South African Snuff

South African Snuff

From the smallest seed known, emerges one of the richest commodities that has ever been commercialized: tobacco. As was recently discovered in Utah, this plant has been utilized by man, in America, starting from about twelve thousand years ago. Researchers suspect that it was for ritualistic and medicinal purposes rather than pure pleasure that this Solanaceae was consumed. The methods of ingestion vary from smoking, sniffing, rubbing, chewing and even smoke enemas. The medicinal properties of tobacco were promoted as treatments for several ailments from early shamans to eighteenth century European physicians.

The Dutch in South Africa circa 1560.

The Dutch first introduced snuff around 1560, this powdered tobacco concoction found its way all around Europe, east to China and south from Ethiopia to the Cape. Tobacco was initially used by the seafarers as barter commodity and the first local planting in South Africa is referred to by Jan van Riebeeck in 1657. Seeds were then imported, and through the generations, local selections were made by farmers and the tobacco business began to mature. As elsewhere, this weed becomes extremely popular. Varieties and fermentation techniques were then used to develop high quality cultivars of the Nicotiana tabacum species.

Tobacco fields of South Africa

Certain methods are imported from the Americas that help establish the procedures to make a marketable African tobacco product. The delicate nature of the seed requires a stage in an indoor facility in order to manage production risks. From the nursery, the seedlings are transplanted and then gestate for slightly over two months before flowering. The flowers and top leaves are summarily removed, promoting rapid growth of the remaining leaves. At this stage, the plants want sunshine and lots of water and have a growth spurt that can develop leaves up to four feet long and three feet wide. The plant's size and color will dictate the eventual fermentation method and usage of each harvest.

South African snuff: dark, moist and potent


The first co-operative marketing agreement was started in Rustenburg, north-west of Johannesburg and eventually led to the Tobacco Board of South Africa. The various tobaccos that are produced along with conditions for fermentation and specific techniques produce a particular tobacco taste that is earthy, complex and uniquely South African. Some of the best crops are used to create the most popular brands of nasal snuff in South Africa. These snuffs are recognizable by their pungent aroma, deep dark chocolate color, moist texture and extremely potent nicotine content. The keywords here are flavor and potency. Whether mentholated or not, South African snuffs will leave an indelible impression. Happy snuffing.

PS: Be sure to find out more about snuffing by checking out my posts on German, English and Indian snuffs as well.