All about hookah tobacco: types, composition, production process, manufacturing companies, how to choose tobacco

All about hookah tobacco: types, composition, production process, manufacturing companies, how to choose tobacco

The most popular flavored waterpipe shisha tobacco in the world today appeared not so long ago. In the late eighties of the twentieth century, the Egyptian company Nakhla pioneered the production of shisha tobacco with different fruit flavors. But for many centuries before that, other varieties of shisha tobacco blends were smoked through the hookah. Unflavored tobaccos are still popular in Arab countries among the older population.

All about hookah tobacco: types, composition, production process, manufacturing companies, how to choose tobacco

Types of shisha tobacco

Flavored Moissel

Most of the time when you smoke hookah, you will smoke it. The name comes from the Arabic معسل, which literally means "honey". The name comes from the fact that in the past, honey was used in the production of hookah tobacco mixes. As we will see below, in modern flavored moissels, honey has been replaced by molasses (sugar syrup), but the traditional name remains. Flavoring is a key element in flavored muissel, giving it the flavor of various fruits, spices, and other products. The composition of any such moissel includes: tobacco leaf, molasses (sugar syrup), flavorings, glycerin, and a preservative.

Non-flavored Moissel (non-flavor, normal)

Unflavored Moissel contains no flavorings. Although it is sometimes called non-flavor, this is not quite true. Its flavor is determined directly by the tobacco leaf (or a mixture of varieties of tobacco) used in the manufacture. Sometimes, smokers think that such tobacco is stronger, but raw material is usually used the same as in flavored tobacco, except that the sugar content in the syrup may be higher. The most popular representative is Nakhla Zaghloul. It can be smoked with foil or by placing the charcoal directly on the tobacco. In the second case, the strength of the smoke and the single dose of nicotine will actually be higher.

Tombak (Tombec, Ajami)

Tombac is a few large leaves of tobacco. Before smoking, it is soaked in water and the dense central vein is removed. Then, without using a hookah bowl, the leaves are wrapped around the top of the hookah like a cigar. The charcoal is placed directly on the leaf. High strength, strong tobacco flavor are the main characteristics of this kind of smoking, popular in Saudi Arabia, Iran, India. The most famous brand in the US. and Europe is Sultan Asfahini Tombac.


Jurak is finely ground tobacco mixed with molasses and, sometimes, spices. It is popular in India, Syria, and can be seen in the UAE. The mixture is placed in a hookah bowl, usually with a slide, the charcoal is placed on top, without the foil. There is a variant when the zhurak is not placed with a slide, but in such cases, as a rule, a hookah bowl with a larger size than usual waterpipe bowls used to in Russia and in the West is used. In India, jurak is called "village hookah tobacco" because it is often produced in suburban areas. In the same India, there are two types of zhurak: mitha (lighter) and kadwa (stronger). Mitha is preferred by women and kadwa by men.

In today's world, in the United States , Western Europe and Russia, the overwhelming majority of waterpipe mixes are flavored with moissel, the popularity of unflavored tobaccos is negligible, and tobac and jurak are extremely rare exotics that modern waterpipe lovers rarely find to their liking.

All about hookah tobacco: types, composition, production process, manufacturing companies, how to choose tobacco

Shisha tobacco composition

Tobacco Leaf

Tobacco leaf is the main tobacco blend and source of nicotine.
The most popular types of shisha tobacco in the world are: Virginia, Burley, and Oriental. When making a hookah tobacco mixture, any of these types or a mixture of them can be used. The types of tobacco vary in taste, color, sugar, nicotine levels, and other parameters. Each type has many varieties, which vary because of the soil, weather and other parameters of the area in which the tobacco is grown, the drying process and other industrial stages of tobacco preparation.

One of the most interesting parameters in tobacco leaf is the nicotine content. Unfortunately, due to the great variety of varieties, there are no unambiguous numbers anywhere. We found this table from a famous pipe enthusiast:

 Turkish is another name for the Oriental type. The table shows that there is more nicotine in Burley and it is traditionally believed that Burley is stronger than Virginia, but this is not always true. There are more and less strong Virginia varieties and sometimes Virginia can be at least as strong as Burley. You can find this out by reading pipe tobacco forums and descriptions of various pipe tobaccos and pipe tobaccos.

Nevertheless, Burley-based tobaccos (the most famous are Tangiers, Hookafina Black) will in most cases be stronger than Virginia-based ones. In addition, a specific feature of Burley is the high absorption of flavorings (up to 25%, as opposed to 7-8% for Virginia and Oriental), which allows for a better taste sensation. However, the flavors themselves also differ from each other in saturation, so the taste of a Virginia-based tobacco blend can be just as strong as a Burley-based one. Also, because of the specifics of production (longer air drying compared to Virginia), Burley has lower sugar content, which means that tobacco is easier to burn, but the technological methods of tobacco production allow to work around this disadvantage as well.
The taste of Burley also has a slight tang, a tingling on the tongue, which many people like.

Virginia leaf is the most popular and is used in the vast majority of well-known tobaccos: Al Fakher, Starbuzz, Social Smoke, Azure Gold, Fumari, SerbetliEternal Smoke and many others. American tobaccos all look the same, most use the same Golden Virginia tobacco. Some manufacturers, claim to use a certain "French" tobacco leaf, but a simple Internet search finds no mention of French Virginia (except that the blend of pipe tobacco), this is a deception and an attempt to stand out. Golden Virginia is called flue-cured tobacco because of its smoke-drying technology. This drying technology is faster than the air-cured technology used to make Burley, and retains a higher sugar content. The sugar adds sweetness to the tobacco and, in general, Virginia-based tobaccos are more palatable to beginners to hookah smoking. The higher sugar content also increases the heat resistance of the tobacco, but the larger cut, in turn, reduces it, so large-cut American tobaccos tend to be easier to overheat, while the finer-cut Emirati Al Fakher is more difficult.

Using the same tobacco leaf does not mean the same nicotine content. As I wrote above, Virginia is not Virginia. For example, one study showed that Emirati Al Fakher has almost twice the nicotine content of American Starbuzz, which didn't stop manufacturers from writing the same 0.05% nicotine content on packs for a long time. For the most part, American shisha tobaccos are lighter than Arab shisha tobaccos.

The Oriental tobacco leaf is characteristic of Egyptian tobacco, first of all, of course, we are talking about one of the most popular tobaccos in the world, Nakhla. The production of the Oriental type tobacco leaf is more connected with Turkey, for a long time there was a prohibition to call Oriental tobacco by this word, if it is not produced in Turkey, because the Turks thought that the specificity of climate and soil determine the properties of the tobacco leaf. This is indeed true, and similar statements are common in other industries, such as single malt whiskey production, whose taste is influenced by water, soil composition, peat and other elements of the area where the whiskey is produced that are involved in one way or another in the production process. Other types of tobacco are treated more leniently, so Virginia grown in different parts of the world will differ in different ways. The study mentioned above showed that the nicotine content of Nakhla is quite a bit lower than that of Al Fakher, although Nakhla has long been considered stronger.

To date, hookah tobacco manufacturers have taken the path of producing tobacco for pipes and selfcookers, and you can already find tobacco based on blends, i.e. mixes of different types of tobacco. For example, Russian Dark Side tobacco uses a mix of Virginia, Burley, and Oriental in some lines (the proportions are not disclosed). A similar blend is used in most American cigarettes. The mix of tobacco types allows you to play on the combination of their properties, opening up limitless possibilities for creating interesting flavors.

It doesn't really matter what kind of tobacco is used to create a hookah blend, none of them are worse or better, they are just different. But in general, using Burley is a signal that the tobacco will be stronger. For beginner hookah smokers, Virginia or Oriental-based tobaccos are recommended, but if a person likes to smoke Al Fakher it does not mean that he has not learned hookah, just not everyone likes the strong nicotine intoxication. By analogy, if you don't like strong beer, you can still be a fan of beer as such, it's just a matter of taste.

 All about hookah tobacco: types, composition, production process, manufacturing companies, how to choose tobacco

Honey or molasses

I don't need to explain what honey is, but what is molasses? Wikipedia says that molasses is a product of incomplete acid (diluted acids) or enzymatic hydrolysis of starch. It is formed as a by-product in the production of sugar and starch.

That is, molasses is not honey at all. At home, molasses is most commonly referred to as various sugary syrups, including dark molasses and light molasses. The traditional name of hookah tobacco is muassel, literally translated from Arabic as "honey". But molasses in English is spelled as molasses. Most likely because of similarity of words and translation mistakes there is a common misconception about the use of honey or molasses, and while at one time honey was really used (which gave rise to the name muassel), now all tobaccos use only molasses (aka sugar syrup). And the use of molasses doesn't prevent you from writing honey or honey syrup on the packet, in either case there is no honey in the tobacco.

In addition, the average price of honey, for example, in US is between 15 and 30 dollars per pound, and molasses is 2-5  per kg, which means it is 30-50 times cheaper. Prices, of course, may vary, but in general the difference is tens of times. If any tobacco actually used honey, its price would differ significantly, but if you look, on the American market, the prices of hookah tobaccos differ insignificantly. It's funny that the manufacturer of Tangiers tobacco once proudly stated that not a single American tobacco, with the exception of Tangiers itself, uses molasses, honey everywhere. As we can see now, first of all, there is not much reason to be proud, molasses is cheaper, and second of all, this is a lie.

Treacle provides a dense structure to the tobacco mixture, reduces bitterness (the main function), and helps the mixture heat more evenly. Treacle is also a flavor enhancer.


The first flavored shisha tobaccos began to be produced by the Egyptian company Nakhla in the late 1980s. According to Ahmed Elibiari, one of the company's top managers, Nakhla produced only unflavored tobacco (non-flavored, such as Zaghloul, which is still produced today) until the eighties. Unflavored tobacco has the taste of the tobacco mixture (blend) used in the production, which makes it similar to pipe tobacco. But in the mid-eighties in the Egyptian city of Alexandria, employees noticed that people were mixing Zaghloul with jam to give it a flavor. A few years later, the first industrially produced flavored shisha tobacco was born. At the moment, sales of unflavored Nahla in Egypt account for 50% of the company's sales, with the remaining 50% coming from flavored tobaccos. But in terms of exports, 90% are flavored tobaccos, and non-flavored tobaccos only 10%, the main consumers of which, are Arabs living abroad.

Flavoring is probably the most important element in a  shisha tobacco blend. The quality of the flavoring and the taste it imparts largely determines the fate of the tobacco. Many American hookah tobaccos share the same tobacco leaf, all other ingredients are identical, as is the manufacturing process, and only the flavoring flavoring sets certain tobaccos apart on the market.

Arab shisha tobaccos, such as Al Fakher and Nakhla, are characterized by more natural flavors, that is, an orange, for example, really looks like an orange, while American tobaccos have some "chemically" flavors, and an orange from an American manufacturer, will look more like an orange soda. The determining factor in this case is the flavoring.


Glycerin is in any hookah tobacco. Glycerin is used to preserve tobacco leaves and not necessarily for hookah. Its use is due to the fact that glycerin is very good at dissipating moisture. The moisture from the tobacco, mixed with the nicotine from the tobacco and flavoring, evaporates under the influence of temperature. This is the vapor that we smoke. Purely technically, hookah smoke is not smoke, but glycerin vapor, but we often say "smoke" anyway, because that's the way it's always been, cigarette smoke, pipe smoke, hookah smoke.

The additional addition of glycerin to shisha tobacco increases the separation of moisture, which contributes to an increased smokiness. However, do not add more than one or two drops of glycerin to a standard 15g tobacco filling, as an unpleasant aftertaste appears.


All tobacco contains a preservative. Without preservatives, the tobacco will get moldy and become unfit for smoking. There was an interesting case with the "organic" pipe tobacco C&D Organic Pipe Dreams. The manufacturer boasted the absence of preservatives in the tobacco he produced, but later, the tobacco was withdrawn from production due to mold formation in the product.

The only brand of waterpipe tobacco about which the manufacturer claims it has no preservatives is American Tangiers, but this is a 100% lie, or a veiled lie (for example, the preservative is in the flavors). According to reviews of smokers, it happened that the taste of Tangiers, which they did not like, lay with them for years and did not grow moldy, but without preservatives such a shelf life is impossible to achieve.

Tobacco manufacturers do not disclose what preservative is used in production, but the Handbook of Preservatives by M. Ash mentions sodium benzoate (E211) as a preservative for tobacco. There is nothing wrong with it and, according to Wikipedia, sodium benzoate is found in apples, raisins, cranberries, and other foods.


In some shisha tobaccos, dyes are used to give color to the mixture. The dye does not affect the taste in any way, the purpose of its use is not very clear. Lately, most manufacturers give up using dyes because they are useless. Nevertheless, dyes are used in such popular tobacco as Adalya, Al Fakher, as well as in the flavor Double Apple and some other tobaccos Nakhla. If the shisha tobacco has a reddish color, it is using dye, you do not need to be afraid of that.

All about hookah tobacco: types, composition, production process, manufacturing companies, how to choose tobacco

Characteristics of hookah tobacco mix

To describe a particular shisha tobacco blend, there are parameters such as: cut, soaking, presence of trash, strength, smokiness, flavor saturation, heat resistance.


There are several types of cutting: large, medium, small.

A large cut results in stronger impregnation, but reduces the heat resistance. This cut is typical for American tobaccos (Starbuzz, Fumari, Haze).

The medium cut is less effective at absorbing flavorings which is easily compensated for by their intensity. Medium-cut  shisha tobaccos are more heat-resistant compared to large-cut tobaccos. Characteristic examples are Adalya, Al Fakher, Nakhla.

A small cut tobacco also absorbs flavorings worse, which is also compensated for, firstly, by its intensity and, secondly, by the properties of the tobacco leaf, which can absorb flavoring to varying degrees, depending on the type. Examples of tobaccos with a fine cut are Tangiers, Azure Black. These tobaccos have a lower heat tolerance than the others.

In general, the use of a coarse, medium or fine cut does not affect the flavor of the tobacco mixture that much, and high or low heat resistance can easily be compensated by more or less use of coals.


Soaking shisha tobacco is the degree of tobacco moisture provided by the flavoring and molasses. The more syrup, the richer the flavor. However, excessive saturation is not always beneficial, for example, American tobaccos with strong soaking are often called "cheesy", this applies to such tobaccos as Starbuzz, Fumari, Haze and many others. In addition, the saturation of flavor depends on the flavorings and, for example, Adalya, which is less moist than other tobaccos, has a saturated flavor.
Also, the soaking affects the smoke volume: the more syrup - the smokier tobacco, which again can be easily compensated by more or less charcoal.

All about hookah tobacco: types, composition, production process, manufacturing companies, how to choose tobacco

Flavor saturation

The flavor saturation of a  shisha tobacco blend is, conventionally speaking, how well the smoker feels the taste. There are tobaccos with extremely weak taste, for example Zomo, Chaos and others, and there are  shisha tobaccos with very intense taste, for example Pan Raas taste of Indian Afzal tobacco cannot be confused with any other. Flavors can also be more natural, that is, more like a real taste of fruit, a combination of fruits or something else edible (such as chocolate), and can be more chemical, similar to the taste of flavored ice cream or soda. Arabic tobaccos (Al Fakher, Nakhla) tend to have more "natural" flavors and American tobaccos (Starbuzz, Fumari) tend to have more "chemistry. In any case, natural fruit is not used in any industrially produced shisha tobacco, because it is more expensive, the fruit is less saturated than the flavoring and it is difficult to keep the tobacco mixture from spoiling.

The presence of trash

The presence of dense parts of the tobacco leaf - "sticks" - in a shisha tobacco mixture is conventionally considered an indicator of poor quality. However, this is far from reality. Such popular hookah tobaccos as Nakhla and Afzal hold the record for the amount of "trash" in tobacco, which, in fact, does not prevent them from being popular. Particularly large sticks are easy to remove, and the less dense veins of tobacco leaf also absorb flavoring and do not interfere with smoking at all. Therefore, the purity level of the tobacco blend is an unimportant factor.


The strength of a  shisha tobacco mixture is determined by the level of nicotine in the tobacco leaf. The more nicotine, the stronger the "intoxicating" effect of smoking. There is an opinion that different flavors of the same shisha tobacco can be more or less strong, which does not correspond to reality, because the tobacco leaf for different flavors is used the same, and there is no nicotine in the flavors. However, this does not apply to different lines of the same brand of tobacco. For example, the Birquq line of Tangiers tobacco is less strong than the Noir line because of the different tobacco leaf for each line.

The strength of the tobacco is also affected by whether the tobacco is washed, that is, whether it washed with water during the making of the blend. Washed tobacco will be less strong compared to exactly the same unwashed tobacco, but unwashed tobacco itself can also have different levels of strength. For example, Adalya is made without washing and is less strong than Dark Side shisha tobacco, which is also unwashed.

As they write on many shisha tobacco packages, "There are currently no known methods of determining the nicotine content of shisha tobacco," and this is indeed true. Often, the packages indicate 0.05% and 0.5% nicotine, but any inscriptions on the amount of nicotine is not supported by anything, you can ignore them. In addition, the previously mentioned study confirmed that the inscriptions on the amount of nicotine are not true. For example, on the packages of Nakhla it was written 0.5% nicotine, and on the packages of Al Fakher and Starbuzz 0.05% (10 times less), but measuring the level of nicotine in the blood plasma during hookah smoking in 110 subjects showed that the highest nicotine content was in Al Fakher, slightly less in Nakhla and almost two times less than in Al Fakher - in Starbuzz. There are no approved standards for the design of packs of hookah tobacco regarding nicotine content in any country in the world, each manufacturer can write anything, so the inscriptions on the packs can not be read.


Smokiness is the volume of smoke (vapor) exhaled by the smoker per exhalation. Many hookah lovers note that a smoky hookah is psychologically more pleasant to smoke than a less smoky one. The smokiness of the shisha tobacco mixture is influenced to a lesser extent by the cutting (see above) and to a greater extent by the amount of syrup and flavoring in which the tobacco is (the more syrup, the smokier the tobacco). However, adding heat to less smoky tobaccos can achieve a very high smokiness. In other words, there is no such thing as a non-smoky tobacco, it all depends on the heat control on the hookah.

Heat resistance

Heat tolerance is a rather relative term for how well a  shisha tobacco mixture tolerates heat or, more simply, how much charcoal you can put in before the mixture starts to burn in the hookah bowl. It is conditional because it refers more to the process of making and smoking the shisha tobacco mixture. So, just using less charcoal, you can safely smoke less heat-resistant tobaccos with enough smoke. Heat resistance is influenced by the cut and type of tobacco leaf, or more specifically, the sugar level in the tobacco leaf. However, different combinations of cut and tobacco type can produce different results. For example, a more sugary Virginia combined with a coarse cut will be less heat-resistant. Traditionally, Arabic tobaccos (Al Fakher, Nakhla) are considered more heat-resistant and American Virginia-based ones (Starbuzz, Fumari, Azure Gold, Trifecta, Social Smoke) and Burley-based (Tangiers, Azure Black) are considered less heat-resistant.

Shelf life and storage conditions

The shelf life of hookah tobacco is quite long, thanks to the preservative. Probably no one has measured the exact period. However, on packs of shisha tobacco, the expiration date is sometimes written, mostly two years from the date of manufacture. Two years is conditional and is written according to the laws and quality standards of different countries.

The shelf life can be affected by storage conditions. Under the scorching sun, even in a package, tobacco can go bad.

Production process

You are unlikely to find an exact description of the process of making shisha tobacco in the public domain. However, given that people in Israel, Jordan, Syria and other countries sometimes manage to make flavored tobacco at home, the process itself is relatively uncomplicated. First, the sliced tobacco leaf is either soaked or simply washed, or neither. Then they mix it with molasses, glycerin and a preservative. How exactly it is mixed is a secret question. They may just mix it, they may press it, they may boil it, they may infuse it for a long time. The flavoring is added last, also either by stirring or by other means. Unfortunately, no one discloses the exact dosage of the ingredients, the duration of the process and other issues. However, as already mentioned, hookah tobacco can also be prepared at home, but without industrial flavorings you cannot achieve a rich flavor. Homemade tobacco can sometimes be found on sale, for example in Israel. But unlike grandma's homemade jam, which is usually considered tastier than store-bought, homemade tobacco will always be inferior to that which is prepared industrially. Be careful when buying artisanally prepared tobaccos, if they do not contain preservatives, their use can be dangerous because of the inevitable mold formation.

How to choose hookah tobacco?

The question about what kind of waterpipe tobacco is better and which one you will like has no answer. It is equal to the question of which tea is better or how to choose beer, which juice tastes better: apple or peach, etc. But if the price of the above products is important due to cheap or expensive ingredients, the shisha tobacco for hookah mostly uses the same raw material, and the price of tobacco has no meaning (defined mostly by the price of packaging).

The only way to determine which shisha tobacco is right for you is to try different flavors from different manufacturers. The only reference point for choosing is other people's reviews, but they don't always help either, because if your friends want to buy orange juice and you like tomato juice, it tastes better to you no matter what others say. In addition, one successful flavor from a particular manufacturer does not mean that you will like all the other flavors.

For those who begin to learn the world of hookah tobaccos, it is recommended to start with the most popular ones, namely the Emirati Al Fakher and the Turkish Adalya. These firms have for many years held the undisputed leadership in the global hookah industry. Popular flavors of Al Fakher: grape, peach, strawberry, berry, mint, melon, watermelon, blueberry. For Adalya, the leaders would be: Love 66, Lady Killer, Hawaii, Blue Melon, Mi Amor. Going forward, you can try to figure out which strength you like better. Try the lighter Indian tobacco Afzal, flavors: raspberry, blueberry, ocean breeze, peach, ginger ale. If you are interested in the strength, check out the American online stores and tobaccos Tangiers and Azure Black. Among Russian producers there are also worthy representatives, such as the medium strength tobacco Al-Mawardi and the stronger Dark Side. For many, the American tobaccos Starbuzz (Blue Mist flavor) and Fumari (Ambrosia and Spiced Chai flavors) become a discovery, they are also represented in a large range by American online stores. Well, if you're more experienced in hookah tobaccos, you can try more exotic unflavored moissels (Nakhla Zaghloul) or tombak, although practice shows that such things rarely appeal to people. Given the incredible range of hookah shisha tobaccos and the huge number of flavors, all the tobaccos in the world are unlikely ever to be tried, and there is no need to strive for that. Most of shisha lovers who find several favorite flavors of Al Fakher or Adalya just alternate them, and many even smoke the same flavor for years. Considering that any shisha tobacco can be mixed with any other tobacco, or even with several others, the variety of flavors becomes truly endless.

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