1. Class (or market class)

These semi-official USDA ARS-GRIN classes are vaguely useful in deciding what tobacco leaf variety to grow or obtain for a specific purpose. Those classes that are use-based, are indications of the predominant use, in the late 19th century, of specific varieties by the manufacturers of various tobacco products or by exporters. They do not indicate the exclusive applications for a particular class of tobacco. The geographic classes are mostly of historic interest since nearly all varieties of tobacco can be (and are) grown in most regions of the world.

Burley, as a group of tobacco varieties, is predominantly derived from Ohio White Burley, which in 1864 was an accidental genetic variant discovered in a seedbed of the now lost “Red Burley.” Burleys tend to have lighter or cream-colored stalks and veins while growing, and produce a large, relatively smooth leaf that quickly color-cures to a bright yellow, then dries to a light brown. Burley seedlings are often fragile, and transplants are more tender and slow to establish. For most of its growth, the leaves are held upright, near the stalk, with a close distance between the leaf nodes. In contrast to this, once well established, it lengthens rapidly and may mature earlier than other varieties. It is often stalk harvested when fully ripe, though primed leaf can make excellent cigar wrappers and binders. Burley is historically air-cured and can be cured by any of the other curing methods, though flue-curing produces unimpressive results. Burley leaf tends to be low in carbohydrates, and relatively high in nicotine. Burley tobacco, when smoked, offers a distinctive and recognizable aroma.

Uses Cigarettes, pipe blending, chewing. Most commercial Burley is used in blending cigarette tobacco (together with Flue-Cured, sometimes a small percentage of Oriental, and occasionally with Perique). Primed lower leaves make fine, light-colored cigar wrappers, and most Burley leaf is sufficiently sturdy to serve as a cigar binder

Binder is a diverse class of tobacco varieties that tend to produce a leaf with sufficient elasticity and tensile strength to withstand the stress of compressing a bunch of cigar filler. Some of these varieties are nearly identical to varieties classified as Cigar Filler. Their flavors, aromas, and burn qualities are not a consideration in classification.

Uses Cigar wrapper, cigar binder, cigar filler, pipe blending, chew. When air-cured or flue-cured, cigarette blending.

Since most tobaccos can be used as cigar filler, this formal class includes only those that found a major market as filler with cigar manufacturers, either in the U.S. or in its primary growing regions. Varieties that regularly produce leaves that are thick or corrugated or intensely rippled are unsuitable for use as wrappers or binders since they can not be flattened. Some of these varieties are nearly identical to varieties classified as Cigar Binder.

Uses: Cigar filler, pipe blending, chew. Finer leaves can be used as a cigar binder or even a cigar wrapper. Wrapper and Binder varieties that are damaged are frequently used as filler. When air-cured or flue-cured, cigarette blending.

Wrappers for cigars require a leaf (or portion of a leaf) that is without flaws, both for reasons of airflow as well as aesthetics. While some are preferred to be thin, such as Connecticut Shade leaf and Indonesian Sumatra, others are noticeably thicker, such as Ecuador Sumatra, Connecticut Broadleaf, and most wrapper leaf that is grown in full sun. Some varieties naturally attract fewer insects (or more effectively repel them) that make pinholes in the lamina. Shade-grown wrappers (grown beneath a canopy of shade cloth) are larger, thinner, more fragile, and less intensely flavored than sun-grown wrappers. Ideally, wrapper leaf burns to white ash. Some traditionally shade-grown tobacco varieties can be successfully grown without shade.

Uses Cigar wrapper, cigar binder, cigar filler, pipe blending, chew. When air-cured or flue-cured, cigarette blending.

These typically have very dark green, thick, sticky leaves. They air-cure to a strong, intensely flavored leaf.

Uses Chew, snuff, cigarette blending.

This is the primary tobacco used in manufactured cigarettes. Often generically called, “Virginia,” these tobaccos were selected to be effectively and rapidly flue-cured (by heat alone, in the absence of smoke) to a bright yellow or deep gold color. That curing process results in a leaf that produces acidic smoke, and ages very little, thereby maintaining the bright color. All flue-cured varieties can be successfully cured using any available curing method.

Uses Cigarette blending, pipe blending. When air-cured and fully finished, can be used for cigar wrapper, cigar binder, or cigar filler.

Fire-cured varieties tend to produce dark, heavy, sometimes sticky leaves that can endure a multi-week exposure to both the heat and the smoke of open curing fires. The resulting leaf is tough, darkened, and gives off a distinct smoky aroma and taste. The fire-curing process yields a leaf that is high in nicotine and sometimes does not burn well.

Uses Chew, snuff, cigarette blending. Blended in some Appalachian-style cigars and stogies. Sometimes used in pipe blending.

Fire-curing barn.

Fire-curing barn. [Workman Tobacco Seed Company]

This wide-ranging collection of tobaccos has its origins in the tobaccos grown within the many Eastern European member states of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. There is no distinctive characteristic of the class. [It would be similar grouping the numerous varieties of tobacco grown in the U.S. to an “American” tobacco class.] Some are strong, some are mild.
Uses: Any tobacco applications, depending on the specific variety.

These tobaccos resemble the large, seed leaf varieties, from which they are derived, though they tend to be mild, the nicotine concentration may or may not be high. They are traditionally stalk-harvested and air-cured and often used to increase the flavor-holding capacity of an aromatic blend.

Uses Pipe blending, cigarette blending. Can be used as a mild cigar wrapper/binder/filler.

This class was applied by USDA ARS-GRIN personnel to indicate the “unidentified” class. These are generally GRIN accessions received from undeveloped geographic regions and received without adequate documentation.

“Oriental” is a term for tobaccos that, in the early twentieth century, were often labeled as “Turkish.” These initially reached the Middle East, Iran, India, and Indonesia via Dutch and Portuguese traders soon after the first arrival of tobacco in Europe (~1500). Many derivatives were cultivated in wide-ranging areas within the Ottoman Empire. Today, these are frequently grown in Macedonia, Greece, Bulgaria, Turkey, and the Republic of Georgia. Oriental tobaccos have a reputation for being small-leafed, delicate, aromatic, and low in nicotine. This is true of some, though not all. Oriental tobaccos are traditionally sun-cured, though they are successfully cured by any of the available curing methods. Latakia, grown in Syria and Cyprus, is an indeterminate Basma-like variety that is intensely fire-cured in the smoke of aromatic herbs and shrubs typical of the Mediterranean basin.

Uses Cigarette blending, pipe blending. The larger leaf Oriental varieties can be used as a cigar wrapper, cigar binder, cigar filler.

This ARS-GRIN class may be considered as “no information available”

These are varieties that, according to the classifier at ARS-GRIN, appeared to definitely be Nicotiana tabacum but to have been subjected to little or no agricultural improvement effort, in comparison to the hypothetical “wild” type. Their splayed venation patterns may make it difficult to utilize as a cigar wrapper or cigar binder. Some have distinctive, sometimes odd, aromas and flavors. Some make excellent and rich cigar filler and cigarette blending leaf.