Of cigar flavors


Prior to our elaboration of cigar flavors, we want to remind you the two main schools of thought:
a) a cigar presents many aromas and tastes we can easily find in nature
b) a cigar tastes like tobacco.

While it’s not possible to codify paths of a smoking experience, we want to share some interesting research concerning aromas and tastes for those passionados who believe that it is better to taste a cigar rather than just burn it.

Giuseppe Tringali, with S. Travali, C. Campisi, P. Rudilosso, in collaboration with the Catania University and the CEFIT institute in Italy, has conducted a study demonstrating the variability of the content of volatile fatty acids in whole cigars as compared to their wrappers only, and across different cigar brands.

Why volatile fatty acids? Because they have important influence on the tobacco aromas and are responsible, together with other molecules, for some variations in the typical organoleptic registers.

For instance, aldehydes generate an herbaceous scent. Esters, depending on their molecular weight, provide different sensations: the most volatile group can be associated with light scents of solvent or fruit, the medium weight group to exotic fruit, the heavy weight group can generate oily, rancid unpleasant odors.

The chemical analysis of the volatile components of cigar tobacco leaves represents a very effective and refined tool to:
– identify the components providing the typical aroma
– follow the traceability and highlight what characterizes a product throughout the production process, from harvest until final product
– verify and optimize its quality
– identify anomalies in the aromas due to initial poor quality material, inadequate storage and transformation processes, as well as presence of irrelevant compounds
– allow to correlate the presence of aroma and taste characteristics that are associated to the different brands.

Every aroma presents a perception threshold, defined based on statistical data such as the minimum perceivable quantity for 50% of the individuals who have participated in the olfactory analysis. It is possible to quantify such minimum perception through a technology called Gas Chromatography-olfactometry, which has been introduced in the 1980’s and is also used in the study of aromas in cheese, wine and other products.
The work involved the analysis of some volatile fatty acids found in the leaves and in the smoke of cigars, in order to associate the presence of such substances in flavors that can be found in different cigar brands.

The samples were taken from cigars stored for 2 years at a temperature between 16 and 18 degrees C with relative humidity between 65% and 68% inside their boxes, kept in mahogany humidors. Various formats within each brand were used, in an effort to homogenize the extracts used for the Gas chromatography-olfactometry separations.

The content of the volatile fatty acids were analyzed in both the cigar and the wrapper, in order to understand the differences and the possibility that the wrapper leaves significantly influences the taste and aroma of the cigar in relation to these acids’ content.
Also the total content of sugars expressed in glucose was determined for the cigar and for the wrapper leaves, again by brand. Every parameter was obtained as average value for 3 measurements.

The mechanisms involved are generally two:
– the direct transfer of the components present in tobacco, representing 1/3 of the known substances reaching the palate
– the product resulting from the flameless combustion (pyrolysis) of the organic substances constituting the tobacco leaves.

The graph below shows the total volatile fatty acids content by some select brands, providing a separate measurement of the sample for the whole cigar (red) vs. the wrapper sample (blue).

Of cigar flavors

You can see that Quintero, H. Upmann, Partagas and San Cristobal de la Habana cigars are richer in volatile fatty acids. In turn, more richness in the same acids is found when analyzing the wrapper leaves alone of Trinidad, El Rey del Mundo and La Gloria Cubana. In particular, La Gloria Cubana’s wrappers are particularly richer than their overall cigar leaves. This is also observed when comparing with the other brands’ wrappers, whereas the fatty acids in the La Gloria Cubana cigars are lower vs. the overall other cigar brands.
This demonstrates that, as far as fatty acids are concerned, the wrapper leaves play a very strong role in determining the cigar flavors.

Below is a table showing the overall values of the major groups of volatile fatty acids for each brand’s cigars and wrapper samples:

Volatile fatty acids metrics

Not only in the lab, but also when smoking in the lounge, it is important to consider that:
– aromas are never showing up alone, in fact the presence of one influences the other, decreasing or increasing the palate perception in the smoker
– concentration levels may vary substantially from one person to another and from one aroma to the other
– an aroma perception can also be influenced by prolonged exposure, fatigue and addiction
– the force with which we draw the cigar changes the burn temperature, modifies the smoke composition, therefore the same cigar can give origin to different substances, depending on the way it is smoked. This includes the quantity of tar, which is produced when flameless combustion is incompleted.

This analysis represents an important step towards a more thorough knowledge of cigar tobacco, with the objective to describe the key components of the leaves and of the smoke that fundamentally impact the aromatic and gustative profiles of cigars. A more thorough analysis of other compounds in tobacco and in tobacco smoke could allow additional information on taste, aromas and traceability, and could help evaluate which brands or cigars would be most appropriate for further aging processes.

As cigar lovers we can only welcome this type of educational material, anytime!

“Di Cosa Sa un Sigaro?” – S. Travali, C, Campisi, P. Rudilosso, G. Tringali, Universita’ degli Studi di Catania, CEFIT – 2007

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