Open the vast majority of humidors on the market, and you'll note a common aroma amongst them all - the aroma of Spanish cedar emanating from wood lining of the humidor or from strips or blocks used to separate cigars stored in the humidor.
So why the big deal about Spanish Cedar? Why is it used so often for humidor construction and why is its use so important to the cigar industry?
Spanish cedar (also known as Cedrela odorata) is a relatively lightweight wood that is in the Mahogany family. It is a deciduous tree (a tree that sheds leaves annually) that is found growing in Central and South America, and the Caribbean. This hardwood is widely used commercially, as it contains a resin with a very distinct aroma which is insect-repelling, and is naturally termite- and rot-resistant. The wood is also used to store clothing and shoes. Its popularity in the cigar industry is secondary to its traditional use in Cuba for the packaging and boxing of cigars, not only because its cheap and readily available, but also because of its insect-resistance (especially against tobacco beetles) and hygroscopic properties (or its ability to readily absorb and retain humidity, just like cigars). It's the hygroscopic nature of the wood that makes it perfect for cigar storage.
Great care is taken when using Spanish cedar for humidor construction. The wood is typically kiln dried in efforts to minimize sap production, which if contact is made with cigars, will cause damage. If bleeding of sap from Spanish cedar occurs, sanding will likely remove most of it; however, the wood produces a very fine dust that is quite toxic to the lungs if inhaled and is carcinogenic. Use of alcohol or acetone may be used as an alternate means of removing Spanish Cedar sap, should it become evident. Just as improperly processed Spanish cedar can ruin cigars from its sap production, dry cedar can wick moisture and natural cigar wrapper oils away from cigars and dry them out. for this reason, humidors lined with Spanish cedar should be conditioned regularly to maintain the proper humidified environment so that the wood and cigars remain in a symbiotic existence.
Spanish cedar also imparts a very complimentary flavor and aroma to cigars. Some cigar manufacturers wrap their cigars with a thin piece of cedar (some partially, some entirely, and some in cedar-lined tubes) in efforts to enhance the flavor and aroma of the smoke - Arturo Fuente, CAO, Gurkha, Romeo y Julieta (Habano), My Father Cigars, PDR Cigars...to name a few.
Thin strips of Spanish cedar, known as cedar spills, are also used by many aficionados to light cigars. Cedar spills allow the slow toasting and ignition of the tobacco, which provides optimal flavor and aroma to be enjoyed from the very start - better than the use of a torch lighter or even wooden matches.
Although Spanish cedar is not necessary for the proper conditioning of cigars, its unique aromatic qualities renders it synonymous with cigar storage and aging.