I love making things from scratch. I cook constantly, I brew my own beer and I make my own shisha tobacco once in a while. The process can be very simple or very complicated depending on what you want to make, but today we are going to focus on modern style tobacco.
Make Modern Hookah Tobacco at Home
The ingredients you will need to make shisha tobacco are fairly simple. Tobacco leaves, molasses or honey, glycerin and flavorings. Personally I don’t use glycerin but I enjoy more traditional moassel and tobamel than you are likely looking for.
Stay away from black strap molasses and make sure to buy an unsulphured product. If you are using honey, don’t buy anything really expensive. The subtle flavors of honey are mostly lost in the process and don’t really transfer into the smoke. In regards to glycerin, you want to get vegetable glycerin, which can be bought at health and body stores. High quality flavorings like those I discuss in my article about adding more flavor to hookah tobacco are definitely your best bet.
Getting traditional tobacco can be a bit harder to manage than the other ingredients. Light pipe tobacco or cigar tobacco is a good choice, but I wouldn’t use anything too expensive as the intention is for the added flavors to be forward in the mix. There are lots of places online that you can order whole leaves or you can get a bag of pipe tobacco or some light cigars to chop up and experiment with. The best option though is tombac, which is just dried tobacco pressed into a brick. It’s another form of Middle Eastern shisha tobacco but with no flavoring or molasses and it has a very light flavor profile to begin with. I will be using some scrap leaves that were packed inside a box of cigars.
1. Soak the Dried Tobacco
It is now time to soak the dried tobacco to re-hydrate it, make it pliable and remove a little bit of the nicotine. The longer you soak it the less flavor it will add to the final product and the more nicotine will be taken out. Change the water every 30 minutes or so until you feel you’ve reached your desired level of washing. Modern style tobaccos like Starbuzz or Social Smoke wash and boil their tobacco until the water runs clear and no flavor is left behind. You too can strip the leaves of all character and flavor if you want to make sure your mango tobacco doesn’t smack of maduro.
2. Strip out the Stems and Chop the Leaves
If you are using whole leaves then you need to strip out the stems to avoid bitterness, overly high nicotine content and unpleasant flavors. You can do this by hand, but a sharp knife and a cutting board make a big difference. After the spines are stripped, bunch the tobacco up together, squeeze it into one block and cut it up with your sharp knife.
You can make it as course or as fine as you want.
3. Add Honey/Molasses and Flavorings
The ratio I use for molasses and honey is 3 to 1. For every 3 grams of tobacco I use 1 gram of molasses or honey. So 300 grams of dried tobacco takes about 100 grams of honey for my tobamel. Sometimes it’s more sometimes it’s less depending on the style of tobacco and the type of flavoring. Mix the honey/molasses, all the flavorings you want to use and about 30g of glycerin per 300 grams of tobacco in a bowl and add the tobacco. Start light with the flavorings. Some of them are super strong. A table spoon is all you need to start. Mix it up with wet hands and take a whiff. If it smells good put it in a Tupperware container to sit over night.
If you want to take it to the next level you can bake the tobacco before adding the flavorings to help the glycerin and molasses/honey soak into the leaves. I like to wrap all of the tobacco, molasses, etc in tinfoil and bake it on “Warm” for an hour or so. If it’s not traditional moassel then that’s really all you need to get the juices flowing. Now add your flavorings and let it blend together over night.
4. Wait a Day
The next day, if the consistency seems right and it smells good, load up a bowl and smoke it. If it’s dry add some more of the honey or molasses. If you don’t like the flavor add some more until you get it right. It can take up to a week or more for the flavors to really mellow out and come together into their final form, so be patient. It’s all about preference but it’s really as simple as that. From this point we can get into more traditional tobaccos but I think that may be a follow up blog post.