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Microwaving Pipe Tobacco

(28 posts)
  1. cajomu

    cajomu

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    A couple of weeks ago, someone posted a video about drying tobacco in a microwave. The production values weren't very good and a lot of people made fun of the guy, but it got me thinking that there might be something to it. So ...

    For the past few weeks, I've been experimenting with using my microwave to toast tobacco to improve its flavor (recall the old Lucky Strike slogan, "It's toasted") or to dry it out in order to rehydrate it with flavorings. Guess what? It works!

    I've found that rather bland VAs (Sutliff Virginia Slices, for example) are much improved when toasted for about a minute on 50% power (30 seconds, then mix, then 30 more seconds). Also, aromatics that haven't lived up to the hype (for me, some Amphora Full Aroma that I purchased a few months ago and that had very little flavor) or that have gone flat can be dried to near crispiness (using long microwaving times and very low microwave power level) then bought back to life with different natural casings like distilled spirits, flavor extracts (vanilla, orange), strong coffee, etc. The one category of pipe tobacco that, IME, can't be improved in the microwave is high Latakia content English blends.

    I'm curious if others have tried this and, if so, what they've learned. If you decide to try this, be aware that different microwaves have different power levels, so start out using low power settings and short microwaving times and then increase these as necessary to get the effect you desire.

    Posted 6 months ago #
  2. cosmicfolklore

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    It was also ironic that most of us who were poking fun at the guy were firm believers in using the microwave to dry their tobaccos. I don't do it as a regular practice. Mostly, I will dry out my entire tin or jar slowly before starting to smoke from it. But, in a pinch I will put in one bowl's worth and nuke it for 8 seconds. I will then let it set for a few more seconds. Any longer and it gets a nasty taste.

    YMMV

    Yeh, the problem was mostly the video, and the fact that the guy didn't clean up anything before filming, ha ha. Mrs. Cosmic would skin me if I made a video and posted it of my dirty microwave and messy kitchen.

    Michael
    Posted 6 months ago #
  3. crashthegrey

    crashthegrey

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    Or that his name, post title, and video title were all the same.

    Posted 6 months ago #
  4. rdavid

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    Yeah... definitely a touchy subject around here.

    I never tried the "toasting" method but I frequently dry small amounts for 10 seconds at a time on high. Works very well if I can't wait on a lengthy drying time.

    Never considered longer times on a lower setting. Interesting. Will try this and report back. Thanks.

    Be prepared for the naysayers to show up soon!

    "May my last breath be drawn through a pipe, and exhaled in a jest." Charles Lamb
    Posted 6 months ago #
  5. eaglewriter1

    eaglewriter1

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    In the End a Microwave does the same thing as an oven so, I guess its worth a shot. Certainly an interesting post and idea.As a mostly Latakia smoker maybe I can find a blend that wins by being subjected to a quick heating before smoking.

    Posted 6 months ago #
  6. rdavid

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    Oh, that video... Yeah, that was gruesome.

    Posted 6 months ago #
  7. sablebrush52

    sablebrush52

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    Whatever works well for you. We've had several members here post their techniques for nuking tobacco, and when I'm in a hurry and not fussy about flavor, I'll nuke the occasional bowl.

    It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to open one's mouth and remove all doubt. - Mark Twain

    It is pointless to argue with a fanatic since a dim bulb can't be converted into a searchlight. - Jesse Silver
    Posted 6 months ago #
  8. crashthegrey

    crashthegrey

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    a Microwave does the same thing as an oven
    They do incredibly different things. Not even close to the same thing. I'm not saying don't microwave your tobacco, as I support whatever makes you happy. But they are not the same way of heating things, and fundamentally alter the tobacco on a molecular level in very different ways.

    Posted 6 months ago #
  9. cajomu

    cajomu

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    They do incredibly different things. Not even close to the same thing. I'm not saying don't microwave your tobacco, as I support whatever makes you happy. But they are not the same way of heating things, and fundamentally alter the tobacco on a molecular level in very different ways.

    You're right, they do involve different methods of heating food, but there is no greater danger of a microwave oven altering the chemical composition of tobacco than of any other means of heating it. All methods of cooking involve imparting energy to the molecules in the food so that they begin to vibrate more rapidly. This causes friction, which has the effect of dehydrating the food, breaking down starches, denaturing proteins, carmelizing sugars, etc. Under high heat conditions, more complicated chemical reactions can occur (e.g., the Maillard reaction, which is responsible for much of the flavor of grilled and roasted meats and vegetables).

    So there is no reason to be afraid of microwaving tobacco other than, if you over do it, you may burn the tobacco and ruin it.

    Here's a good description of how a microwave oven works:

    How Do Microwaves Cook Food?

    Posted 6 months ago #
  10. jpmcwjr

    jpmcwjr

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    Microwaving is a great way to get tobacco nicely dried in a hurry. I did it Monday when I opened a new tin of something I hadn't tried in a long time (Gaslight). But if your climate is such that you can open a jar that's moist and let it dry over days, all the better. It's easier for me to use a tiny hygrometer to give me feed back. Otherwise I wouldn't be comfortable drying several ounces at a time.

    I know that you believe you understood what you think I said, but I'm not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.
    Posted 6 months ago #
  11. timt

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    My microwave gets used all the time for freshly opened tins or jars. FVF (rubbed out) gets 13 seconds while using our 1000 watt microwave, then a couple minutes to rest. Most other cuts can do with less time. Perhaps a tobacco drying cookbook could be compiled. Favorite recipes we can share...

    Tim
    Posted 6 months ago #
  12. cajomu

    cajomu

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    One other thought. If you do use your microwave to toast or really dry out a tobacco, be aware that the microwave will smell of tobacco when you're done. Easy to fix by wiping it down with a damp paper towel, but best to do it before the wife goes to use the microwave and smells tobacco.

    Posted 6 months ago #
  13. 5star

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    I’m not a fan of most incense or scented candles. But take one of your favorite blends and stick it on a High in the microwave till flames occur. Mmmmm . . . now That’s some good potpourri !

    (Yes, I’m just kidding )

    "You are remembered for the rules you break." - General Douglas MacArthur
    Posted 6 months ago #
  14. georgebmcclelland

    georgebmcclelland

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    I've always had a bit of distrust in the microwave ("what gives you the right to heat so quickly?") but I have used it a few on the few very moist blends that simply will not dry for days. Usually, I'm happy just to let my tobacco relax on a little plate for as long as it needs to get ready for the pipe.

    I do understand where anti-microwave folks are coming from. Microwaves are kind of scary when you start thinking about them. People are very prepared to take the general feeling that they have about something, couple it with random things they've heard from other people, and cement it in their mind as absolute fact. The microwave is a perfect example of this, it's a very opinion-garnering machine. It's both very scary and incredibly convenient, so obviously we stick a fence between that and pick a side. Occasionally somebody will come along with some facts copy pasted from google, and even more occasionally someone will appear with some knowledge grounded in proven science and history, but that can take so long to read and we like our heels dug in just fine where they are, thank you.

    Posted 6 months ago #
  15. pipestud

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    A year or so ago, I decided to simply try a personal taste test. I put 25g of a tobacco that I am very familiar with (Murray's era 1997 tin of Dunhill Royal Yacht), in a microwave shortly after popping the tin. I also put 25g of that same tobacco in an oven heated to 450 degrees. With the microwave on high, I zapped the leaf for one minute. I had the tobacco spread out on aluminum foil for 45 minutes in the oven. I had checked both tobaccos periodically until I felt they were dried just right. I then smoked a bowl of each with 4 hours between smokes and used the same pipe. The true flavor of the tobacco was MUCH LESS pronounced with the microwave zapped tobacco. It may have been because the microwave system took away every bit of the casing that Royal Yacht has in it and the oven did not. I'm not a chemist and I'm not a baker, so I have no idea why I got the results I did... I just know that's what I got out of the test.

    Pipestud
    Posted 6 months ago #
  16. cajomu

    cajomu

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    Occasionally somebody will come along with some facts copy pasted from google, and even more occasionally someone will appear with some knowledge grounded in proven science and history, but that can take so long to read and we like our heels dug in just fine where they are, thank you.

    For some, "ignorance is bliss." I prefer to base my opinions, whenever possible, on facts and logic.

    Posted 6 months ago #
  17. georgebmcclelland

    georgebmcclelland

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    For some, "ignorance is bliss."

    For others, ignorance is just a normal, boring and depressive state of existence.

    Posted 6 months ago #
  18. wolflarsen

    wolflarsen

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    Heathens...
    Next someone will probably tell us to try washing our pipes under running water in the sink.

    Posted 6 months ago #
  19. cajomu

    cajomu

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    @pipestud,

    Yours was an interesting experiment, albeit, not conclusive for a number of reasons. For one, based on your description, it appears that you failed to control for end temperature, so there is no way of knowing whether one of the two samples was "cooked" more. Also, unless someone else presented the tobacco samples to you unidentify (sometimes called a "blind study"), your experiment was subject to selection bias.

    Nevertheless, I don't necessarily dispute your conclusion. Microwaving and baking can produce startlingly different results, even when the foods are cooked to the same final temperature. For example, if you've ever tried to cook a steak in the microwave, you know that it produces a much tougher and less flavorful piece of meat, even though the desired degree of cooking is achieved. Conversely, reheating mashed potatoes in a microwave produces something closely resembling the original item, where as reheating them in the oven results in a dried out product. The point being that microwave ovens are great for doing some things and lousy at doing others

    Mmy experience is that a microwave, properly used, is a great tool for drying tobacco. However, I could well imagine that there may be better albeit more time consuming ways of doing it.

    For what it's worth (which is probably not a lot), I am a trained chemist and an experienced baker.

    Posted 6 months ago #
  20. cajomu

    cajomu

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    For others, ignorance is just a normal, boring and depressive state of existence.

    Touché.

    Posted 6 months ago #
  21. 5star

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    For me personally, one aspect of pipesmoking that I particularly enjoy is that it is a break from the often frantic daily pace. In addition, it requires some care, focus, and deliberate action. I have no problem setting out beforehand a blend as long as required to dry it to my tastes. If I want to smoke something more immediately, I have blends that take little or no drying time.

    So no, I don’t zap my pipe baccy.

    Posted 6 months ago #
  22. balkisobrains

    balkisobrains

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    I use a heat-gun (hairdryer would probably work), which dries stuff quickly enough without instantly/ever steaming/cooking it. To me, microwaved tobacco always tasted differently & not as good as compared to when using the heat gun.

    Posted 6 months ago #
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    puffthemagicpiper

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    I’ve never done this. Usually I’ll set out some ‘tomorrow’ bowls to air dry and then load ‘em up and cap them off with a spiraled pipe cleaner before bed. Only occasional aggravation is when I’ve pre-loaded a couple bowls and I want something different when I wake up. Heh!

    Posted 6 months ago #
  24. ernieq

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    Interesting thread. Whenever I case base tobaccos, I start out by heating them in the microwave. Casing sauce gets heated as well before being sprayed on. This was taught to me by several other store blenders and it serves to open the pores of the tobacco and give a much more thorough case.
    True tobacco toasting, however, is done at very specific temperatures. (265 for Virginia and 305 for Burley) It's main purpose is the release of nitrogenous compounds and alkaloids from the tobacco to improve the smoke. It also serves to bring out a set of different aromas and flavor in the leaf.

    Heating tobacco in a microwave should release some alkaloids and nitrogenous compounds thus improving the smoke and, thus, smoothing the flavor but it won't do much to bring out the flavors precipitated by true toasting.

    Hey, if you like the result? Why not. Personally, I prefer to air-dry over moist tobacco. If I have a lot of really moist leaf, like the way Perique sometimes comes, I'll spread it out and use a heat lamp at around 4' above the table.

    E.

    Posted 6 months ago #
  25. cosmicfolklore

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    If I have time to wait for my oven to heat up, then I have time to just set a clump on my coffee mug warmer. No, my microwave only gets used in a pinch, and never more than 10 seconds, usually 8 seconds, max. I don't leave it in there till it's dry, just till its warmed up enough to continue drying for a few more seconds outside the microwave. But, all in all, I wouldn't use it as a general practice or a part of ritual. I just use it when I have popped a new tin, and I have to get out the door quickly.

    Ha ha, but if some of the flavorings from Royal Yacht gets lost, all the better, ha ha.

    No, I don't think we are trying to talk people into using the microwave; just suggesting it as a fix when in a bind. However, if someone wants to nuke their leaf into a NASA product, have at it.

    Posted 6 months ago #
  26. craig61a

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    I will do it on occasion in the summer months, in the winter it's so dry around here that leaving it out for 1/2 hour or so does the trick...

    Posted 6 months ago #
  27. crashthegrey

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    Here's a good description of how a microwave oven works:

    Posted 6 months ago #
  28. james72

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    I zap mine in the microwave frequently but not always. Usually 8 to 10 seconds but never more than 20. I also wash my pipes in the sink (even the expensive ones). Usually with Dawn but never Dove. To each his own shall be the whole of the law!

    Posted 6 months ago #

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