Tobacco is a term used for a variety of plants belonging to the Genus Nicotiana. There are over seventy species of tobacco plants. Most of these species are native to Mexico, Americas, and some regions of Africa, Australia, and Asia. Today, tobacco is grown in several parts of the world. The three largest producers are China, India, and Brazil. The United States is ranked fifth on this list.
Origin of Tobacco
According to recorded history, Mexicans were the earliest civilization to use tobacco in a myriad ways. They would smoke tobacco leaves and use the stems and other parts of the plant for different purposes. Tobacco leaves were also used to cover wounds, basically to facilitate healing and recovery. Mexicans had the practice of using tobacco plants, including leaves, in rituals and their extracts for medicinal purposes. Apart from smoking, some cultures have had the practice of chewing tobacco and also consuming it in distinct forms, such as paste and blends.
Origin of Shisha Tobacco
Shisha originated in India. It was sometime in the sixteenth century when Indians came up with the concept of a water pipe. Indians were the leading manufacturer of glass in those times, and some craftsmen came up with what can be best described as the first shishas. Much like the modern designs, tobacco leaves were heated or burned in a bowl and the smoke would then get filtered and cooled by the water in the base. This concept spread eastward to Persia. The origin of shisha tobacco is the Nicotiana plants. However, the original tobacco used in shishas was unflavored. It was strong or intense, hard, and had a lot of nicotine. It was a far cry from the awesome blends that we have today.
Curing of Shisha Tobacco
The earliest shisha underwent its first major transformation in the Middle East. Through the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Persians and then Egyptians toyed with different designs and materials, came up with clay bowls, reed cane pipes, glass and brass models, and experimented with tobacco as well. Some crushed the tobacco. Some used water to have a mellower version of the intense tobacco plants. Some cured the leaves with honey, molasses, or glycerin. There was a constant endeavor to improve the smoking experience. Potent tobacco leaves, especially when uncured or unwashed, have a harsh smoke and it is not palatable for everyone. Hence, curing became quintessential.
It was in the Middle East where shisha tobacco underwent various kinds of curing. This brought us closer to the contemporary variant. Experiments throughout the past two hundred years showed that shisha tobacco can be sweeter after being cured with molasses or honey and the leaves can be treated further with some blends, such as mint or apple. Different approaches to fermentation were also undertaken. All these fascinating experiments got us to the nineties when the world witnessed the rollout of various types of shisha tobacco.
Recent History of Shisha Tobacco
By the nineties, shisha tobacco had reached everywhere, from America to Australia. It was a fitting alternative to cigarettes, cigars, pipes used to smoke tobacco, rolled joints, and other variants. Shisha bars or hookah lounges were opening up in major markets, especially in tourist hotspots. Persians, Syrians, Egyptians, and Turkish cultures had already displayed how shisha can be used in social gatherings, so that became the centerpiece in lounges, cafes, bars, or even beach shacks.
The cusp of the millennium was the time when companies started to improve the quality of shisha tobacco using state of the art systems. An attempt to make tobacco leaves finer and mellower transformed dark leaf to blonde leaf. Washing fresh and raw leaves reduce the nicotine content, and the resulting material is also more conducive to fermentation, curing with honey or molasses, and subsequent blending or being infused with flavors. Today, shisha enthusiasts are well aware of the different between dark leaf and blonde leaf tobaccos.
Shisha Tobacco in the 21st Century
There are hundreds of shisha tobacco flavors available right now. There are some that have no nicotine. There are unflavored shisha tobacco, menthol variants, and blends of more than one flavor. Some shisha tobaccos have extra honey or molasses so the material is juicier. Everything from fruits to tea and coffee is now being used to flavor shisha tobacco. Shisha tobacco has had a long journey spanning over five hundred years. We are probably going to witness another major transformation, particularly in the ways shisha tobacco is produced and the range of flavors.