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What is Snuff?

Updated on December 26, 2010

Snuff is a pulverized form of tobacco that is either inhaled through the nose or chewed. It is made mainly from heavy-bodied grades of dark, fire-cured tobacco leaves and stems. The preparation may be moist or dry, the former being known as rappee and the latter as Irish, Scotch, or sweet snuff, among other names.

A Pair of Snuffers (1888)
A Pair of Snuffers (1888) | Source

Manufacture of Snuff

In the manufacture of moist snuff, tobacco is subjected to two fermentation processes. First the leaves and stalks are moistened with salt water and pressed into cakes. The cakes are sliced and left in open chambers for five or six months to ferment and develop aroma. After that time the tobacco is ground in mills in the absence of air, dampened, and placed in wooden chambers to undergo a second fermentation over a period of 10 months. Finally the snuff is gathered into a large chamber where it matures for one month. It is then ready for stamping into casks. With the malic and citric acids and about two thirds of the nicotine removed from the tobacco, the acetic acids and bases that are evolved leave free ammonia in the snuff. This combination, together with the remaining nicotine and the aromatic pungency, gives the snuff its desired qualities.

Dry snuffs are commonly adulterated slightly with quicklime. This gives the tobacco the biting, desiccating effect that characterizes dry snuff. The snuff may then be scented with a variety of materials, including musk, lavender, roses, bergamot, tonka beans, cloves, orange flowers, and jasmine.

Use

The practice of taking snuff was introduced into Europe from the New World in the 16th century and soon became widespread on the Continent and in England. In the period when snuff-taking was one of the accepted habits in polite society, pocket snuffboxes for holding small quantities of the powder came into use, some of them so finely made that they later became museum pieces. Snuff is still available in a variety of forms, such as fine, coarse, toasted, salted, scented, and plain.

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