What Is Shisha Tobacco?

Jan 06 , 2021

What Is Shisha Tobacco?

Shisha is the tobacco that you pack in a hookah bowl. The word ‘hookah’ has its origin in the Arabic term ‘huqqa’, which literally means casket or jar. The English word ‘hookah’ literally means water pipe. Many people refer to hookah as shisha. Likewise, many people use the term ‘shisha tobacco’. Both are inaccurate. Hookah is the apparatus. Shisha is the tobacco. So, shisha tobacco is a misnomer.

What is Shisha, Hookah Tobacco, or Shisha Flavor?

The stuffing that goes into the clay bowl can be called shisha, or tobacco, hookah tobacco, or shisha flavor. All these terms have the same meaning. Shisha or hookah tobacco is not the typical dry tobacco used in cigarettes, cigars, or smoking pipes. Shisha is moist tobacco, and it is treated using various ingredients.

Shisha or hookah tobacco contains leaves as the base, but they are treated with molasses, glycerin, or honey. Some companies use a combination of molasses, honey and glycerin. Then the tobacco is flavored. The flavoring usually is a combination of extracts. A few companies use chemical extracts as well. The best known brands in the industry use natural extracts, whether of fruits or other materials.

The tobacco is the base for most shisha. The moisture is largely due to the treatment of molasses, glycerin, or honey. The flavoring also adds a bit of moisture to the shisha. The result is a slightly wet tobacco. Cigarettes, cigars and smoking pipes use dry tobacco. The tobacco is burned to produce the smoke. Shisha or hookah tobacco is not burned. It is heated using convection. The material is not directly lit, and it does not use combustion. Instead, hot air produced by charcoals heats the shisha inside the bowl, and this convection process produces the smoke.

Types of Shisha or Hookah Tobacco

Factoring in all the major and lesser known brands in the industry, there are more than a hundred types and flavors of shisha or hookah tobacco. However, the base material is mostly blonde leaf tobacco or dark leaf tobacco. In some non-tobacco or tobacco-free shishas, the base material may be real fruit or extract, tea leaves, or sugarcane fibers. These herbal shishas do not contain nicotine, unless added to the formula.  

Both blonde leaf and dark leaf tobaccos have nicotine, but to varying degrees. Other than the flavoring, the proportion of molasses, glycerin, or honey, and other additives that may be used by a company, most shishas or hookah flavors draw their base flavor from blonde or dark leaf tobacco. Let us compare the two.

Blonde Leaf vs. Dark Leaf Tobaccos

Blonde leaf tobacco is washed after harvest. Dark leaf tobacco is not washed after harvest. The washing involves water and in many cases a special solvent. This process of washing reduces the nicotine content of tobacco leaves, and also lends to the blonde or orange color. Lack of washing, in case of dark leaf tobacco, keeps the original nicotine concentration that is found naturally, and also lends to the black color. Blonde leaf tobacco is milder than dark leaf tobacco. The latter has a denser and richer, hence stronger flavor. But there is more to these two types of tobacco leaves than the nicotine content.

Blonde leaf tobacco is generally washed or cured with honey. Dark leaf tobacco is generally washed or cured with molasses. The types of curing agent, flavoring, and additive or preservative that may be used in a particular shisha depend on the proprietary formula of the manufacturer. Consequently, the final product, which is the hookah shisha you purchase in a jar or can, attains a distinct aroma, flavor, taste, and other properties. These cannot be entirely boiled down to the characteristic differences between blonde leaf and dark leaf tobaccos.

Beginners largely prefer blonde leaf or golden tobacco. Connoisseurs prefer the stronger and bolder dark leaf or black tobacco. However, golden or blonde leaf tobacco is for everyone. Dark leaf or black tobacco is an acquired taste, but may work well even for beginners who like stronger flavors. The nicotine content is high so there is a better hit at the very outset.

The Flavors of Shisha, or Hookah Tobacco

While the type of tobacco at the base is certainly important, the eventual experience of a user with any shisha shall depend largely on the flavor. This depends entirely on the formula used by a manufacturer for a particular flavor profile. Users are also at liberty to blend more than one shisha for a session.