There are three types of tobacco curing methods traditionally used: Air-Cured, Fire-Cured, and Flue-Cured. Each of the different curing methods results in a tobacco product that is distinguishable by both its nicotine content and its aroma. Of all the curing methods, flue cured tobacco makes up 90% of the tobacco produced in the united states each year.
Why is Tobacco Cured?
To create smoking tobacco, the tobacco leaves need to be cured, or dried out. The wet, green tobacco leaves of a tobacco plant initially contain too much moisture to catch fire. They also have a higher chlorophyll content. By releasing a certain amount of chlorophyll from the leaves during the drying out process, the natural tannins come out giving the smoked tobacco its flavor and scent. The curing process makes the leaf dry enough to smoke while increasing the sugar and natural tannins found in each leaf to create the sweetly aromatic and mild taste tobacco is known for.
How do you Flue-Cure Tobacco?
The term “flue-cured” tobacco refers to the type of curing barn used to dry, or cure, the tobacco leaves. Originally, tobacco stalks were hung from tobacco sticks on long tier poles that ran the length of a curing barn, once known as oasts. Flue-curing barns contained a chimney-like flue with an externally-fed tinder box that allows the tobacco to dry out slowly without exposure to smoke. These smoke-free curing barns let the temperature rise slowly, releasing the excess chlorophyll and moisture while still retaining the tobacco leaf’s natural tannins to create the slightly-sweet, mild taste and smell of smoked tobacco.
After harvesting, there is a 3-step process for flue-curing:
- Yellowing – process of allowing the leaves to yellow by gradually increasing the heat of the barn, beginning with the temperature outside the barn, and increasing by 2 degrees Fahrenheit every hour until the barn reaches 100 degrees; by the end of the process, the leaves should be yellow and wilted
- Leaf Drying – a continuation of gradually increasing the temperature of the barn to 130 degrees Fahrenheit, and allowing some ventilation to prevent the leaves from drying too quickly; when the leaves on the bottom two tiers have dried, the plant is ready for the next stage
- Stalk Drying – the final stage of steadily increasing the temperature to 160 degrees Fahrenheit, allowing the stalk of the plant to dry completely.
Once the tobacco is dried, it is removed from the flue-curing barn and baled. A 650 to 850-lb tobacco bale will contain approximately 14% moisture by the time the baling process is finished. The whole process takes approximately 7-8 days.
Key Characteristics of Flue-Cured Tobacco:
- Produces primarily cigarette tobacco
- Contains a high sugar content
- Contains medium to high levels of nicotine
- Rich in natural tannins which creates its distinct mild and slightly sweet flavor and aroma
History of Flue-Cured Tobacco
Smoking tobacco has been an American tradition since 1612. For 400 years, tobacco production has remained the staple of Virginia’s economy along with other states in the region and is second only to North Carolina in the United States for tobacco production. In the 1960s, the externally-fed fire box method of flue-curing was converted to a gas-fueled system, for the most part, which takes far less time to complete, usually about 7-8 days to cure, compared to the air-cured method that takes about 4 to 8 weeks.
How Is Flue-Cured Tobacco Used Today?
Today, flue-cured tobacco is used as the base of all tobacco products throughout the tobacco industry. The flue-cured tobacco of today is exported from the United States almost as much as it is used within the United States. Because of its wide use globally, U.S. tobacco tends to be more expensive and can even double in price when exported to other countries. This is due to a lot of factors, not the least of which is an increase in smoking throughout the globe compared to U.S. consumption. As concerns over nicotine use emerged during the latter part of the twentieth century, tobacco products used in the US and elsewhere have started to change dramatically. What used to be the preferred method of smoking, filtered cigarette products have given way to a few new methods of smoking or consuming tobacco without the excess of nicotine-filled second-hand smoke from filtered cigarettes. In addition to e-Cigs, iQOS and Vapes, a rise in organic, naturally cured and aged Whole Leaf tobacco products have emerged.
Natural Whole Leaf Tobacco Products from Total Leaf Supply
One of the top natural whole leaf tobacco makers in the industry is Total Leaf Supply which uses only natural whole leaf tobacco that has not been altered, enhanced, or changed in any way. Deeply rooted in the red clay of Southern Virginia’s agricultural farming communities where families have grown tobacco for generations, Total Leaf Supply’s flue-cured tobacco is naturally grown and made in closely-regulated curing barns that slowly heat and then age the tobacco. After curing, the whole leaves are removed from the tobacco stalks, then stored and sorted into different grades of tobacco. The final step is the aging process which slowly oxidizes the tobacco leaves, stripping away the carotenoids that the plant naturally contains. This process allows the tobacco’s natural tannins and sugars to release, creating the sweet hay, tea, rose oil or fruity aroma and smooth flavor. Other curing and aging methods or non-aged tobacco will often have these flavors artificially-added in during the production process and lack the distinctly aromatic, mellow smoothness of the flue-cured tobacco found in Total Leaf Supply tobacco products. To learn more about flue-cured tobacco from Total Leaf Supply, or for information about any of our other natural whole leaf tobacco products, please browse our whole leaf tobacco shop or contact us today!