What are the factors that influence the flavor of certain tobaccos? Why are some cigars sweeter than others, and why are some cigars bolder in flavor? It’s pretty simple, and probably something you already know: tobacco tastes different depending on where it’s grown. But there’s more to it than that.
There are actually many environmental factors that influence the taste and aroma of the tobacco that goes into your cigar. The French have a term for this. It’s called “terroir” and it describes the natural factors inherent in a particular area of cultivation.
Growing methods, climate, and the tobacco varietal itself have a lot to do with it, but another factor that’s frequently forgotten about is the soil. Soil provides nutrients that affect the taste, strength, and textures of the leaves the tobacco produces.
Iron: The iron content of the soil primarily influences the aroma of the tobacco. Tobacco grown in regions where the soil has a high iron content typically has a stronger aroma. Cuban soil has a high iron content, this is why people speak so highly of the unique aroma of Cuban cigars.
Nitrogen: This is one of the key building blocks the tobacco uses to produce nicotine, which is what gives a cigar its strength. Regions with soil that have a higher nitrogen content typically produce cigars with greater strength.
Calcium and Magnesium: These nutrients affect the relative sweetness of the tobacco. Regions of the world with soil that has a high calcium to magnesium ratio typically produce tobacco that is sweeter tasting.
Soil makeup is more than just nutrient content. The density of the soil and pH also play a part in tobacco growth. Studies have found that tobacco grown in soil with lower pH has a longer lasting aftertaste. Having soil that’s too dense can restrict the growth of the root structure of the plant, which not only decreases the amount of nutrients the plant can absorb (which affects taste), but it also limits the growth of the plant, which in turn affects the overall yield and makes the plant more susceptible to damage from weather conditions.
Like grapes for wine, different varietals of tobacco have different demands for levels of nutrients. Matching soil conditions with varietals that have higher demands for those nutrients are a part of the reason why certain tobaccos from certain regions are prized more than others—a couple of examples are Connecticut Broadleaf and Mexican San Andres.
Most tobacco producers leverage methods that add nutrients to the soil, such as growing other crops like corn between growing seasons. This is done to replace the nutrients the tobacco plants take out over time.
It all goes to show you that there’s a whole lot more going on beneath your feet than you even realize!