Ligero: Anything But Light

Written by Andrea Zambiasi

Fumatore seriale di sigari. Rascal inside!

by Gary “Doc” Laden & Nick Syris Co-Hosts, Smooth Draws Radio Show

Smooth Draws Radio Show executive producer and host Gary Laden conducts a question and answer session with fellow co-host Nick Syris, a certified tobacconist, blender and cigar manufacturer of LH Premium Cigars.

GARY | We often hear the term ligero mentioned as a component in many cigars. It’s a tobacco leaf added to the blend to give it body and strength. What’s ironic is that the term “ligero” means light (as in not heavy) in Spanish, but this type of tobacco leaf is anything but light.

Nick, so just what is ligero?

NICK | Ligero is not a separate tobacco plant, but are the leaves at the top of the tobacco plant. Because they receive the most direct sunlight exposure, these leaves will usually offer the boldest flavor.  Ligero leaves are characterized by a coarse texture and produce smoke with a potent, spicy taste. And, the more ligero that is used in a cigar the stronger the cigar will be.

GARY | Talk about how the ligero leaves are harvested.

NICK | Tobacco leaves are harvested in a series of “primings” (starting at the bottom of the plant) as they become ready. The different levels of tobacco leaves are hand-picked and, as time passes, the nutrients concentrate in the slowest ripening leaves remaining at the top of the plant, resulting in the strongest and most flavorful cigar tobacco.

Therefore, the higher up on the plant the more powerful it will be in flavor and in nicotine.

The top leaves are left to over-ripen, and that’s what gives you your baritone, heavy flavor, and more body. It also gives you more complexity.

GARY | So, it’s all about how long the leaves are left on the growing plant and sun exposure?

NICK | The extended direct exposure to the sun is a contributing reason why the leaves texture is thicker and produces fuller flavors. As ligero leaves tend to be thicker and oilier, they burn with more difficulty than other tobacco leaves. They are consequently rolled into the very center of the filler bunch of the cigar, so that ignition can be maintained by the lighter surrounding filler leaves.

But strength isn’t only determined by where on the plant the leaf comes from, but also what the strain of the tobacco that is being used as well as where it’s grown. The variety of tobacco, climate, and soil type  also contribute great in affecting the strength and flavor of the tobacco.

GARY | So, are you saying that the strength of ligero changes from country to country or region to region within that country?

NICK | That is right. Ligero from different tobacco producing countries as well as regions within a country have different levels of flavor and strength.  For example, ligero leaves harvested from tobacco plants of farms from Condega, Estelli and Jalapa, are in Nicaragua, but yet all have inherently different levels of strength and flavors.

GARY | Have you seen the trend in recent years leaning to more ligero in cigars?

NICK | The trend over the last 15 years, at least in the United States has been to continually produce stronger cigars, that means using more ligero and stronger ligero being used.

You have to be careful. A lot of stronger cigars on the market today, in my opinion, are too strong, but if you just have power and strength, you’ll have an unbalanced and less complex overall cigar.  Some have done it correctly but more than not there are been cigars produced that I am simply amazed people want to smoke.

The other issue that occurs with these super strong “ligero” overloaded cigars deals with the construction. As I mentioned earlier, ligero is bunched in the center of a cigar. This is because the ligero leaves – which are thicker with more oils – make them burn slower and that is why cigars tend to burn in the shape of a cone.

GARY | So there you have it. Ligero means light, but the cigars made with ligero are strong. One thing Nick and I agree on, if you are just starting out with cigars, don’t jump right to ligero cigars. Gradually work up to them.

*The Smooth Draws Radio Show is broadcast live every Saturday from the ESPN Studios in Atlanta, Georgia at 1230 AM and 106.3 FM from Noon – 2 PM Eastern Time. You can listen to the show, live, streaming at:

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