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What is Kentucky Tobacco?

Kentucky Tobacco in a pile

Did you know a staggering 45,000 tobacco farms can be found throughout the lush landscapes of Kentucky?  Not only that, but this state is associated with bluegrass, horse racing, bourbon, and one of the most prolific exports of fine tobaccos in the world.  The gentle, warm climate of KY makes it a prime location for growing a number of varieties, and it’s worth it for avid tobacco connoisseurs to develop a greater understanding of the role that the state has played in the tobacco industry over the years. 

The History of Kentucky Tobacco

Kentucky was founded in 1792, being the fifteenth state to join the Union, and it took next to no time for tobacco to be the state’s main crop.  Up until the 1830s, the majority of Kentucky-grown tobacco was sent to New Orleans, where it would be sent off to various foreign countries, meaning that most tobacco up until that point was not consumed domestically.

The high demand for tobacco exports, however, led to one of the first instances in the U.S. of worker exploitation on an industry-wide scale.  With demand growing, Kentucky farmers were taken advantage of, and children were sent off to work in the farms instead of getting an education.  At the same time, farmers were able to grow tobacco on credit instead of paying with cash up front, which led to something of an economic crisis within the state, as credit came with unfair interest rates.  As a result, tobacco farmers were, by and large, broke, which led to a number of strikes that eventually allowed for more worker-friendly regulations throughout the industry, which would be echoed throughout the country shortly following.

With fairer regulations being implemented, the tobacco industry Kentucky was able to thrive like never before, and to this day, remains a major export in the state, playing a huge role in its economic wellbeing.  In fact, Kentucky is the second biggest exporter of tobacco after North Carolina.

It’s also worth noting that prior to the Civil War, many people who worked on tobacco farms were enslaved laborers, as demand for tobacco exports at this time were exceedingly high.  After the Civil War, with the country largely in a depression, particularly in the South, Kentucky’s tobacco exports played an enormous role in keeping the state, and the entire region, afloat.

What Kinds of Tobacco are Cultivated in Kentucky?

Because of its predictable and accommodating climate, Kentucky is the perfect region in which to grow a number of tobacco varieties.  Many tobaccos sold around the world actually come from Kentucky, including cigarette tobaccos, rolling tobaccos, pipe tobaccos, and chewing tobaccos.

Burley Tobacco

Burley tobacco is a Kentucky original, dating back to the 1860s.  It’s an extremely popular tobacco used mainly for cigarettes, thanks to its light and mild nature, as it’s lightly air-cured.  While neighboring states now cultivate burley tobacco as well, 70% of burley tobacco comes straight from Kentucky farms.

Keep in mind that white burley is a variation also made in Kentucky, which is much lighter in color and milder in flavor than the already-mild burley tobacco.

Aromatic Flue-Cured Tobacco

Aromatic flue-cured tobacco shows off an older tradition of American tobacco cultivation, which involves fire-cured dark leaf tobacco that has a deeper, richer, and darker flavor.  This type of tobacco gained huge popularity around the time of the civil war, and now, it’s mainly used for chewing tobacco and snuff due to its robust nature.  It’s also a common condiment in pipe tobacco blends, because of its full-bodied profile and floral notes that add to the complexity of a pipe tobacco’s flavor and aroma.

Cavendish Tobacco

Cavendish is not a type of tobacco leaf, but rather tobacco made through a specific process involving curing and cutting.  The way in which the tobacco is processed lends itself to a very sweet taste that makes it very popular for pipe tobacco.  Cavendish tobacco can originate from virtually anywhere, but it very commonly uses burley tobacco that was grown in Kentucky.

Making cavendish tobacco involves processing the leaves into a 1-inch-thick cake, after which steam, or fire is applied to the tobacco cake, so that it ferments.  This enhances its sweet taste while keeping the flavor mild.  The cake is then sliced, and the slices are broken apart.

Type 22 Tobacco

Type 22 tobacco came about in the 1980s, classified by its dark fire-cured quality, and it’s mainly used for chewing tobacco.

Kentucky’s Tobacco Legacy Lives on

Kentucky has proven itself to be one of the most desired locations for growing tobacco crops, and in fact, has been for centuries.  To this day, many popular tobacco suppliers rely on Kentucky farmers in order to stay in business.  Throughout history, regulations and workers’ conditions have changed dramatically, but one thing is clear, which is that Kentucky has improved the landscape of the tobacco industry worldwide.

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