Home-made snus ... an instruction manual
by, 02-15-2014 at 11:16 PM (43430 Views)
There are many different reasons why people might like to try making their own snus at home. If their country has restrictions on importing snus, because they want to experiment with flavours, or for sheer cheapness! It is as simple as cooking ... really!
There are many recipes, including my own, here on SnusOn, and you will find many more on the wider internet. Much of the knowledge I used to get myself started have to be credited to JustinTempler who used to frequent this forum and whose posts are still some of the most informative on tobacco growing and snus making available on the internet.
This blog post is simply trying to put together all the basics you will need to get started in one neat place.
Snus is essentially made from 4 basic ingredients: tobacco, water, salt, alkali
This is simply tobacco leaf that has been ground up to a fine powder - you can buy it from Sweden or make it yourself. The kind of tobacco used in most every brand of snus today is Air Cured or Sun Cured - this is because the alternative methods of fire-curing or flue-curing can lead to higher TSNA levels which can in turn increase the risk of mouth cancer. Bearing this in mind - you can create some kind of snus out of every imaginable variety of tobacco if you wish to. The variety or blend used is very influential on the final taste of the snus:
(i) Virginia - normally flue cured - medium strength - light, sweet and aromatic
(ii) Burley - normally air cured - strong - dark bitter and chocolatey
(iii) Dark Air Cured - mainly for cigars - very strong, pungent and bitter
(iv) Oriental (Turkish) - sun cured or air cured - very little nicotine but aromatic - of little value to snus making
(v) Rustica - a wild tobacco type - very high nicotine, but light flavoured and useful. Hard to source - but very easy to grow yourself.
To create flour from your tobacco you will need to first dry it completely in a low oven (or in the full sun of a dry summers day). Then you will need to grind it - coffee grinders with a very fine setting can work - but I do mine in a food blender followed by sieving. Once converted to flour - the tobacco can be kept indefinitely in an airtight jar.
The only thing to watch out for here is chlorine in tap water which can develop off tastes in the finished snus. You can use bottled spring water or simply leave a jug of water in the fridge overnight to allow the chlorine to evaporate off naturally.
Simple salt is an important ingredient in snus - but avoid standard table salt as it can contain iodine and other additives to make it pour better. Sea salt or Kosher salt are best.
After cooking the snus you need to raise it's pH by adding an alkali to the recipe. This free-bases the nicotine and also develops the characteristic snus taste. The two ones used are Sodium Carbonate or Potassium Carbonate. Potassium carbonate solution can be bought from oriental supermarkets under the name Lye Water, it's food grade and perfect. To make your own sodium carbonate, take some regular baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) and bake it in the oven for at least one hour at above the boiling point of water (100ºC or 212ºF) - when it comes out of the oven it is perfect Sodium Carbonate for making snus with.
There are two ways to flavour your snus - the most common being to add essences or essential oils after the cooking process. The other type of flavouring is to add spices such as pepper or cinnamon or sweetening agents such as powdered liquorice root - this type of additive is best mixed with the tobacco flour at the beginning.
While it is a common aim with home-made stuff to drop the additives in search of a more 'organic' product - several are commonly included in home snus recipes:
(i) Glycerol (Glycerine) - this is only for loose snus recipes and holds the snus together for longer
(ii) Propylene Glycol (PG) - a humectant - it keeps the snus from drying out
(iii) Salmiak (Ammonium Chloride) - more of a flavouring chemical - popular in Scandanavia - an ammonium salt. It is an acquired taste!
You need to be able to maintain your snus mix at constant high temperatures (up to 85ºC/185ºF) for long periods of time (longer than 24 hours). Many different approaches have been tried:
1) The swedish snus oven ... basically an insulated cardboard box with an old fashioned light-bulb inside it! With a little care and attention it can maintain a fairly constant temperature but you need to keep an eye on it.
2) A regular oven ... a standard kitchen oven can happily be used to keep temperatures fairly consistent, provided you are not worried about the high energy bills and no-one else in your house wants to cook for a couple of days! The important thing here is to realise that it's the temperature of the snus that is important - not the temperature the oven is set at - so you need to check with a manual thermometer occasionally to see how close you are.
3) The "sous-vide" method ... also known as the crock pot water bath because commercial sous-vide machines are prohibitively expensive and the much cheaper option is to buy a PID device designed to convert a crock-pot (slow cooker) in to a constant temperature controlled water bath. This method has by far the most control over temperature and needs the least monitoring.
And that's about it ... other useful items are:
Water-tight glass storage jars for the snus (use with the crock pot)
THE BASIC METHOD
1 - Add the water and salt to the tobacco flour and mix thoroughly
Firstly I dissolve the salt in the water - and then I mix with the tobacco. I find that doing this in a large mixing bowl with a fork is the best way to ensure the water and tobacco are thoroughly mixed together to form a light brown paste. Transfer back to the glass jar and compress down before the next step. A general rule of thumb is using between 100 and 150ml water and 6-9g salt per 100g of tobacco flour. The amount of water depends on how absorbent your particular tobacco flour is - My standard recipe is 120ml water and 8g salt per 100g of tobacco flour. In imperial measures that works out at just over half a cup of water and a level teaspoon of coarse ground salt per ¼ lb of tobacco flour.
2 - The first cook
The snus then needs to be brought to a high temperature and maintained there. You can go between 55 and 85ºC (130 - 185ºF) - but the lower the temperature the longer you need. A rough rule of thumb is that the upper temperature of 85ºC (185ºF) needs to be maintained for at least 24 hours whereas with the lower temperature of 55ºC (130ºF) you need at least 6 days! The temperature does have an effect on the taste of the finished product with lower temperatures keeping far more of the aromas of the original tobacco in tact and higher temperatures tasting dark and more cooked.
The best test of whether your snus is fully cooked is to note the colour - when it hits a dark chocolate brown it is ready for the next step.
3 - Freebasing the nicotine with an alkali
This step is simply to take the snus from it's heat source and adding either sodium carbonate or potassium carbonate, mixing thoroughly and returning to the heat for a further 8 hours. If using dry powdered carbonate then 5-10g per 100g of tobacco flour can be added. The more carbonate you use the stronger your snus will be - but if it is very high then the alkalinity can make it hurt your lips so use common sense. If using potassium carbonate in the form of lye water add 1.5-3 tsps of the solution. Given a normal tobacco strength - 7g of powder or 2 tsps of lye water is sufficient for a normal strength snus.
You can try your snus at this point - but be warned - it will taste horrible! The reaction with the alkali causes a lot of ammonia to be given off and the pH will be far too high for your lip too. It will not be good to use until it has had a further weeks ageing to allow the ammonia to gas off.
4 - Flavouring
This is where you can let your creativity run wild! In addition to the classic essential oils, you can also add just about anything you can eat provided it can be mixed with the snus properly. Espresso coffee, booze of any description, spices, minced anchovies ... the only rule I follow here is that it must not make the snus too wet to use. The other thing to note is that it is VERY easy to over flavour your snus at this point, especially with essential oils. A nice subtle taste might be achieved with only 1/10th of a drop of essential oil - so experiment with your oils diluted in a little vodka otherwise your project might be ruined.
5 - Ageing
What we're doing here is not really ageing ... it's allowing the reaction started in step 3 to completely finish. In the pursuit of freshness it's best done in the fridge or other cold place and you need to make sure the ammonia gas can escape from the container your snus is sitting in. Meanwhile all the flavour compounds you have added will mingle with the snus. Let this happen for about a week and then test it.
This is the first time you will really know what your snus tastes like. If you followed a good recipe then hopefully it will be pretty good stuff!
And that's all there is to it ... I know this guide looks like a long drawn out technical thing - but hopefully it should be all the reference you need to have a go at doing this yourself. It's definitely a lot easier than home brewing (with a lot less equipment) - and you could save yourself a fortune.