Sunday, January 26, 2020

Solar Fermentation Of Tobacco

As my tobacco dries in the rafters of the Catican, the pressure builds to construct a fermenter. If you've not been keeping up with the story, I grew tobacco, harvested it and am now drying it. I don't smoke or chew, this is just a lark inspired by a Hank Williams Jr. song.

"We make our own whiskey and our own smoke, too.
Ain't too many things these ol' boys can't do."
After drying, the tobacco needs to be fermented in a hot and humid place. There are lots of instructions for building a fermenter using a heat lamp, a thermostat and a portable cooler like the ones you take camping or on picnics. It looks like a big pain and a fire hazard. Heat lamps and Styrofoam in close quarters? No, thank you.

What is it we're trying to do? We want chemical reactions to occur. They happen when the temperature is around 120 F and there's plenty of moisture in the air. I don't see why the temperature has to be consistent. If you need 3 weeks of heat, which is 504 hours, why can't you achieve it in ten hour increments? If the temperature drops, it just means the chemical reaction is suspended temporarily.

You can make this happen using the Chamber of Doom.

Long time readers will recognize this.

Back in the day, my favorite plant, Momma Daisy, suffered a massive scale infestation. I bought a 33 gallon trashcan, put a glass lid on it and put lit candles inside. The candles were supposed to use up the oxygen and the scale would, over time, asphyxiate. Momma Daisy would emerge refreshed from her hot and humid spa treatment.

She did indeed emerge refreshed, but most likely it was because the scale were smothered in the resulting heat. The glass top turned the trash can into a greenhouse. The temperature got so hot that it melted the candles.

The scale felt the same way.

If I can make a greenhouse trashcan for my tobacco, I can ferment it without any fire risk. Plus, it will not add to my carbon footprint and contribute to Global Warming Climate Change.

I mean except for my trip to Home Depot to get the gear, the plastics in the trashcan, the manufacture and shipping of the glass, the ... Well, you get the picture. I won't mention those things when I show it off to my green friends. They're gullible enough to think the whole thing very Greta Thunbergian.

Anywho, I'm going to get started on this today. I found a lovely digital humidity and temperature monitor which tracks highs and lows that I can get from Home Depot. I'll set up the trashcan with a water container at the bottom and then check the monitor each evening, resetting the readings after recording the results. If we can hit 120 F or higher, I think we have a winner.

At any rate, since I have never consumed tobacco, when I'm done and smoke the stuff, I won't have any idea whether it's good or not. I'll claim success and move on to my next Dixie recreation effort, growing cotton. Winning, y'all!


ligneus said...

I think after all this work you'll have to take up smoking. Or go another step and learn how to role cigars, I think I remember reading they're non harmful.
And then........rum cigars!

tim eisele said...

So, about this "fermentation" process: it it actually fermentation with microorganisms and all that, like making beer or sauerkraut? Or is it just a kind of steaming/toasting process to drive off nasty-tasting volatiles like ammonia? I poked around a little bit, and it looks like there are all kinds of approaches to this and it is not entirely clear what they are trying to accomplish sometimes.

K T Cat said...

Tim, the best answer I've seen is that it is a process for removing ammonia from the leaves.

"This is the process by which ammonia is released from the leaf to make it more sociable. It can be done by heaping the tobacco into large piles called pylons that raise the temperature and humidity, or by use of a kiln with a heater and humidifier. Under the raised temperature and humidity, enzymes in the leaf cause it to ferment. It is not necessary to spray a fermenting solution on the leaf as some suggest - the enzymes will do it naturally."

Is the ammonia being brought to the surface of the leaves and then evaporating? In this article, it says temperatures between 100 and 130 will work fine. 100, I can do on a sunny day with ease.

Wife kitteh recommends wrapping the leaves in a burlap bag before putting them in the fermenter to prevent them from molding. Not sure on that one. Many sites recommend rotating the leaves every couple of days. My guess on that is it helps to remove the ammonia that has made it to the surface.

The humidity suggests that you're dissolving the ammonia in water which then acts as a conducting mechanism to bring it to the surface, but that doesn't make complete sense to me.

Just what the enzymes are doing in the whole process is similarly murky.

Ohioan@Heart said...

Chemist chimes in: after reading through several technical articles available on the web the clear answer is that there is, in fact, a great deal of activity by a whole variety of different microorganisms. The specific set used, and the chemical changes that occur, seems to influence the exact taste and flavors present in the finished product (Duh!) and is so variable that it is virtually certain that no two tobacco companies are exactly the same. Since this clearly falls in the category of “art”, it is not possible to define exactly what they trying to do. Nonetheless it is clear that eliminating ammonia is the primary purpose of the step. How’s that for a whole lot of nothin’?