Have you ever read a cigar review and wondered about the flavors that were used to describe that particular cigar? Or maybe you have also smoked that cigar and it didn’t taste anywhere near what the review(s) said.
Before I get into a discussion on the tastes and flavors of cigar tobacco, let’s start off with a definition of taste and flavor.
Taste is a chemical sense perceived by taste buds found on your tongue. Flavor is a combination of taste, smell, touch and thermal sensations. With spicy food, your brain will even factor in pain as part of flavor. Taste is very subjective. Genetics and the concentration of taste receptors also play a part in your sense of taste. These variations determine why not everyone likes the same flavors or cannot distinguish certain flavors while others can.
You may have heard of or seen a “taste map” of the tongue, where certain tastes are detected on different parts of the tongue. That taste map is inaccurate, different flavors can be detected all over the tongue.
We all know about the basic flavors of sweet, salty, sour, and bitter. There is also a less widely known fifth taste sensation; umami. This umami taste is the savory flavor of soy sauce, tomatoes, and many other foods high in glutamate.
Now, let’s move onto the flavors and tastes of premium cigar tobacco. Is there a science behind this component of cigar smoking or is it all just very subjective? As it turns out, the flavors we find in cigar tobacco is a little of both. When I talk to a cigar manufacturer or listen to one as they describe their cigars they will use the four basic senses of taste along with a description of the body, strength and balance of the cigar.
I think that food descriptors are normally used by reviewers to uniquely convey their experiences while smoking a cigar and to differentiate reviews of similar cigar blends. I’m not saying that these descriptions are made up, just that specific foods or spices are used because they are reminiscent of the four (or five) basic tastes that the reviewer is experiencing at that moment in time.
I think everything about the smoking experience can affect our perception about a particular cigar. We first use our sight to view the cigar wrapper and sense of touch to feel the wrapper and determine how firm or soft the physical body of the cigar is.
A darker wrapper tends to add an amount of sweetness while a lighter wrapper may add a hint of dryness. The ratio between wrapper, binder and filler tobaccos is also a part of how a cigar tastes. The wrapper has the most influence on the nuances of taste while the binder and filler can influence the body and strength the most.
The components of the soil that the tobacco seeds are planted in can influence the flavor as well as the quality and color of a cigar’s ash.
The curing and fermentation processes along with the rolling and aging stages by the manufacturer are other methods that can influence a cigar’s taste. Faulty construction could affect the blend and burn rates of a cigar.
How the consumer stores and ages a cigar will have the biggest effect on the cigars in their possession. The ideal 70% humidity will result in an even burning cigar. This allows the cigar’s blend to present the precise flavor profile the manufacturer intended. A dry cigar burns faster and takes on harsh flavors while a damp cigar could burn unevenly and take on acidic flavors.
What you use to light a cigar will also affect the taste. Butane gas, cedar spills and wooden cigar matches are all good products to use. Paper matches and “regular” lighter fluid will impart nasty flavors to cigar tobacco.
So as you have just read, everything from the soil the seeds are sown in, to the complicated processes of fermentation, blending and how you age you cigars will affect its flavor.
Lastly, I believe the surroundings and your state of mind will also affect your sense of taste while smoking a cigar. I think a positive attitude and fun times can accentuate the experience of smoking a good cigar.The Science of Cigar Flavors by Tom Ufer