Oriental tobacco’s rich history—and influence—reaches back further than most modern tobaccos. Also known as Turkish tobacco, it’s been smoked for hundreds of years.
Initially consumed in hookahs, tobacco was shipped to Egyptian soldiers to boost morale. Having no way to smoke the tobacco, the soldiers improvised by rolling in small tubes that were meant to hold gunpowder. Cigarettes were invented.
During the Crimean War, British troops watched their Turkish allies smoking Oriental tobacco in the clever concoctions—this time rolled in corn papers. The British troops took the idea back to England with them, and the popularity of the cigarette took off.
But Oriental tobacco’s influence didn’t stop at cigarettes; it was poised to disrupt the pipe tobacco industry too. At the time, there were strict laws in England that regulated what could go into pipe tobacco. All blends had to be pure tobacco with no other flavors or additives. Oriental tobacco, with its spicy, aromatic, and slightly sweet flavor, offered an entirely new dimension for blenders to work with while still adhering to the law.
By the early 1900s, Oriental tobacco had made its way across the pond to America. There, it became a key ingredient in the first American blend of cigarettes.
Oriental Tobacco’s Unique Profile
The influence of Oriental tobacco’s unique aroma and flavor still holds strong. Modern English blends use Oriental to impart a distinct spiciness. Many American manufacturers use it to give their tobacco blends a characteristic flavor. The taste and aroma of the Oriental remain distinct and unique. But what makes it so different?
For starters, it looks quite a bit different from other tobacco crops. Its leaves have a much deeper color, and they’re much smaller compared to the leaves of the Virginia or Burley. But the smaller leaves are compensated for in quantity: Where a Virginia plant can have up to 30 leaves, an Oriental can hold close to 100.
Another distinction is that Oriental tobacco is grown in areas with lots of sun and very little rain, such as Turkey, Macedonia, Greece, Bulgaria, Egypt, and Lebanon. Because of this, the nicotine level in it is much lower when compared to Virginia or Burley tobaccos. While there’s still enough nicotine in it to make it a perfectly enjoyable tobacco, it’s more preferred for its rich, spicy, and distinct flavor profile.
Another differentiator is how Oriental tobacco is harvested and cured. It’s tiny leaves—much smaller than other tobacco varieties—are harvested manually and sun-dried for close to a week. This method retains some of the natural sugars in the leaves, adding a hint of sweetness to it.
All in all, Oriental tobacco is a plant that’s all about character and flavor. Slightly sweet, a little spicy, and irresistibly aromatic, it’s a leaf that can give any tobacco blend depth and dimension with its presence.
Rising Demand, Lower Production
Because of its unique flavor profile, demand for Oriental tobacco continues to rise, especially in Asian countries where the hookah remains a popular means of tobacco consumption. In Europe, it remains popular in many cigarette and chic pipe tobacco brands. And in America, it’s a key ingredient in many premium blends.
But while the demand for Oriental tobacco continues to increase, production is waning. To start with, it’s not easy to grow. There are only a handful of countries where it can be cultivated successfully. The optimal growing conditions—lots of sun and little rain—makes it much more difficult to grow compared to other tobaccos.
Moreover, the process for harvesting and curing Oriental tobacco is especially labor-intensive. In years previous, crops were subsidized to ensure profitability. In Turkey, for example, production of Oriental tobacco dropped by a factor of five after a state-sponsored organization was privatized and subsidies dried up. Thankfully, in countries with both optimal climates and low labor costs—such as Thailand and India—the output of Oriental is starting to expand.
But another big reason for Oriental’s increasing rarity is the sudden explosion in demand for e-cigarettes and other heated tobacco products.
In just a few short years, these products have grown massively in popularity. It seems like there are as many shops purveying e-cigarettes and other devices as there are selling tobacco. And as popularity grows, more flavors dominate the industry. Despite this, the products these devices use are still derived from tobacco plants.
Unsurprisingly, Oriental tobacco is a key ingredient in many of these flavored concoctions, and because of the volatility of the crop and the sudden explosion in demand, many major tobacco players have pre-purchased crops, sometimes years into the future.
Oriental tobacco remains a crop with a much lower yield when compared to other tobacco crops, but it’s wonderful flavor profile, with its mellow and mild taste, keeps the demand rising.
The Overlooked Tobacco
Burley and Virginia dominate the tobacco world with sheer numbers. The plants are far less finicky in terms of where it can grow, the production is far less labor-intense, and the higher nicotine levels make them highly desirable.
In contrast, Oriental tobacco is finicky and difficult to grow. It environmental requirements so that it can only be grown in a handful of countries. And to make matters worse, it’s labor-intense and expensive to cultivate. This can make Oriental tobacco seem a bit like a red-headed stepchild.
But Oriental tobacco, like its history and its impact, has a flavor that’s rich and delightful. If you’ve ever experienced characteristic spicy notes in a cigarette or pipe full of tobacco, you’ve probably enjoyed a nice Oriental blend. No other tobacco can compare in terms of character, taste, and aroma. To this day, it remains a key ingredient in most blends across the world. Because of this, and despite all concerns, this wonderful tobacco crop isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
Where to buy Oriental tobacco?
If you are interested in wholesale oriental tobacco, you can trade directly from STI, by simply calling +90-212 227-9668 and talking to an actual person. Phone support available from Monday to Friday between 9:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m (GMT+3).
Our goal is to build mutually beneficial relationships, empowered by trust and integrity, with our trade partners globally, regionally, and locally. We also have access to hundreds of different tobacco grades and varieties that are not listed on this page. Please contact us to discuss your specific needs. Pricing will be provided promptly after we understand your requirements.
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***Minimum wholesale orders start at two metric tons. To get a personalized quote, please contact us to discuss your needs.