Cigar Flavor: A Duality of "Art" and "Science"

Below is an interview of Nick Perdomo, Jr., President/CEO of Perdomo Cigars, discussing the new Perdomo 20th Anniversary Sun Grown and Maduro lines, just recently released at the IPCPR 2013 trade show. Not only did the interview excite me about smoking the new release, but what really caught my ear was something Nick mentions starting at the 1:33 mark of the video...

Part of my smoking ritual is the allotment of time to admire the cigar - think about its journey from seed to my hands, examine its construction, admire the beauty of the wrapper, enjoy the aromas stemming from the wrapper and from the foot, and try to imagine the flavors that will be produced once lit. As my palate is developing and becoming more refined, I often wonder how and why I am experiencing the various flavors encountered - cocoa, dark chocolate, coffee/espresso, various spices, floral/herbal notes, etc. But I never thought about the tips of the tobacco leaf holding the most nutrients (makes perfect sense, though) and how that impacts flavor. When cigars are rolled, the filler is made of separate leaves folded by hand along their length in a book-style arrangement, to allow a passage through which smoke can be drawn when the cigar is lit. If you were to slit a cigar open lengthwise with a razor, you'll notice that the filler leaves resemble the pages of a book. The stronger flavored ligero leaves are placed along the center since they burn slower - the seco leaves, which are lighter in color and flavor compared to ligero, are arranged with the leaf tips arranged toward the foot. (See From Seed to Smoke: A Timeline of the Journey to better understand the anatomy of the tobacco plant)


But what else contributes to the natural flavor of cigars? Much of the characteristic flavor and taste of a cigar is developed through the special and carefully controlled curing and fermentation techniques employed by the manufacturer, in which the tobacco is moisturized, bulked, and allowed to ferment, with resulting temperatures of 115-120°F (sometimes as high as 140°F) being reached during the process. During fermentation, basic compounds (like ammonia) are released, creating a chemical change in the tobacco, and the color of the leaf darkens as the "characteristic" cigar aroma and taste develop. The blending, and in some cases flavoring, of tobaccos are necessary to compensate for variations in the chemical composition of the tobaccos used (referring to the relative presence or deficiencies of certain classes of sugars, acids, volatile oils, and alkaloids). There are close to 1,000 different chemicals that contribute to the taste and aroma of the smoke; below are some examples*:

*Leffingwell JC, Young HJ, Bernasek E. Tobacco Flavoring for Smoking Products. Winston-Salem, NC:

R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company; 1972.


Now this is not intended to be a course in biochemistry, by any means - just to demonstrate that cigar production is just as much a "science" as it is an "art". Cigar blends are a product of the sheer art of growing, curing, fermentation, rolling, and aging processes, but also the science of the chemical composition of the tobacco that all contributes to the flavor we enjoy. Either way, it just goes to prove that a cigar is NOT just a cigar...

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