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While aficionados in the United States still can’t legally enjoy the fine tobaccos grown and harvested in Cuba, the country’s contributions to many of the tobaccos found in cigars are numerous, but perhaps lesser known. Since the discovery of tobacco and its subsequent proliferation throughout the world, tobacco has evolved over a half a millennium, and it all began with seeds brought from the Caribbean. Today, these seeds are grown in the US, Indonesia, Africa, and most notably throughout Central and South America. Over time, these seeds have evolved with their environment, providing a wide variety of unique flavor profiles specific to their region.
While the tobacco industry continues to suffer in Cuba due to nationalization and a lack of investment or resources, Cuba still has the most ideal climate for growing premium tobacco. In fact, this island nation continues to excel in agricultural research and development; most of which is being done at the famed Tobacco Institute. It is there where a think tank of agronomists engineer new seeds based on Cuba’s original seeds from the pre-Castro era; seeds that are more disease-resistant, provide greater yields, better combustion and in turn, unique flavors.
By the 1990s, Cuba’s original seeds had spread to Honduras, Nicaragua, the Dominican Republic, and a host of other countries. After many generations of replanting, the native seeds began producing lower yields and worse yet, became highly susceptible to diseases such as black shank and blue mold. The institute was hard at work on disease-resistant strands with higher yields. The first, most notable seed was engineered in the late 1990s and became known as Criollo ’98, which remains one of the most popular seeds that growers still plant to this very day. Since then, newer inceptions have come forth, which are all names you have no doubt read about such as Corojo ’99, Habano 2000 and Corojo 2006. While the core flavor elements of these seeds are largely the same and most flavor variations can be attributed to the climate and soil composition in the places they are planted, their superior combustions and textures do yield unique qualities and flavors that are appreciated by the most discerning aficionados.
Perhaps the most exciting new development from Cuba is its newest seed, Criollo 2011. This seed was tested in 2011 and planted in larger scale this year; it is now the staple for Cuban tobacco. Like Criollo 2011’s predecessors, its use in areas friendly to US trade (such as Honduras and Nicaragua) is only a matter of time, which is especially exciting due to the quality of wrapper this seed produces. Could Criollo 2011 be the next big thing for the American market? We certainly hope so. Keep an eye out this year for new brands featuring this unique and complex seed.
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