Different yellowing degrees and the industrial utilization of flue-cured tobacco leaves

Congming Zou Xiaodong Hu Wei Huang Gaokun Zhao Xuebiao Yang Yan Jin Huaguo Gu Fei Yan Yan Li Qun Wu Kaisheng Xiong About the authors

ABSTRACT:

Yellowing is a key stage in the curing of flue-cured tobacco (Nicotiana tobacum L.) as much of the chemical transformation occurs during this period. This study examined the effect of different yellowing degrees on the value of flue-cured tobacco leaves at the farm level for both processing and manufacturing. The study was conducted in the counties of Chuxiong, Dali, and Yuxi in Yunnan, China over two years. Yellowing treatments have been designed to have either a mild or a regular yellowing degree. Yield, value, appearance, suction property, smoking characteristics, and physical resistance to further processing were investigated to evaluate the effect of degree of yellowing on the industrial utilization of flue-cured tobacco leaves. The regular yellowing degree enhanced yield, value, and appearance compared to the mild yellowing degree, regardless of cultivar or location; however, physical resistance to further processing and the suction property of the mild yellowing degree treatment were better than with the regular yellowing degree regardless of cultivar or location. Furthermore, although the regular yellowing degree recorded higher smoking characteristic scores than the mild yellowing degree immediately after flue-curing, the scores of mild yellowing degree leaves could be further augmented by increasing intensity in the re-drying stage. The smoking characteristic score in the regular yellowing degree can only be increased by low intensity re-drying, and significantly decreased by mild and high intensity re-drying. Therefore, in terms of industrial utilization, mild yellowing is the better choice for flue-curing tobacco. This study also suggested that the current regular yellowing stage in Yunnan should be shortened to meet the demands of the traditional tobacco industry.

Keywords:
Hongda cultivar; K326 cultivar; curing barn; re-drying; leaf utility

Introduction

The flue-curing process is a way of curing flue-cured tobacco with artificial heat over a period of 6-7 days (Horne, 1980Horne, W.P. 1980. Apparatus and Method for Automatically Controlling Curing Conditions in a Tobacco Curing Barn. United States Patent and Trademark Office, Washington, DC, USA. U.S. Patent 4,192,323 issued Mar 11, 1980.; Hawks and Collins, 1993Hawks, S.N.; Collins, W.K. 1993. Principles of Flue-Cured Tobacco Production. Collins-Hawks Books, Raleigh, NC, USA.; Peele, 2005Peele, D.M. 2005. Tobacco Processing. United States Patent and Trademark Office, Washington, DC, USA. U.S. Patent 6,895,974 issued May 24, 2005.); it entails a flue-curing stage and a re-drying stage (Figure 1). Multiple factors influence industrial utilization and the style of the tobacco leaf and include the ecological environment, cultivar, maturity, agronomic management, and curing technology (Reed et al., 2012Reed, T.D.; Johnson, C.S.; Semtner, P.J.; Wilkinson, C.A. 2012. Flue-Cured Tobacco Production Guide. Virginia Cooperative Extension, Blacksburg, VA, USA.). Among these factors, the yellowing stage in the flue-curing process is a key step during which complex physical, physiological, and biochemical reactions materialize in the tobacco leaves (Bacon et al., 1952Bacon, C.W.; Wenger, R.; Bullock, J.F. 1952. Chemical changes in tobacco during flue-curing. Industrial & Engineering Chemistry 44: 292-296.; Weston, 1968Weston, T.J. 1968. Biochemical characteristics of tobacco leaves during flue-curing. Phytochemistry 7: 921-930.; Koiwai and Kisaki, 1979Koiwai, A.; Kisaki, T. 1979. Changes in glycolipids and phospholipids of tobacco leaves during flue-curing. Agricultural and Biological Chemistry 43: 597-602.; Alejar et al., 1988Alejar, A.A.; de Visser, R.; Spencer, M.S. 1988. Ethylene production by attached leaves or intact shoots of tobacco cultivars differing in their speed of yellowing during curing. Plant Physiology 88: 329-332.). Previous studies have focused on various aspects of the curing process for flue-cured tobacco leaves, including temperature, humidity, time, and draft fan control (Zhan et al., 2011Zhan, J.; Li, W.; Huo, K.L.; Wang, D.B.; Gong, C.R. 2011. Effect of stabilized temperature duration on the aroma quality of upper flue-cured tobacco leaves during bulk curing process. Guangxi Agricultural Sciences 10: 1193-1198 (in Chinese, with abstract in English).; Cui et al., 2013Cui, G.M.; Huang, W.; Zhao, G.K. 2013. Effect of different flue-curing technologies on appearance grade quality and key chemical components of crude tobacco leaves. Horticulture & Seed 9: 52-56 (in Chinese, with abstract in English).; Xie et al., 2013Xie, Y.H.; Zhu, L.Q.; Liu, Q.F.; You, D.G.; Li, W.W.; Zhang, Y.G. 2013. Advances Research in the effects of temperature and humidity on flue-cured tobacco quality during flue curing process. Journal of Agricultural Catastrophology 9: 60-63.). These studies focused mainly on the commercial purchase of tobacco, which is set out as the First Sampling in Figure 1. However, few studies have concentrated on the extent of yellowing and its industrial usability in flue-cured tobacco leaves after threshing and re-drying as represented by the Second Sampling in Figure 1.

Figure 1
The process stages for flue-cured tobacco.

The current flue-curing mode for tobacco leaves in Yunnan is standardised to obtain dry, yellow, and fragrant leaves. However, the cigarette manufacturing industry gives poor evaluation scores to such tobacco leaves. A number of indices that are taken seriously in the industry are paid less heed during the flue-curing process. These indices include resistance to further processing, suction properties, shatter resistance, and the smoking characteristics of re-dried tobacco leaves (Walton et al., 1974Walton, L.R.; Henry, Z.A.; Henson Jr.; W.H. 1974. Moisture Diffusion in the Cured Burley Tobacco Leaf. University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN, USA.; Wang et al., 1998Wang, Y.B.; Wang, B.H.; Guo, C.F.; Wang, F.L.; Zhou, J. 1998. Study on the main chemical components related to smoking quality in flue-cured tobacco. Scientia Agricultura Sinica 31: 89-91.). Resistance to further processing, and the suction properties, are closely related to shatter resistance, which refers to the resistance of tobacco leaves to crushing under various mechanical forces. Moreover, shatter resistance has a close correlation with the machining properties of tobacco leaves and exhibits positive correlation with tobacco quality. The absorption equilibrium moisture content (AEMC) and desorption equilibrium moisture content (DEMC) of tobacco leaves exhibit significant correlation with important chemical contents, such as reducing sugar and potassium contents (Wang et al., 2011Wang, J.M.; Han, M.; Zhang, X.H.; Liu, Y.L.; Mu, L.; Li, K.; Ji, S.Y. 2011. Relationship between equilibrium moisture content and chemical indexes of flue-cured tobacco. Tobacco Science & Technology 2: 43-46 (in Chinese, with abstract in English).).

Thus, the aim of this study was to systematically investigate the effect of yellowing degree on the industrial utilization of tobacco leaves during the flue-curing process.

Materials and Methods

Study site description

The experiments were performed separately in Chuxiong, Dali, and Yuxi, (the three-major tobacco-growing regions), Yunnan Province, China, in 2015 and 2016. The curing barns were all bulk curing barns with a horizontal layout. The experiment arrangements are in Table 1. The three locations are all characterized by mild variation in mean monthly air temperatures, from 10 °C in Jan to 25 °C in June, but have a relatively uneven distribution in mean monthly precipitation, with an annual average rainfall of 850 mm and 80 % of the precipitation occurring from May to Oct in all three locations.

Table 1
Experiment arrangements.

Experiment design

During the flue-curing process, two treatments were designed: regular yellowing (R) and mild yellowing (M). For regular yellowing, tobacco leaves were wilted at a relatively low temperature (kept in the yellowing stage before 42 °C) until they were 80-90 % yellowed. The entire yellowing process included vein yellowing and eventual color fixation after wilting and softening. Regular yellowing is currently the conventional flue-curing mode favored by most tobacco growers. For mild yellowing, tobacco leaves were wilted at a relatively low temperature (yellowing stage) until 60 to 70 % yellowed, and entered the subsequent, higher temperature color fixation/leaf drying stage with yellow lamina but stems still green. The Hongda and K326 cultivars are expressed as H and K, while Chuxiong, Dali, and Yuxi locations are represented by C, D, and Y, respectively (Table 2). Flue-curing technology is popular in Yunnan Province given the main change points of temperature and humidity (as measured by a hygrometer) namely, 35/33, 38/35, 42/36, 48/37, 54/38, 62/39, and 68/39 °C (Figure 2), respectively. In the treatment process, the turning points were adjusted according to degree of yellowing and the flue-curing time of the tobacco leaves (Table 3). Each treatment had three replications or three curing barns at each location.

Figure 2
The typical flue-curing scheme for Yunnan flue-cured tobacco.
Table 2
Experiment codes.
Table 3
Flue-curing time required from regular yellowing to mild yellowing (unit: hours).

Table 3 indicates the time schedule difference between regular yellowing and mild yellowing for both K326 and Hongda cultivars. In the yellowing stage, it took 78 h for the K326 cultivar to undergo regular yellowing, which was 24 h longer than with mild yellowing. Similarly, regular yellowing took 23 h longer than mild yellowing for the Hongda cultivar. In the leaf drying stage, it took 63 h for the K326 cultivar to undergo mild yellowing, which was 9 h longer than regular yellowing. Similarly, mild yellowing took 10 more hours than regular yellowing for the Hongda cultivar. There was little difference in the stem drying stage for either treatment. In total, the cumulative curing time was 161 h regular yellowing in K326, which was 13 more hours than the mild yellowing treatment in K326. The cumulative curing time was 168 h in the Hongda regular yellowing treatment, which took 12 h longer than the mild yellowing treatment. Figure 3 presents a comparison of flue-cured K326 leaves (regular v. mild yellowing, Chuxiong County, 2016). The cured leaf chlorophyll data showed that leaf chlorophyll content (leaf chlorophyll a + b) was 8.5 μg g−1 for mild yellowing, while regular yellowing resulted in a chlorophyll content of 7.2 μg g−1.

Figure 3
Regular yellowing vs. mild yellowing treatments for flue-cured leaves (K326 cultivar).

In order to make a judgement about which flue-curing treatment (mild or regular) left more space or potential for improving the smoking characteristics in re-drying or further physical processing, the re-drying intensity levels, including low-, mild-, and high-intensity re-drying processes, were examined for the re-drying trial.

Field agronomic management

The Hongda, and K326, cultivars were produced using high-quality and high-efficiency cultivation techniques with balanced nutrition, normal growth, and fresh leaves yellowed and matured on a layer-by-layer basis. In Aug, after cultivating for 90 to 95 days and topping for 35 to 40 days, the tobacco leaves turned pale yellow and 80 % of them were yellowed, with white and bright main veins, white branch veins, and down-rolled leaf apices and leaf margins. When the leaves were wrinkled, the 12th to the 14th mature leaves were collected and flue-cured according to experiment requirements. Other agronomic practices were conducted according to local standards for cultivating high-quality tobacco.

Parameters

Yield and quality of tobacco leaves

All of the samples were preserved after flue-curing to describe their appearance. According to GB2635-92, which is the standard flue-cured tobacco grading system in China, the flue-cured tobacco leaves were graded, and the proportions of lower-, middle-, and higher-grade tobacco leaves, and those of orange and greenish tobacco leaves, were calculated along with their average prices.

Industrial appearance quality

C2F and C3F were the typical grades of flue-cured tobacco for conducting research and testing. After removing greenish tobacco from the flue-cured tobacco leaves, 10 kg of C2F and C3F samples were separately evaluated based on the Tobacco Industrial Classification Standard.

Physical resistance to further processing

C2F and C3F samples, each of 10 kg in mass, were also separately taken to conduct conventional chemical composition analysis after removing greenish tobacco from the flue-cured tobacco leaves. After equilibration for 72 h at constant temperature (22 °C) and humidity (60 %) levels, the samples were analysed according to the method for detecting the shatter resistance index of tobacco leaves provided by Chen et al. (2011)Chen, H.L.; Dai, H.J.; Du, Y.G.; Cui, D.K.; Yu, J.J. 2011. Relationship of shatter resistance index and machinability of tobacco leaf. Tobacco Science & Technology 10: 17-19 (in Chinese, with abstract in English)..

Absorption and desorption properties

The absorption and desorption properties of the samples were assayed by the SPSx moisture-retention instrument for tobacco leaves. The detection conditions were as follows: the original environment temperature and relative humidity (RH) were 25 °C and 60 %, respectively. Next, they were adjusted to 25 °C and 75 %, respectively, after reaching equilibrium before studying the absorption and desorption properties of the samples. Subsequently, after reaching equilibrium, the ambient temperature and RH were adjusted to 25 °C and 60 % once again to observe the absorption and desorption that had taken place.

Smoking characteristics

C2F and C3F samples, each of 5 kg mass, were separately taken to evaluate the smoking characteristics and quality after removing greenish tobacco from the flue-cured tobacco leaves. After re-drying, the scored smoking characteristics were provided by testers employed by the re-drying enterprise. Each sample was evaluated by seven certified experts and the results were the mean of seven reports.

Statistical analyses

Data were analysed by the General Linear Model (GLM) Procedure in SAS (Statistical Analysis System, version 9.3). Replicate measurements on composite leaf samples were averaged for statistical analysis of the treatment effects. Treatment effects were declared significant when the probability (p) of a greater F statistic was ≤ 0.05. Mean separation was undertaken by Tukey's honest significant difference (HSD) test at the 95 % level of confidence. For smoking characteristics, the data shown in this study was the average of seven reports.

Results

Effect on yield and quality of tobacco leaves

During the production of tobacco leaves, yield and quality are mainly influenced by factors such as climate, soil, cultivation, harvest maturity, and degree of yellowing in the flue-curing process. The position, shape, physical feeling and color are the four key components of leaves which determine tobacco value in China. In this study, tobacco leaves with the same position and shape were cured and evaluated to identify the degree of yellowing that would exert a significant influence on the final yield and quality. The highest quality tobacco leaves were obtained after regular yellowing in the flue-curing process, which is conducive to increasing the flue-curing quality. High-class tobacco leaves, thus processed,exhibited maximum proportions of 78-84 % after different degrees of yellowing, respectively (Table 4). Moreover, mid- to high-class tobacco leaves, processed using regular yellowing, exhibited maximum proportions of 96-98 %, respectively, while fetching average prices of 30.50 to 34.77 yuan.

Table 4
Effect of yellowing degree on tobacco leaf yield.

Effect on appearances of tobacco leaves

The appearance of the submitted samples was assessed against the Tobacco Industrial Classification Standard and the classifications of different samples are summarised in Table 5. CO2 indicates the highest-class level of tobacco leaves in the middle stalk position, while minor components indicate the acceptable level of tobacco leaves. The samples in the three experiment sites subjected to regular yellowing exhibited the best appearance with the highest proportion of CO2 and lowest proportion of minor components. This was most significantly reflected in tobacco leaves from Chuxiong where there was a difference in proportion (24 %) of CO2 in tobacco leaves in the two treatments.

Table 5
Effect of yellowing degree on tobacco leaf appearance.

Effect on physical resistance to further processing

The samples were analysed after pre-treatment according to the method for detecting the shatter resistance index provided by Chen et al. (2011)Chen, H.L.; Dai, H.J.; Du, Y.G.; Cui, D.K.; Yu, J.J. 2011. Relationship of shatter resistance index and machinability of tobacco leaf. Tobacco Science & Technology 10: 17-19 (in Chinese, with abstract in English).. The proportions of tobacco leaves < 1 mm and ≥ 4 mm from the samples in the three experiment sites subjected to mild yellowing exhibited the best shatter resistance (Table 6). Of the three experiment sites the tobacco leaves in Chuxiong showed the best physical resistance to further processing. The shatter resistance of flue-cured tobacco leaves decreased as the degree of yellowing increased.

Table 6
Effect of yellowing degree on physical resistance to further processing.

Effect on the absorption and desorption properties

During processing, tobacco leaves with a large moisture absorption rate readily absorb moisture during storage and transportation, thus increasing the shatter resistance and decreasing the losses due to shattering. In contrast, tobacco leaves with a large moisture desorption rate readily lose moisture in the re-drying process to achieve ideal moisture conditions. Thus, the shatter resistance decreases while the losses due to shattering increase. For moisture absorption and desorption characteristics, fewer hours indicate a higher absorption rate. The moisture absorption and desorption rates of flue-cured tobacco leaves both decreased with increased degree of yellowing in the flue-curing process.

The samples of the three experiment sites subjected to mild yellowing exhibited the largest moisture absorption and desorption rates (Table 7). Moreover, the moisture absorption and desorption rates of the Hongda cultivar were both less than those of the K326 cultivar at each location. In terms of sites, the moisture absorption rate of the tobacco leaves in Chuxiong was greater than those in Dali and Yuxi, while the moisture desorption rate of the first was lower than those of the last.

Table 7
Effect of yellowing degree on moisture absorption and desorption properties.

Effect on smoking characteristics

The smoking characteristics of the tobacco leaves subjected to regular yellowing obtained at the three experiment sites (Figure 1, First Sampling) were superior to those using mild yellowing (Table 8), and were reflected, in the main, by indices including aroma, aroma quantity, aroma quality, and purity. In terms of test sites, the smoking characteristics of tobacco leaves from Dali and Yuxi were superior to those from Chuxiong, which was primarily reflected in three indices including irritability, offensive odor, and purity; however, the after-taste of tobacco leaves from Chuxiong was better than those from the other two experiment sites. Various technologies such as re-drying are required in industrial processes based on industrial demands. However, according to feed-back related to industrial products, although tobacco leaves subjected to regular yellowing had a high score, they offered a thin smoke, light offensive odors, and a poor after-taste. Thus, the tobacco quality, close to that subjected to a re-drying process, cannot be as readily adjusted on the scale of industrial production. In contrast, tobacco leaves subjected to mild yellowing offered thick smoke and an intense impact, but were irritating; thus, their quality can be improved further according to industrial needs after the re-drying process.

Table 8
Effect of different yellowing degree on smoking characteristics.

Effect on smoking characteristics of re-dried tobacco leaves

The score representing the smoking characteristics of tobacco leaves subjected to mild yellowing increased (i.e., improved) with increasing intensity in the re-drying stage (Table 9). However, the score when using regular yellowing can rise when subjected to mild re-drying while the total smoking characteristic score decreased with a mid-and/or high-intensity re-drying process. Moreover, tobacco leaves subjected to mild yellowing with three re-drying stages, and those using regular yellowing with one re-drying stage, exhibited the best smoking characteristics. The trend was similar in each location regardless of cultivar. Thus, mild yellowing can most favorably meet the demands of industry according to the requirements of the industrial re-drying processes used.

Table 9
Effect of different yellowing degree on smoking characteristics following re-drying.

Discussion

Effect on yield and value of tobacco leaves

In flue-cured tobacco production, the flue-curing process exerts an important influence on the yield and value of tobacco leaves and directly influences the appearance of flue-cured tobacco leaves and conversion of internal chemical constituents, such as polyphenols (Roberts, 1941Roberts, E.H. 1941. Investigations into the chemistry of the flue-curing of tobacco. Biochemical Journal 35: 1289-1297.; Gong et al., 2009Gong, C.R.; Wu, L.L.; Yuan, H.T.; Wang, G.L.; Yu, J.H.; Chen, C.Q. 2009. Effect of yellowing conditions on starch metabolism during curing process of tobacco leaf. Journal of Northwest A & F University. Natural. Science Edition 37: 117-121 (in Chinese, with abstract in English).). Specifically, the degree of yellowing plays an important role in the whole curing process because the peak period of the conversion of primary chemical components in fresh tobacco leaves occurs upon yellowing, which is extremely important when forming tobacco quality (Gong et al., 1996Gong, C.R.; Wang, Y.F.; Zhao, M.Q.; Zhao, H.J.; Lin, H.W. 1996. Effect of yellowing and leaf drying condition on the flavor characteristics of flue-cured tobacco leaves during curing. Acta Agriculturae Boreali-Sinica 3: 107-112 (in Chinese, with abstract in English).). Different degrees of yellowing can directly influence the appearance of flue-cured tobacco leaves, their chemical composition, the coordination and contents of neutral aroma components, and production value (Qian et al., 2012Qian, Y.; Ren, S.H.; Xue, J.B.; Tang, J.X.; Liu, T.; Chen, H.F.; Yue, D.L.; Xu, H.Y. 2012. Influence of different yellowing degrees during the yellowing stages on the quality of fresh scent type flue-cured tobacco. Journal of Anhui Agricultural Sciences 27: 13608-13612 (in Chinese, with abstract in English).; Liu et al., 2015Liu, T.J.; Zhang, R.C.; Yang, C.; Liu, Q.; Ma, J.G.; Xiong, J.; Chen, Y. 2015. Effect of different times of yellowing stage on usability of tobacco upper leaves. Southwest China Journal of Agricultural Sciences 1: 73-78 (in Chinese, with abstract in English).). The appearance of the Hongda cultivar improved with increased yellowing, while in terms of chemical composition, the total nitrogen content gradually decreased, the reducing sugar content increased, and there was no significant influence on other indices (Wang et al., 2007Wang, N.R.; Xu, Z.H.; Li, Z.H.; Zhou, H.L.; Wang, D.S.; Zhu, X.L. 2007. Effect of Flue-curing and yellowing degree at later yellowing stage on the contents of free amino acids in the cured leaf. Journal of Anhui Agricultural Sciences 35: 1955-1956.; He et al., 2014He, F.; Wang, T.; Zhao, H.W.; Fan, S.J.; Yang, Y.M.; Gong, C.R. 2014. Changes of electrical properties of and chemical components in flue-cured tobacco during bulk curing. Tobacco Science & Technology 2: 76-80 (in Chinese, with abstract in English).). These results are similar to those obtained by Qian et al. (2012)Qian, Y.; Ren, S.H.; Xue, J.B.; Tang, J.X.; Liu, T.; Chen, H.F.; Yue, D.L.; Xu, H.Y. 2012. Influence of different yellowing degrees during the yellowing stages on the quality of fresh scent type flue-cured tobacco. Journal of Anhui Agricultural Sciences 27: 13608-13612 (in Chinese, with abstract in English)..

The authors of much other research believe flue-cured tobacco leaves have the greatest yield with a regular degree of yellowing while Qian et al. (2012)Qian, Y.; Ren, S.H.; Xue, J.B.; Tang, J.X.; Liu, T.; Chen, H.F.; Yue, D.L.; Xu, H.Y. 2012. Influence of different yellowing degrees during the yellowing stages on the quality of fresh scent type flue-cured tobacco. Journal of Anhui Agricultural Sciences 27: 13608-13612 (in Chinese, with abstract in English). suggest that different degrees of yellowing can influence the yield and value of flue-cured tobacco. Most previous research is based on the processes used in tobacco leaf production and has concentrated on yellowing standards in different ecological environments, for other cultivars, locations, and curing barns. Similarly, it is generally believed that 80 to 90 % is considered as optimal yellowing for middle tobacco leaves (Song et al., 2010Song, X.H.; Liu, G.S.; Fu, S.Y.; Zhang, C.H. 2010. Effects of prolonging the time of yellowing and leaf drying on neutral aroma constituents of tobacco leaves during curing. Acta Agriculturae Zhejiangensis 2: 249-252 (in Chinese, with abstract in English).); however, the re-drying process was given greater attention in the Song et al. (2010)Song, X.H.; Liu, G.S.; Fu, S.Y.; Zhang, C.H. 2010. Effects of prolonging the time of yellowing and leaf drying on neutral aroma constituents of tobacco leaves during curing. Acta Agriculturae Zhejiangensis 2: 249-252 (in Chinese, with abstract in English). study. The purpose of re-drying tobacco leaves is to achieve and control a uniform moisture content within a certain range so that physico-chemical properties of tobacco leaves change favorably and consistently. This can improve the quality of tobacco leaves and makes their storage easier, thus benefiting industrial production. Compared with flue-curing, re-drying provides better control and has a greater effect on various aspects of tobacco leaves including physical, physiological, biochemical, quality, safety, individuation, and specialization. In our study, regular yellowing treatment (R) resulted in a higher proportion of high quality leaves as determined by the current market grading system, and higher average prices, compared to mild yellowing treatment (M). Therefore, from the grower's perspective, regular yellowing is the proper choice. This will be true until prices of grades are adjusted to reflect the greater value of tobacco from mild yellowing at the manufacturing stage.

Effect on industrial appearance, resistance to further processing, and absorption and desorption properties

The industrial appearance of flue-cured tobacco leaves was consistent with grade quality evaluation of appearance in commercial systems, and that obtained using regular yellowing was slightly higher than that resulting from mild yellowing. However, in view of the industrial processes used in flue-cured tobacco, mild yellowing was superior to regular yellowing. The moisture absorption characteristics and resistance to further processing of flue-cured tobacco leaves directly influenced the crumbliness of the leaves during processing. Generally speaking, more than 5 % of tobacco material is lost from tobacco leaves with poor resistance to further processing during subsequent defoliation and cigarette manufacture: this causes losses and increases the cost of tobacco and directly influences the economic value of tobacco leaves (Mutasa et al., 1990Mutasa, E.S.; Seal, K.J.; Magan, N. 1990. The water content/water activity relationship of cured tobacco and water relations of associated spoilage fungi. International Biodeterioration 26: 381-396.). Thus, the physical resistance to further processing of tobacco leaves is the focus of enterprises involved in re-drying tobacco and the greater the physical resistance to further processing, the less the loss of tobacco during defoliation. The data show that physical resistance to further processing represented by shatter resistance decreases as yellowing increases. Therefore, tobacco leaves with mild yellowing are easily processed during defoliation. With a rapid moisture absorption rate, tobacco leaves can quickly absorb moisture to enable defoliation in the re-drying process. Similarly, with a rapid moisture desorption rate, moisture in tobacco leaves can be quickly lost in the attempt to reach the required dry state. The data show that the moisture absorption and desorption rates of tobacco leaves with mild yellowing are greater than those of tobacco leaves with regular yellowing. Therefore, tobacco leaves with mild yellowing are more easily processed (i.e., defoliated and re-dried). From the perspective of appearance, it is appropriate to choose a slightly higher degree of yellowing, while mild yellowing is more conducive to physical resistance to further processing and improved suction properties.

Effect on smoking characteristics of flue-cured, and re-dried tobacco leaves

Smoking characteristic scores are a core index used to evaluate the quality of tobacco leaves and the primary method of assessing the internal quality of tobacco leaves (Stedman, 1968Stedman, R.L. 1968. Chemical composition of tobacco and tobacco smoke. Chemical Reviews 68: 153-207.; White et al., 1979White, F.H.; Pandeya, R.S.; Dirks, V.A. 1979. Correlation studies among and between agronomic, chemical, physical and smoke characteristics in flue-cured tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum L.). Canadian Journal of Plant Science 59: 111-120.; Weybrew et al., 1983Weybrew, J.A.; Wan Ismail, W.A.; Long, R.C. 1983. The cultural management of flue-cured tobacco quality. Tobacco International 185: 82-87.; Tso, 1990Tso, T.C. 1990. Production, Physiology, and Biochemistry of Tobacco Plant. Ideals, Beltsville, MD, USA.); however, evaluating the influence of the flue-curing process on tobacco qualities generally focuses on the smoking characteristics of tobacco leaves after flue-curing (Dai et al., 2008Dai, L.; Huang, Y.C.; Gong, C.R.; Yu, J.H.; Yang, S.J. 2008. Effects of different temperature and humidity yellowing conditions on aroma constituents of tobacco leaves during bulk curing. Acta Agriculturae Boreali-Sinica 6: 148-152 (in Chinese, with abstract in English).). The curing processes include flue-curing and re-drying; thus,,the quality of tobacco leaves evaluated on the basis of the smoking characteristics of re-dried tobacco leaves is closer to that of ‘as-produced’ cigarettes and exhibits broader significance. This research studied the influence of different degrees of yellowing in flue-curing process on the smoking characteristics of re-dried tobacco to further optimize flue-curing processes. After being treated with different intensities in the re-drying stages, tobacco leaves with different degrees of yellowing had dissimilar smoking characteristics. In view of the processing effect, tobacco leaves with mild yellowing were more conducive to subsequent re-drying efficacy compared with the current degree of yellowing seen in flue-curing processes.

Conclusions

The following conclusions are drawn from the experiments undertaken at three sites over a two-year period: first, in view of grower income, the appearance, proportion of upper-class tobacco leaves, and proportions and average prices of middle- and upper-class tobacco leaves subjected to regular yellowing are superior to those subjected to mild yellowing, regardless of cultivar. Second, from the perspective of industrial flue-cured tobaccos, samples with mild yellowing exhibit the greatest shatter resistance among the tobacco leaves tested and there is no significant difference between cultivars. Moreover, among the samples collected from the three sites, the samples with mild yellowing show quicker moisture absorption and desorption rates than those subjected to regular yellowing. Third, the scored smoking characteristics of tobaccos subjected to the flue-curing process with a regular degree of yellowing at the three test sites were all higher than those with mild yellowing. Despite this, the quality of flue-cured tobaccos with regular yellowing could be adjusted slightly from an industrial point of view and smoking scores decreased as intensity during the re-drying stage increased. In comparison, the quality of tobacco leaves with mild yellowing could be improved through subsequent re-drying to meet industrial demand. Therefore, the results suggest that the conventional degree of yellowing in the flue-curing process needs to be reduced according to the settings of the flue-curing process from the re-drying perspective in the tobacco industry.

From the perspective of re-drying and cigarette processing, the authors propose an appropriate degree of yellowing for flue-curing as driven by the reform requirement from the supply side to improve the effectiveness of re-drying and tobacco processing. The conclusion is that it is necessary to treat both Hongda and K326 cultivars in tobacco-growing areas of Yunnan Province with 60 to 70 % yellowing before 42 °C with a flue-curing process. This change would be most effectively brought about if the price structure was adjusted to render the tobacco obtained from mild yellowing more valuable to the farmer than that from regular yellowing in China.

Acknowledgment

This study was financially supported by several projects from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (No.41601330) and Yunnan Provincial Tobacco Monopoly Bureau, China (No. 2014YN13, 2016YN31 and 2017YN09). The authors are thankful to Dr. Mark S. Coyne for his valuable assistance and advice in the preparation of this paper.

References

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Publication Dates

  • Publication in this collection
    Jan-Feb 2019

History

  • Received
    03 May 2017
  • Accepted
    17 Sept 2017
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