The tobacco plant is a staple in American history. Indigenous people of the Americas used tobacco before the arrival of Europeans in the 15th century.
While there isn’t much evidence, anthropologists believe native people used tobacco for rituals and war preparation thousands of years before the arrival of the Europeans.
After the first European explorers tried tobacco, they took it back to Europe. That’s when its popularity exploded throughout Europe, Asia, and Africa.
Since then, the popularity of the tobacco plant skyrocketed throughout the 20th century. Today it continues to be a popular choice for relaxing. It’s used in everything from cigarettes and cigars to hookah, vaping, and chewing.
More recently, people prefer using whole leaf tobacco and creating personal tobacco blends. If you’re planning on creating your blends or prefer using whole leaf tobacco, here’s what you need to know about the tobacco plant.
About the Tobacco Plant
The tobacco plant, which is native to the Americas, is a relative of the potato, eggplant, and tomato plants.
What makes tobacco special compared to its plant relatives is that it contains nicotine. Nicotine is a psychoactive stimulant that gives you a feeling of relaxation while reducing your feelings of stress.
The plant grows to about 2 feet with oval-shaped leaves that grow between 10 and 20 inches. Yellow, white, or pink 5 petal flowers bloom and produce tiny fruits (only 2 mm) that contain 2 seeds each.
The leaf is the part of the plant that contains the nicotine, although the roots produce it. Each type of plant has different levels of nicotine, some as high as 18%.
Curing Tobacco Plants
There’s more than one type of tobacco plant, each with different uses. Some are better options than others.
You also have the curing process to consider. Curing is the process of drying the tobacco and gives the tobacco plant its character and quality.
Flue-curing is the most popular with Virginia tobacco. It works by hanging the tobacco leaves in curing barns and using hot air to dry the leaves. As the leaves dry, they gain a unique aroma, flavor, and color.
Air-curing is a popular method used for Burley tobacco. The tobacco leaves hang in a ventilated curing barn and take 4-8 weeks to dry. Like Virginia tobacco, the leaves end with a distinct aroma and flavor.
Sun-curing is another curing method common with Oriental tobacco. The leaves hang in a sunny area and dry for 2 weeks.
For cigars, the tobacco leaves go through fermentation after the curing process. In this step, the tobacco leaves become riper while the nicotine content lessens. The flavor, aroma, and color continue to develop as the tobacco ferments.
Depending on the type of tobacco and cigar, the fermentation process can take up to 6 months. Many dark air-cured tobaccos go through fermentation to gain their dark color and rich aroma.
Fire-curing is best for chewing, pipe, and some cigarette tobaccos. This process uses small fires and smoke to cure the leaves. It causes the aroma and flavor to become rich and robust.
It doesn’t hurt to sample different types of tobacco leaves to find which ones you like best. From there, you can blend different types to create your perfect blend.
If you’re a first-time tobacco plant shopper or are curious to learn more, here’s a breakdown of the different types of tobacco plants available.
Types of Tobacco Plants
Here are some of the most common tobacco plants you can find.
Virginia Flue-Cured Tobacco
Virginia flue-cured tobacco leaves are the most popular for cigarettes and pipes. It’s known as the “smoker’s tobacco” due to its mild burn and lightly sweet flavor and aroma.
The Virginia name is misleading, as it doesn’t describe the tobacco’s origin. Virginia describes the type of seed, method of harvesting, and the flue-curing process. Virginia tobacco has a light yellow color and a higher amount of sugar and nitrogen compared to other cured tobaccos.
The flavor is mild and subtle with a gentle throat hit. It’s often described as “easy-smoking” tobacco, making it popular for cigarettes.
This is another lighter tobacco that is air-cured. This tobacco has little sugar in it after the curing process. The final flavor is chocolatey, nutty, and bitter.
To overcome its bitter flavor, people either sweeten it or use the burley leaf as a base for flavored tobacco. Many tobacconists use burley as their canvas to experiment with different flavors and levels of sweetness.
Burley tobacco is popular for use in pipes and cigarettes. It makes a great base for those looking to add balance or flavor to their tobacco blends.
Cavendish describes the special curing process of the tobacco plant. You can use any type of tobacco to create Cavendish.
What is Cavendish?
It’s essentially processed tobacco with added flavor, sweetness, or both. You can steam or stove cavendish to reduce the harshness of the tobacco when smoked. Finally, you can press, mill, or cut it into ribbons.
You can find Cavendish in many flavors and cuts, including whole leaf. Cavendish helps stabilize and moderate the flavors and burn traits in their products.
This unique style of tobacco is only grown in St. James Parish, Louisiana. It begins its life as air-cured tobacco before undergoing an additional 12-18 months of processing.
The processing includes fermentation where the tobacco ages in barrels. During that time, it gets aired out and repacked three times. In the end, the tobacco has a richer and fuller flavor.
Perique is best as a condiment leaf mixed with other tobaccos. The curing and processing leave the tobacco with such a strong flavor that you shouldn’t smoke it on its own. You can find it in whole leaf, ribbons, and milled.
When used in small amounts in blends, it will add a nice peppery and figgy flavor with a plum and pine finish. You’ll find Perique blended with Virginia tobaccos for pipes, cigarettes, and cigars.
This Oriental type of tobacco gets its name from a city in Syria. It grows in Cyprus and the northern region of Syria.
Latakia cures by drying above burning aromatic herbs and wood. The wood and herbs give it a flavorful aroma that is spicy, herbal, and leathery.
Use Latakia in your tobacco or cigarette blends to add a little zip to your tobacco. Latakia is popular in most English tobacco blends.
This type of tobacco is also known as “wild tobacco.” It’s a stronger tobacco with around a nicotine level around 9%, a greater amount compared to other tobaccos with only 3%.
Rustica grows in some areas of North America and Central South America. Rustica has spread throughout India, Afghanistan, Burma, Russia, and Africa.
It has a full flavor and is popular for hookah, pipes, and chewing.
Kentucky tobacco is a fire-cured type of Burley tobacco. This tobacco leaf isn’t overly strong, making it mild and approachable.
It has a mild flavor with smoky-sweet notes and is a great option for pipes and cigarettes.
Organic Tobacco Plants
Organic tobacco plants are becoming more popular. Many people looking for whole leaf tobacco are choosing organic options.
Organic tobacco doesn’t have any pesticides or extra processing. Non-organic tobacco relies heavily on pesticides. Some people feel this type of tobacco is a little safer compared to tobacco plants that go through heavy processing and that it offers a purer tobacco flavor.
Most tobacco plants and types have an organic option.
Storing Your Whole Leaf Tobacco
Once you select the tobacco leaves you want to try, you need a safe place to store them until you decide to smoke or chew them.
When you buy your tobacco leaf, it usually comes in a sealed clear plastic bag. Keeping it in the bag is fine for a day or two, but without proper storage, your tobacco plant will start to mold. Leaving it out of the bag will turn the tobacco into a dry crisp.
To avoid mold or drying, you can leave your tobacco leaves in the plastic bag, but leave it slightly open.
The Popularity of Whole Leaf Tobacco Plants
Whole leaf tobacco plants are becoming a popular tobacco option. You can use whole leaf tobacco whether you smoke cigarettes, cigars, hookah, or pipes.
Many people prefer whole leaf tobacco because it’s less processed. The curing and fermenting processes can still add flavors without any extra chemicals.
Another benefit of whole leaf tobacco is that you can grind it when and how you want. Grinding the tobacco right before you use it gives it a fresher and fuller flavor. You can also use the same leaf for different blends and smoking styles.
Try Whole Leaf Tobacco Today
Try a whole leaf tobacco plant today. We have many types and styles of tobacco for you to mix and match to create the perfect blend.
Have questions or want to learn more? Are you ready to place an order? Check out our products and contact us today. We’re your online source for all your tobacco needs.