Crash Course: Anatomy of the Tobacco Plant
How three different types of leaves work together to 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 in order to thoroughly enjoy the smoking of a well-made cigar. But for those of us who can’t help but admire the layered craftsmanship of a good stogie, it can actually increase our satisfaction to know a little more about how they were made, and even more specifically, how they were grown.
Calling the tobacco plant “special” is something of an understatement. Because of the unique way that the tobacco plant grows and expands, it is able to offer three distinct different types of leaf, each with its own unique properties that make it ideal for a specific part of the cigar.
In this brief crash-course, we are going to introduce you to the three different types of tobacco leaf (Ligero, Seco, & Volado) and explore the ways that each variety is used within a single cigar.
Starting at the top of the plant, the Ligero leaf (“light” in Spanish) are the uppermost leaves of the tobacco plant, and as such, they receive the greatest amount of sunlight. This allows them to grow both thick and heavy for a very potent, bold, & flavor.
Because Ligero leaves are the very last to be harvested, they have an opportunity to absorb more nutrients (i.e., flavors) from the rest of the plant before it is cut down. The relative thickness of the Ligero leaf means that is must be blended with the lighter and thinner leaves below it in order to burn properly.
The Seco leaves grow in the middle of the plant. Not as thick or heavy as the bold-flavored Ligeros, the Seco offers more restrained, nuanced flavors, but it also happens to be far more aromatic. For this reason they are essential in crafting a cigar blend that smells as good as it tastes.
Though more combustible than Ligeros, the Seco leaves are still unable to maintain an even burn on their own, which is why they are considered to be 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, and while they can be large and thin, they tend to receive the lease amount of sunlight. This is the primary reason why they are the least flavorful of the three, though they can provide some understated flavor and aroma elements in some cases.
The primary benefit of the Volado leaf is its combustibility. Because it grows so thin and retains less water, this is the leaf that provides the most consistent burn and is 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. In fact, each leaf that we explored features its own set of sub-varieties that 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 could otherwise be spent smoking your favorite stick.
So what’s the takeaway? For us, it is that the act of smoking a cigar is somewhat akin to stumbling upon the entryway to Wonderland. While it is easy to stand outside and simply enjoy the visceral pleasures of cigars, there is also an entire world of detail, function, and nuance that lies just beyond the rabbit hole, for any of us who feel the urge to look.