Tobacco Plant Anatomy: A Crash Course
Three Different Leaves Create the Perfect Cigar
We might as well come right out and say it. You really don’t need to know anything about the tobacco plant to enjoy smoking a well-made cigar. But some of us can’t help but admire the layered craftsmanship of a good stogie. For us, cigar knowledge, knowing more about how they are made and grown actually increases our satisfaction.
Calling the tobacco plant “special” is something of an understatement. It’s likely the unique way that the tobacco plant grows and expands. The plant offers three distinctly different types of leaf, each with its own unique properties that make it ideal for a specific part of the cigar.
Here, we’ll introduce you to the three different types of tobacco leaf (Ligero, Seco, & Volado). We’ll also explore the ways that each variety is used within a single cigar.
We’ll start at the top of the plant. The Ligero leaf (“light” in Spanish) is the uppermost leaves of the tobacco plant. They receive the greatest amount of sunlight. This allows them to grow both thick and heavy for a very potent, bold, and flavor.
Since Ligero leaves are the last for harvest, they have an opportunity to absorb more nutrients (i.e., flavors) from the rest of the plant. The relative thickness of the Ligero leaf means that it must be blended with the lighter, thinner leaves below it. This is to ensure it burns properly.
The Seco leaves grow in the middle of the plant. They are not as thick or heavy as the bold-flavored Ligeros. But, they offer more restrained, nuanced flavors. The Seco leaves also happen to be far more aromatic. So, they are essential in crafting a cigar blend that smells as good as it tastes.
Seco leaves are more combustible than Ligeros. Yet, they are still unable to maintain an even burn on their own and that’s one of the keys for a good smoke. For this reason, they are a near-exact middle-ground between Ligeros and Volados.
The base of the tobacco plant is where the first priming occurs. The Volado Leaves are the lower-most leaves on the plant. While they can be large and thin, they tend to receive the least amount of sunlight. This is the primary reason why they are the least flavorful of the three. But, they can provide some understated flavor and aroma elements in some cases.
The primary benefit of the Volado leaf is its combustibility. Since it grows so thin and retains less water, this is the leaf that provides the most consistent burn. It is also an essential element in any well-made cigar.
“Wrapping” It Up
Our overview of the three different types of tobacco leaf is but a brief introduction to the topic. Each leaf that we explored features its own set of sub-varieties. And, each variety can have even more specialized effects and uses for any given cigar. Going into depth on even one of them would only take up valuable time that you could otherwise spend smoking your favorite stick.
So what’s the takeaway? For us, it is that the act of smoking a cigar that’s somewhat akin to stumbling upon the entryway to Wonderland. It’s easy to stand outside enjoy the visceral pleasures of the cigar lifestyle. But, there is also an entire world of detail, function, and nuance that lies beyond the rabbit hole, for any who feel the urge to look.