months, quickly “white-ashed” and forgotten, but Gelato has shown its legacy is eternal.
The Beginning of the Gelato Era
A cross of two beloved strains, Sunset Sherbert and Thin Mint Cookies, Gelato was the first strain in cannabis culture that taught the world that cannabis plants grown from seeds made with the same parental lineage are not always the same.
The buds of Sherbinski’s Gelato I sampled in 2017 remain burned in my mind. The tight, compact nugs came in several different phenotypes, some the most beautiful shade of pale lavender, but they were all frosted with trichomes as thick as the ice on the car window on a cold winter’s morning. Saffron orange hairs threaded through the deep sea of dankness. Like the spice composed of the stigmas of the purple crocus flower, the vibrant stigmas on these cannabis flowers made them look expensive, but worth it. With tastes and aromas evoking cake and berries, Gelato is sweet and stoney. Sherbinski saw so much promise in the strain he created with his breeding partner, Jigga, that he kept more than a few variations around. The plants were numbered, and each entered the field as the hottest and most coveted smokes of the time. Back in 2017, I loved the Mochi Gelato, a pretty purple bud with a bright citrus tang, the most. Time has shown Gelato #41, aka Bacio Gelato, is the phenotype with the most lasting impact.
Before Berner’s San Francisco Bay Area Cookies crew set the weed world aflame starting with Girl Scout Cookies, we were all very much enjoying the gassy dank citrus of OG Kush. GSC (now known as just Cookies because, yeah, the Girl Scouts teach young girls about things like building, but not growing fire) is OG Kush crossed with the classic terpinolene-rich landrace that Ed Rosenthal bought in a South African-themed Amsterdam coffeeshop, Durban Poison.
Sherbinski and Jigga pollinated an OG Kush female with Burmese Blackberry Kush pollen and created Pink Panties. When a Pink Panties plant turned out male and accidentally pollinated the Cookies phenotype Thin Mint Cookies within a garage within San Francisco’s Sunset district, Sunset Sherbert was born. In a subsequent generation that sets the scene in about 2014, Sunset Sherbert was crossed with Thin Mint Cookies, and Gelato arrived. All the Cookies-based crosses yielded exactly what we still love to see in weed: dense, chunky buds with purple coloration and deeply intoxicating aromas. The era of dessert terps began and, while we may now be in the throws of a fruity gas trend, never quit.
Sherbinski’s Acai Gelato, Photo by Chris Romaine/Kandid Kush
Gelato’s Hybrid Hype
Expert cultivator Kevin Jodrey said with the “Gelato era” came a fixation in cultivars with purple coloration and a floral nose. As it progressed in its journey, Jodrey explained we “don’t see real Gelato being sold as much as you see Gelato hybrids.”
Now in 2023, we remain in the time for hybrids, but it won’t last forever.
“Once we get past the hybrid, that means we’ve lost the velocity on the original and the hybrid and something new will come out,” Jodrey said.
And, because Gelato and its Cookies companions became so associated with that purple coloration in terms of the flower, to reject Gelato is to turn back towards a taste for green-colored buds.
“Cookies by itself turns purple, but OG does not,” Jodrey said, explaining that crosses of the two produce a distribution of green and purple hues. “There’s always going to be some variation within [those crosses], but it doesn’t have that coloration that you have like, you know, with the Gelato era. It doesn’t mean that Gelato is a better flower. It just means that when it came out it was like, ‘Oh my god, look how beautiful it is and oh, it has this interesting smell.’”
When I spoke with Fig Farms breeder and owner Keith Healy in the autumn of last year, he confessed that he only smoked Gelato once he grew it himself.
“I’m so behind the times because I just grew it like six months ago or something,” he said. “I don’t want to see anybody else’s weed because if I smoke someone else’s weed or see it, it impacts how I feel about my own stuff and people seem to like what we’re doing right now, so I want to groove on what I’m doing.”
At Fig Farms it’s all about the phenohunt, so once Healy decided he wanted to grow Gelato he got multiple clones.
“Just because somebody tells us it’s a Gelato, it could be not real, so we had to do the different Gelatos, found the one that we liked the best and put that one out to market,” he said. “And I was just blown away by how good it was.”
Once he discovered it could be “really good,” he brought it into his breeding projects. But, by releasing its own version of a cultivar that’s so well known, Fig Farms shines not in originality but in another way.
“For somebody who really likes Gelato that’s a sign of how good of a grower we are,” Healy said. “Because if you see my Holy Moly! and you really like it, you might think it’s not necessarily our skills or technique. But if you see our Gelato and somebody else’s Gelato you can say, ‘Well, if the growers actually did that really well that is their skill and technique.’”
Others, like the up-and-coming underground New York City cultivator Kolektor, won’t grow a cultivar that’s gotten too popular.
“The only thing I won’t do is I won’t grow like a cut of Gelato. I won’t grow a cut of Runtz,” Kolektor said. “I feel like the market is so oversaturated with those things, you can get them anywhere, so there’s no point in me growing those cultivars. Everybody else is doing it and I’m trying to create my own lane.”
Still, with growers with an established reputation of growing good pot, jumping into the market with a cultivar that has grown to great heights can demonstrate why they stand above the competition. At the 2022 Emerald Cup Harvest Ball, I saw the most favored cultivar of the past year, Lemon Cherry Gelato, at booths represented by growers with only a handful of plants alongside large growers who power their own brands and supply white-labeled buds. As Jimi Devine explained in our Best Strains of 2022 coverage, Lemon Cherry Gelato is a phenotype of Gelato #33 found as bag seed in a Connected pack in 2016.
“Now six years removed from when the seed was first popped, 2022 was the year Lemon Cherry Gelato entered a new level of folklore,” Devine wrote. “Now it’ll be forever among those strains that had must-grow years like OG Kush, Blue Dream, or Ice Cream Cake. And, of course, that’s not a knock on Lemon Cherry Gelato, that’s just a result of the hype so far.”
Legendary San Francisco cultivator Champelli curated a Lemon Cherry release in 2022 and Fig Farms also released their version of the immensely popular strain. Many cultivars are still very much in the middle of remixing Gelato by pairing it with other types of cannabis. Compound Genetics, which built a reputation beginning with Jet Fuel Gelato, recently released a collaboration with Sherbinskis called Tribute, a Gelato #41 crossed with Apples & Bananas. And, as Leafly Senior Editor David Downs pointed out, Gelato crosses Melted Scoopz and Mind Fuck were the first sell out when the Cookies Seed Bank opened late last year. Downs called Gelato a “dominant varietal in weed” and named a Gelato cross, Jealousy, the top strain of 2022.
Steve Griffith, founder and cultivator at Sense, predicts a return to the gassy OG Kush, Chem, Soul Diesel type of gassy aromas and flavors as “modern breeding has been so Cookies driven for such a long time,” but is still saving room for dessert.
“Gelato paved the way for the dessert/candy explosion that has taken over both the traditional and recreational markets,” Griffith said. “We have run a number of Gelato crosses and seen a wide array of candy terpene profiles that are unique and special. Currently, we have been testing some of Compound’s Goofiez, which contains some variation of Gelato in its lineage from both parents, Gelatti from the Apples & Bananas side and Jet Fuel Gelato from the Jokerz side. During our hunt, we found a unique outlier phenotype expressing a pungent tart profile that resembles the candy peach rings with the flavor to match. It is these wide-ranging dessert-like expressions that make Gelato so special to us.”
Calling the cultivar “destined for greatness,” Josh Vert, the founder of Royal Key Organics, agreed Gelato deserves its due.
“We’ve never worked with a pure or an originally verified Gelato, but definitely appreciate what the notorious strain lends to anything it’s crossed to,” Vert said. “From our experience with it, Gelato doesn’t yield well for concentrates on its own. It needs a partner that does. The challenge is finding a Gelato leaning profile that yields well.”
Even noted Gelato disparager High Times Vice President of Content Jon Cappetta added a Pistachio Gelato to his Cop Lists and named a strain with Gelato in the lineage, Permanent Marker, as one of the best strains of 2022. When Cappetta and Devine went to Thailand to check out its cannabis scene late last year, they found… Gelato. Only more proof that, like the Goonies, some classic cultivars never say die.