A cigarette seldom contains only one type of tobacco. Most cigarettes contain a mixture, or blend, of several types of tobacco from a variety of sources. The main types that can be used are brown, Virginia, Burley and Oriental tobacco. Brown tobacco blends sometimes also include Oriental tobacco. English blends mainly comprise Virginia tobacco, while blends for American consumers contain Virginia, Burley and Oriental tobacco. Casing and flavoring ingredients may be used in the blends, in varying quantities, depending on the style of blend.
The process of blending gives the end product a consistent taste from batches of tobacco grown in different areas of a country that may change in flavor profile from year to year due to different environmental conditions.
Modern cigarettes produced after the 1950s, although composed mainly of shredded tobacco leaf, use a significant quantity of tobacco processing by-products in the blend. Each cigarette's tobacco blend is made mainly from the leaves of flue-cured brightleaf, burley tobacco, and oriental tobacco. These leaves are selected, processed, and aged prior to blending and filling. The processing of brightleaf and burley tobaccos for tobacco leaf "strips" produces several by-products such as leaf stems, tobacco dust, and tobacco leaf pieces ("small laminate"). To improve the economics of producing cigarettes, these by-products are processed separately into forms where they can then be possibly added back into the cigarette blend without an apparent or marked change in the cigarette's quality. The most common tobacco by-products include:
- Blended leaf (BL) sheet: a thin, dry sheet cast from a paste made with tobacco dust collected from tobacco stemming, finely milled burley-leaf stem, and pectin.
- Reconstituted leaf (RL) sheet: a paper-like material made from recycled tobacco fines, tobacco stems and "class tobacco", which consists of tobacco particles less than 30 mesh in size (~0.599 mm) that are collected at any stage of tobacco processing. RL is made by extracting the soluble chemicals in the tobacco by-products, processing the leftover tobacco fibers from the extraction into a paper, and then reapplying the extracted materials in concentrated form onto the paper in a fashion similar to what is done in paper sizing. At this stage ammonium additives are applied to make reconstituted tobacco an effective nicotine delivery system.
- Expanded (ES) or improved stems (IS): ES are rolled, flattened, and shredded leaf stems that are expanded by being soaked in water and rapidly heated. Improved stems follow the same process but are simply steamed after shredding. Both products are then dried. These two products look similar in appearance but are different in taste.
Whole tobacco can also be processed into a product called expanded tobacco. The tobacco is "puffed", or expanded, by saturating it with supercritical carbon dioxide and heating the CO2 saturated tobacco to quickly evaporate the CO2. This quick change of physical state by the CO2 causes the tobacco to expand in a similar fashion as polystyrene foam. This is used to produce light cigarettes ("Lights") by reducing the density of the tobacco and thus maintain the size of a cigarette while reducing the amount of tobacco used in each cigarette.
A recipe-specified combination of brightleaf, burley-leaf and oriental-leaf tobacco will be mixed with humectants such as propylene glycol or glycerol, as well as flavoring products and enhancers such as cocoa solids, licorice, tobacco extracts, and various sugars, which are known collectively as "casings". The leaf tobacco will then be shredded, along with a specified amount of small laminate, expanded tobacco, BL, RL, ES and IS. A perfume-like flavor/fragrance, called the "topping" or "toppings", which is most often formulated by flavor companies, will then be blended into the tobacco mixture to improve the consistency in flavor and taste of the cigarettes associated with a certain brand name. As well, they replace lost flavors due to the repeated wetting and drying used in processing the tobacco. Finally the tobacco mixture will be filled into cigarettes tubes and packaged.
In recent years, the manufacturers' pursuit of maximum profits has led to the practice of using not just the leaves, but also recycled tobacco offal and the plant stem. The stem is first crushed and cut to resemble the leaf before being merged or blended into the cut leaf.
Most of the blend will be flue cured Virginia. About 1/3 will be burley and about 10% oriental or Maryland. The oriental and Maryland are a little bitter tasting and are used sparingly.
These are the main types of blended cigarettes, which are made with a mixture of tobacco varieties:
The most popular of the blended cigarettes, made with a mixture of flue-cured, burley and oriental tobacco. The specific percentage of each type varies from brand to brand, but generally contain 50% Virginia and 37% air cured burley, while oriental is the smallest percentage of the blend at around 13%.
English-blend cigarettes are made almost entirely of flue-cured tobacco. They are also known as Virginia cigarettes.
Similar to American-blend cigarettes, but more oriental tobacco is used in the blend. Also, these cigarettes have a milder taste because the tobacco is not as heavily cased and flavored as American-blend cigarettes.
As their name suggests, Oriental-blend cigarettes are made almost exclusively of oriental tobacco.
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