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Whole Leaf Tobacco

Making Latakia at Home

deluxestogie

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#1
Making Latakia at Home
PART 1 (of 3)




Background
I have fire-cured various tobaccos in a trash can smoker (placed on top of a Brinkman smoker), using an assortment of woods: hickory, oak, maple, apple, etc. Each tobacco variety combined with each of the woods that I tried produced some aromatic, flavorful, unique fire-cured leaf.

My longest effort, several years ago, consisted of firing-up the smoker 1 to 3 times a day for 30 days. In each trial, including this long one, I carefully watched the temperature within the can, keeping it under ~120ºF. I kept a pan of water within the Brinkman smoker, between the fire and the trash can.



Unfortunately, the darkest that I was able to achieve was a medium-to-dark brown, and it did not smell at all like Latakia (from Cyprus or Syria). Latakia is not very dark brown, but is nearly black.And it smells "smoky", with a complex, unidentifiable smoky aroma.

Over the years, we have discussed on this forum the selection of Mediterranean woods that have been traditionally used for fire-curing Latakia, with the best guess being a Mediterranean live oak, together with mastic (Pistacia lentiscus). Mastic tears ("Tears of Chios") has been suggested as a substitute for mastic wood.

We've also discussed what the actual variety of tobacco used in Latakia might be. It is clearly a Nicotiana tabacum, rather than a rustica. My impression from carefully examining some of the whole leaf Cyprus Latakia from www.wholeleaftobacco.com was that it appeared to be a small Basma-type leaf. Istanbulin is confident that the Latakia leaves do not have a petiole (a stem separating the lamina from the stalk), which would suggest a sessile type.

The Latakia Project
When I received from Markw some seed identified as "Latakia", brought from Cyprus by an expat Cypriate, I germinated and planted some during the 2014 growing season. This motivated me to think more about the process of fire-curing Latakia.

My thoughts on the Latakia Process
My previous fire-curing experience demonstrated to me that using common American hardwoods for smoking tobacco yields aromas that are incorrect for Latakia. FmGrowit suggested pine as one of the possible sources of the Latakia scent--an idea that I dismissed out of hand, since the thought of terpentine seemed way off. But, after some experimenting, I decided that burned pine is closer to a Latakia aroma than any woods I've already tried.

A research paper on the chemical constituents of Latakia aromas (actually the vapors of its "pouch" aroma) explained that at first they had identified the distinctive terpene as coming from red cedar. Further analysis clarified that it was from Mastic. BUT, the red cedar aroma was close enough to have initially fooled them.



So, my choice for woods came down to long-dead white pine branches, bark on, and fresh green sprigs and small branches of live Eastern Red Cedar.



If Mastic (Pistacia lentiscus) is chosen in the Middle East, what about Pistacia vera, the pistachio nut? Undyed (beige colored) pistachio shells burn very well, but the aroma from them is minimal. Another subtle aromatic addition may be culinary bay leaves (Laurus nobilis), sold among cooking spices, and available at a fairly low cost in Asian grocery stores. (Avoid "Bay Leaves" from India, which are a different species, and give off a vague cinnamon aroma.)

Many Asian grocers carry juniper berries. These contain concentrated juniper oil, and deliver an excellent undertone to Latakia. (Eastern Red Cedar is Juniperus virginiana.)



A final, surprise herb is Marjoram. When burned, it releases a soft, non-floral, non-weedy aroma that seems compatible with the aroma of Cyprus Latakia. It can be expensive, unless you can find it among Mexican bulk spices (sometimes sold at Walmart).

By contrast, pine nuts seem as though they would be ideal, but they apparently contain so much complex fat that, when burned, it smells like burned, rancid animal fat. (I guess I'll save them for making Pesto.) Another loser is acacia gum (gum Arabic), which smells foul. I was unable to obtain Mastic gum ("Tears of Chios") for this trial.

SIDEBAR said:
Testing your own herbs and spices
Most common kitchen herbs are not suitable for use in making Latakia. Burned parseley, oregano or tea leaves, for example, give off an odor similar to the weedy aroma of marijuana. Tarragon or thyme, when burned, smell like roasting chicken.

To test any particular herb or spice, you can simply set a stove burner to high, and sprinkle some of the herb onto it, allowing it to give off smoke. (For a gas burner, use a hot, clean pan.) I will caution that most of the herbs or spices that you burn will smell pretty bad. The essential goal is to avoid something that either smells bad, or smells like food.
Another consideration is the required temperature to blacken the tobacco. Just smoking it like a Gouda cheese (which is what I had been doing) doesn't blacken the leaf. To achieve a black leaf, I decided to go with the high temps that blacken black Cavendish (over 212ºF). So long as the hanging leaf does not combust, the higher the better.

And SMOKE! I wanted dense smoke as continuously as possible. The green sprigs of red cedar would provide this. Where I live, Eastern Red Cedar is a nuisance tree that springs up along fence-rows and in unmowed pastures everywhere. I drove up and down the country roads that spread out around me, and located small red cedars that had already been hacked up a bit by road crews, and took home trunkloads of the largest branches that would fit into the jaws of my pruning shears. These, I cut into segments that would fit within the base of the Brinkman smoker.

For pine, I went to a huge brush pile way behind the house. It still had gobs of white pine branches that blew down during storms over the past 5 years or so. Initially, I preferred 3-4" thick, dead pine branches, which I sawed into short segments, and split to 1" thick sticks with an ax. But as the fire-curing trial progressed, I came to realize that the smaller (~1") branches, with the bark still on, provided the greatest quantity of smoke, as well as a more intense aroma. I also added green cuttings from Scotch Pine.

For firing, I would remove the Can and the top of the Brinkman, to expose the base. There, I would initially build a small fire of charcoal briquets, allowing all the fire starter to burn off, before proceeding. Once I had a small bed of coals, I quickly built a stick house above them, using the dead white pine, then heaped some live red cedar sprigs (or any of the herbs I had decided on) on top. The Brinkman body was then replaced, and the Can (with a perforated bottom) set on top of that, with the lid on loosely.



Although I did watch the temperature, that's all I did about it. The temps usually cruised around 150º during active firing, though occasionally it reached over 300ºF. [The smolder temp of tobacco is in the range of 1100ºF (600ºC).] My goal was to have the fire going at all times when I was at home. During the 5th week, I added 1 gallon of water to the pan that rests within the Brinkman. It required several days to boil it off, but the steam noticeably darkened the leaf.

The results shown at the top of this post are from 45 days of intense firing, with dense smoke and high temperatures.



[CONTINUED IN PARTS 2 and 3 BELOW]

Bob
 

deluxestogie

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#2
Making Latakia at Home
PART 2 (of 3)


Construction
By placing a galvanized 31 gallon trash can on top of a Brinkmann Smoker, this allows leaves as long as the 26" height of the can to hang, if only vent holes perforated the can bottom, or leaves over 36" long to hang, if the bottom of the can is cut completely open. A removable angle iron is supported by two intruding bolts near the top of the can. The angle iron is easily removable, and has many holes along its length to accept wire-strung batches of leaf or stalks, to the diameter of the can.

Bill of Materials (purchased at Lowe's home improvement store):
  • 31 gallon galvanized steel trash can - $22.75
  • 4 fender washer @ 12 cents each
  • 2 hex head bolts, 1/4" x 1" @ 12 cents each
  • 4 hex nuts, 1/4" @ 6 cents each
  • 3' perforated angle iron, 1-1/4" x 1-1/4" - $7.32
  • OPTIONAL: Gas Grill Thermometer (7/8" bore) - $16.00


With a Brinkmann smoker already on hand, the cost of this upgrade project is about $30, $16 more if you add a "universal" gas grill thermometer (available at Walmart).

An open-top steel drum can be substituted for the Brinkmann by inverting it, and removing most of its bottom, leaving only enough metal to support the smaller diameter of the trash can. A separate fire pit will have to be created to go beneath it.



Weareye protection when using power tools on metal.
  1. With the lid on the trash can, mark the uppermost exposed land (outward bulging plateau) of the can to locate the first bolt hole. Be sure to leave enough clearance below the lid rim for the fender washer. Mark the second bolt hole on the same land, but directly across the diameter of the can from the first hole. Drill each for a 1/4" bolt.
  2. If you have a hacksaw blade for a saber saw, you can cut out the entire bottom of the can, leaving a 1" rim of the bottom for structural support. (Start by drilling a hole closer to the center of the bottom, that will admit the saber saw blade.) Otherwise, simply drill a number of smoke holes into the bottom. Whichever way you do it, deburr the cut edges. Here, I've drilled 7/8" holes, then folded any jagged metal to the underside and smoothed them by rubbing with the head of a hammer.
  3. If you are adding a grill thermometer, drill the hole for that now. I positioned mine half-way between the bolt holes, and a few inches below. This should minimize the interference of the short thermometer probe with the hanging leaf. The thermometer packaging should indicate the size of hole to drill--in my case, this was 7/8".
  4. Measure and cut the angle iron to fit exactly inside the top rim of the can, with no more than 1/8" clearance on either end. You don't want the angle iron to be so long that it forces the sides apart. Too short, and it may fall off the intruding bolts. File the edges smooth.
  5. Place a fender washer onto one of the bolts, then insert it from the outside into one of the drilled holes at the top of the can rim. Add a second fender washer and a hex nut to the inside, and tighten it. Avoid crushing the land on the can. Add a second nut and tighten it. Repeat with the second bolt.
  6. Position the angle iron into the top of the can, with the 'V' downward, supported on either end by the bolts.
  7. If you're adding a grill thermometer, install that into its hole.
One additional consideration is stability in gusting wind. Buy two 12" steel tent stakes from Walmart, and use them to anchor a sturdy bungie cord to each trash can handle. (This has remained stable in 60 mph winds.)



[CONTINUED IN PART 3 BELOW]

Bob
 

deluxestogie

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#3
Making Latakia at Home
PART 3 (of 3)


Some Details



For this test run (and because I have a lifetime supply of Cyprus Latakia, compliments of FmGrowit), I processed only a small quantity of tobacco. My guess is that the leaf of about 20 plants could be processed at one time. The cost and labor is the same, regardless of the amount of tobacco in the can.



Because I planned to stalk-cure the tobacco, any stalk tips that were too long were trimmed off.



Each stalk was fitted with an aluminum wire hook.



The stalks were simply hung from the angle iron.



Within the can, the tobacco was allowed to yellow for 4 days, before starting the firing. For the first week or so, the temperature was kept below about 120ºF.



Istanbulin has suggested that the variety used for Latakia may be Yayladağ. [http://fairtradetobacco.com/threads/4397-Latakia-Yayladağ-Comparison] The Cyprus Latakia mw that I grew in 2014 appears to be a Samsun-type Oriental with spade-shaped (not heart-shaped) leaves.

I went to my WLT supply of actual Cyprus Latakia again, and rehydrated five fairly intact leaves. This is a small sample (from ~10 pounds of Latakia). When the leaves were carefully laid flat, all of them show a clearly sessile leaf (like Yayladağ). The presence of a "knob" at the base of the leaf stem verifies that a petiole has not been snapped off. So, at least some of the WLT Latakia is made from sessile leaves. I have identified no petiolate leaf so far.



Given the profound fire-curing that goes into making Latakia, it seems hardly important which specific Oriental variety is used. My guess is that on Cyprus, several different varieties (maybe whatever is available in a particular season) are used in the manufacture of Latakia. The Cyprus Latakia mw, despite having a petiolate leaf, seems to serve quite well. So...I don't think it matters which Oriental variety is used, and I suspect that multiple varieties may be utilized in the commercial manufacture of Latakia.



I will call this fire-cured product "Blue Ridge Latakia." It looks right. It feels right. The aroma is not exact, but is close to the product from Cyprus. I will make up some English-style pipe tobaccos using the Blue Ridge Latakia in the recipe, and see how it stands up.

Homemade Latakia (as with homemade black Cavendish, homemade Perique and home flue-cured leaf) will never exactly duplicate the commercial product. You can try (see sidebar in part 1) other herbs and other woods. I would avoid wood that is commonly used for smoking foods (oak, hickory, apple, mesquite, etc.), since they will not give you Latakia. Likewise, I would avoid evergreen wood that smells too much like seasonal decorations (fir, spruce, etc.). The underlying smokiness seems to develop well from pine and red cedar. Each variety of pine and cedar will offer a slightly different aroma.

Different Oriental leaf will likely only affect the nicotine strength of the final product.

Bob

NOTE:
Commercial production of Latakia in Syria has practically ceased to exist. Commercial production in Cyprus is in definite decline (if not already collapsed). If you want some of the real deal, for comparison or just to blend, you should order some of the whole leaf imported Cyprian Latakia from www.wholeleaftobacco.com, while some of that precious 1997 bale is still available. It is currently only $26 a pound. (The last time I could find a price on bulk, pipe-cut Latakia on the Cornell & Diehl website, it was going for $49 a pound. Their new website is nearly unusable, and has no pricing.) McClelland Latakia (only in a 1.76 oz. tin) sells at about $95 per pound.
 
Last edited:

deluxestogie

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#4
A brief tasting note

The pouch aroma is that of Latakia. My Blue Ridge Latakia is not quite as floral as imported Cyprian Latakia. I packed shredded, pure Blue Ridge Latakia into a briar bulldog and found that it lit easily. Like all Latakia, it does not remain lit for long. (About 75% Latakia is the max for a pipe blend, primarily due to Latakia's poor burn quality.)

To my surprise, the smoke immediately presented the slight "soapy" taste typical of Latakia. While smooth and low in nicotine, smoking heavy Latakia takes a toll on the tongue. It was densely smoky and delicious, and (more to the point) is Latakia. The room note is the "musty stacks in a university library" aroma that I've always associated with Latakia. All in all, while not identical in aroma to imported Latakia, the Blue Ridge Latakia is excellent. I look forward to trying some English-style pipe blends with it.

Bob
 

squeezyjohn

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#5
This is fascinating ... I really love latakia heavy pipe blends. And I feel safe having a nice stash of Don's latakia in the store!

I was also very kindly given a small jar of pure Syrian latakia (by someone on this forum) presumably from the last batch of tobacco to come out of Syria ... and the difference between pure modern Cyprian and pure Syrian to me are miles apart. The Syrian tobacco has an even darker black appearance and the scent is really a cross between wine and some of the 1000 year old cathedrals we have over here (the smell of years of very old wood, fireplaces and incense that has been used repeatedly for centuries) ... in contrast to this the Cyprian smells very light in comparison, much more overtly smokey and soapy. The other main difference is that Syrian latakia is clearly a strong nicotine tobacco - and unlike any oriental I've tried.

It would be interesting to know if the differences are due mainly to the age of the Syrian tobacco I have - or whether it's a bit more fundamental than that. It's very difficult to glean anything more from my Syrian tobacco - as it's shredded with no clue to leaf size or shape.

Your brilliant contraption would be a fantastic way to see if some different varieties of tobacco could create a product more similar to the Syrian stuff. I am very tempted to join in and have a go myself!
 

deluxestogie

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#6
If my hunch is correct, Oriental varietal selection as well as the mix of woods were both opportunistic and variable in Syria and Cyprus. Depletion of forests resources is one of the reasons Latakia production was shut-down in Syria. One could certainly use a higher nicotine Oriental. I suppose you could even do a Perique pressure cure, then hang it in the smoker. The smoke exposure during the fire-cure is truly intense, sufficient to blacken the interior of the can with a heavy layer.

Bob
 

squeezyjohn

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#7
All I know about the production of Latakia in Syria comes from this article http://www.glpease.com/Articles/Latakia.html

It says that the variety Shekk-El-Bint was a very potent tobacco with long slender leaves - and that in Syria the tobacco was first sun-cured before being subjected to the smoking. Whatever the differences between the Cyprian and Syrian processes and varieties ... I believe that pursuing the Syrian style would be massively worthwhile as it is unique and much more delicious to my senses.
 

Markw

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#8
Well Bob that leaf looks fantastic. I am so pleased after all your hard work with smoking it, it has turned out just fine, and I think the name Blur ridge Latakia does it proud.
Just looking at the pictures I can smell it on this side of the pond. I was thinking you had a plan for what to do with when I was reading your grow log,I said to my self poor little plants are going to be smoked to death.
They look fantastic and thanks for taking the time in growing them this year.

Mark W
 

Planter

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#9
I take my hat off to you, Mr. Bob... Whenever I come along here you just provided another highly compelling lecture...
 

jojjas

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#10
Excellent work , as Planter sad , i also take my hat of , this inspires me to try to make some home made latakia of this years tobacco harvest

Keep up the good work
Mikael
 

Mad Oshea

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#11
My endevor on LATAKIA, is still in the fear state. I made some last season and wandering how well it came out. I guess it's time to give it a check. It is very black and looks good, but the smell and tast is the factor.. Mad-
 

istanbulin

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#12
Very nice write up Bob. You really made a good experiment on woods and spices for firing up "Latakia". The result looks satisfying, congratulations.

As you indicated, pistachio shells don't provide a distinct aroma for smoking but pistachio hulls may add nice aroma. I'm sure it's hard to obtain pistachios with husks so mango skin may be an alternative. They both contain terpenes. Actually none of them is cheaper and more available than pine or cedar but they might be nice spices for curing Latakia but also might be allergic.


Husking pistachio.

Try pine nuts in your stuffing for yaprak sarma with some dried blackcurrant (Ribes nigrum) fruits, they both add nice flavors.
 

deluxestogie

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#13
I appreciate the kind words. This project has been interesting (and quite tedious). My goal was to demonstrate that Latakia--the last hold-out against home production--could indeed be approached successfully. The cost of home production (for someone who wishes to blend a lot of it) probably breaks even at about 30 plants (i.e. about a pound of finished leaf). For most pipe blenders, buying Don's whole leaf Latakia would be more cost effective.

In the US, most pistachio nuts are grown in California, so the husks may be available there. Mangos are sold in most supermarkets. For both, I would be a bit concerned about drying and burning them to make Latakia, since both contain urushiol derivatives. Urushiol is the primary contact allergen in poison ivy.

Bob
 

deluxestogie

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#14
Dimitris sent me a sample of the mastic of Chios. On inspection, it appears as a slightly amorphous, almost crystalline, off-white substance, with little recognizable aroma.



After my regrettable experience in burning a fragment of gum Arabic on my electric stove burner, I reluctantly placed a small piece of the mastic of Chios on a coil of my kitchen stove burner, grimaced, then turned the power to "Hi." The mastic first liquefies, then goes up in flameless white smoke--distinctly different from the foul, sooty smoke of gum Arabic.

To my delight (and relief), the incinerated mastic produces an enticing, clean, cedar-like aroma. I believe it is a perfect condiment to add to well established hot coals, while making Latakia.

Although I was not able to locate mastic "tears" at any local merchants, it is available on-line. Search Google for "mastic Chios tears". I don't have a good idea of how much of it would do the job in making Latakia, the going price is about $34 / 100 g --a little under 1/4 pound. So, for making a Latakia batch larger than my tiny batch, the cost might not be prohibitive.

Bob
 

charles

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#15
What can I say,after reading through this thread.........There's a fine line between fanatics,and lunatics...it seems Mr.Bob you've made a mockery of the distinction....... crisscrossing that line with abandon......What can i say, I finally found a group of people that take things way too far...I thought i was the only one....I can not express how wonderfull I find your passion towards being an artisan.
Although my lunacy has usually been in food and cooking,and heirloom gardening.My wife might suggest trout fishing be included,but the woman has a timid soul and mistakes a bouyant enthusaim for being somehow over the top.
 

Knucklehead

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#17
Dimitris sent me a sample of the mastic of Chios. On inspection, it appears as a slightly amorphous, almost crystalline, off-white substance, with little recognizable aroma.

After my regrettable experience in burning a fragment of gum Arabic on my electric stove burner, I reluctantly placed a small piece of the mastic of Chios on a coil of my kitchen stove burner, grimaced, then turned the power to "Hi." The mastic first liquefies, then goes up in flameless white smoke--distinctly different from the foul, sooty smoke of gum Arabic.

To my delight (and relief), the incinerated mastic produces an enticing, clean, cedar-like aroma. I believe it is a perfect condiment to add to well established hot coals, while making Latakia.

Although I was not able to locate mastic "tears" at any local merchants, it is available on-line. Search Google for "mastic Chios tears". I don't have a good idea of how much of it would do the job in making Latakia, the going price is about $34 / 100 g --a little under 1/4 pound. So, for making a Latakia batch larger than my tiny batch, the cost might not be prohibitive.

Bob
I have some wonderful Mastic Lokum that I eat while drinking Turkish coffee. It may add the cedar flavor as well as some sweetness and other flavors to Latakia. http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias=aps&field-keywords=mastic+lokum
 

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#18
I too have some mastic, what kind I have no idea. The amount in the bag is about $2 worth. I was going to use it for cigar glue but it does not dissolve well in either water or alcohol. Smells piney when burnt. I found the mastic in a store which sells a wide variety of incense, I get my gum arabic from there (for cigar glue). There are many other gums available there, most smell of some sort of conifer when burnt but there are others which smell horrible when burnt. Nice work making the latakia. I don't really go for it too much but like to smell some once in awhile. What you have done here makes me think I might like to try making some later on down the road.
 

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chillardbee

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#19
Bob might remember a flavour list I posted 2 years ago on the other site then shared it here. I was going through the essential oil section and found this: Name-Cade oil (juniper tar) 70%, smoke taste- smokey,phenolic, latakia notes, smoke aroma-smokey, latakia notes. I've used eo's in the wood chips to smoke baccy but still haven't tried it yet in my pipe.
 

deluxestogie

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#20
Will, that's an interesting possibility that I was unaware of. Cade oil is distilled from a variety of juniper. Most of the on-line offerings are for "rectified" cade oil--oil that has undergone an additional purification for medicinal use, so the prices seem a bit high. It might even be suitable for lightly misting onto finished leaf, though that would have to be tested.

[As I write this, I'm chewing on a tiny piece of mastic of Chios.]

Bob
 
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