Maduro and Oscuro: The Basics
David "Doc" Diaz with José Blanco
Wednesday May 28, 2008
There are many misconceptions about the differences between maduro and oscuro wrappers. Many people think the distinction is simply the color differences between the leaves. After talking to different people in the industry we have come to the following conclusions...
A Natural Maduro wrapper [see article describing the difference between Natural and Boiled Maduro] is one that takes its name from the processes used to ferment the leaves. In Spanish, maduro means “ripe.” Therefore, the process of creating a maduro wrapper is also the process of “ripening” the leaves, which will involve special fermentation processes.
Fermentation for maduro first involves taking leaves and constructing a pilón, or large pile. You pile leaves upon leaves and allow the pile to ferment. The leaves are fermented at very high temperatures (sometimes up to 150 degrees) and the leaves will change color, texture and flavor, depending on the temperatures and the time spent in the pilón.
The optimal amount of time and temperature will be determined by the characteristics of the individual crops during a particular harvest. If you have a "wet crop" with a lot of rain, the tobacco leaves will be bigger, with a lighter color, thinner veins, and less oils. A wet crop will be fermented for a shorter period and at lower temperatures and thus, is not a good candidate for maduro wrappers.
On the other hand, if you have a “dry crop,” the leaves will be smaller, the veins will be thicker and the leaves will be darker with more oils. The process of fermentation for a dry crop will be totally different, with fermentation taking place over a longer time period and with higher temperatures, thus producing a maduro.
Another factor that must be taken into consideration is the type of tobacco. Corojo, Broadleaf, Ecuadorian, and Nicaraguan tobaccos are treated more or less the same. To produce maduro wrappers, these tobaccos are allowed to reach higher temperatures, sometimes up to 150 degrees, though every company has their own recipe for fermenting maduro.
In contrast, the processes for fermenting Cameroon and Connecticut are typically completed over a shorter time period and with lower temperatures. These wrapper types will not produce good maduro because they are typically too fragile to withstand maduro fermentation.
Left: Camacho Triple Maduro
Oscuro is a Spanish word that means “blackish” or “dark.” Oscuro wrapper leaves are typically taken from the top priming, or uppermost part of the tobacco plant. These leaves are variously called the corona (“crown”) or medio tiempo (literally “half time,” meaning they’ve been left on the plant 50% longer). Since these leaves have been exposed to a maximum amount of sunlight, they begin to cure on the plant. You end up with a darker, thicker, richer and more flavorful leaf without exposing it to maduro fermentation.
Below: La Flor Dominicana Oscuro Lancero
Oscuro leaves then go through a normal fermentation process, with a shorter fermentation time and at lower temperatures than for maduro. After fermentation and before manufacturing cigars, oscuro leaves are aged. Some companies will age the leaves in barrels, crates, or bales. During this aging period the leaves will get even darker, sometimes you will see leaves that are totally black, causing many people to mistakenly think they are maduro. Nevertheless, it is not possible to distinguish between maduro and oscuro leaves simply on the basis of color. Instead, it is a combination of the different fermentation processes and leaf placement that determines whether the tobacco leaves are maduro or oscuro.
Finally, some manufacturers “boil” or “paint” their leaves to achieve a darker wrapper appearance. This process does not produce a pure maduro or oscuro, but instead uses a process of combining various ingredients with the tobacco leaves to produce a darker color.
The process of cooking leaves is common enough, though not many people will admit to it. One way of doing it is that you take leaves and put them in a pot that is filled with a heated mixture of different ingredients. The leaves pick up the darkness of the liquid and it changes the characteristics of the leaf. This liquid can also be sprayed lightly on the filler leaves, or brushed lightly on the outside of the wrapper. The recipe for this mixture varies, as does the name; many people call it “betún.” It can be made with tobacco stems and shreds, molasses or sugar, lemon or other citrus juice and rinds, rum and other ingredients. These components are mixed in a container of water and steeped for several days or longer. The result is a liquid that looks like black coffee. Many frown on this practice, and yet it persists in the industry.
About the Authors
David "Doc" Diaz is the publisher and the editor of the Stogie Fresh Cigar Publications. He has served as an educator, researcher and writer and has taught in the Health Education and Health Science field for over 30 years. He possesses an earned doctorate from Nova Southeastern University. Doc is a Certified Master Tobacconist (CMT), having received this certification from the Tobacconist University and is a member and Ambassador of Cigar Rights of America (CRA).
José Blanco, formerly the National Sales Director of La Aurora Cigars, is currently serving as Senior Vice President of Joya de Nicaragua, S.A. He is a man who has a rich cigar legacy and who has an unsurpassed passion for cigars. José served as an expert consultant on this article.blog comments powered by Disqus