By Joshua Smith, hookahclouds.com
Wednesday, February 19th, 2014 7:00 AM CST
To the Western world, hookah seems like an oddity. It’s often viewed as a bong, and this perception isn’t helped any by most retail tobacco shops in the United States, as they couple the device with glass products and real bongs. However, hookah is far apart from the drug community. Think about it… you could take a wooden pipe and place illegal substances in it and smoke it, but we all know that is not the purpose of a wooden pipe. It is the same with hookah; its history is rich with the culture of smoking tobacco. But even within the tobacco culture, it serves a special niche because of its smooth and flavorful smoke.
Hookah originated in India in the 16th century when tobacco was introduced by Europeans. An Iranian physician wanted to create a way in which the tobacco could be smoked without the harsh qualities associated with burning it. Tradition holds it started with a coconut as the base to hold the water with a long metal stem for drawing the smoke out. The concept migrated to Turkey, where the hookah was revolutionized. Glass bases were fitted with durable metal stems and leather hoses to create the composition of most hookahs today. During the Ottoman Empire in the 19ththe Middle Eastern countries, where it is most prevalently enjoyed today. In the Middle Eastern culture of today, hookah cafes are everywhere. Arabs gather every evening in the hookah cafes to enjoy coffee or tea and a hookah, and discuss religion, politics, play chess or cards, or watch their favorite soccer team. It is primarily a social activity much like coffee shops are in the United States.
So what exactly IS hookah? What goes into it? In the United States, “hookah” refers to the device that the tobacco is smoked out of, while “shisha” refers to the tobacco mixture that is smoked. Shisha is comprised of 4 basic ingredients: tobacco, molasses or honey, vegetable glycerin, and flavoring. The molasses or honey is there to moisten and sweeten the tobacco. Glycerin is added to give the tobacco thicker smoke. It is the same product used in e-cigarettes to give the thick vapor. Check out this article for more information on what glycerin is and why it is used in the making of shisha. Different brands of shisha use different types of tobacco, and can fall under two basic categories: unwashed or washed.
Unwashed means the tobacco maintains most of the properties it was grown with, while washed tobacco means the leaves are rinsed to remove a lot of its properties. Washed shishas are usually sweeter and more candied, while unwashed shisha is focused more on maintaining a stronger tobacco taste.
Once the shisha is placed in the bowl on top of the hookah, it is covered in foil to keep the heat from directly contacting the tobacco. The heat source is charcoal, and there are several different types on the market. Our personal favorite is coconut coal, where the husks of coconuts are compressed into natural organic charcoal blocks. Hookah utilizes charcoal in order to slowly cook the tobacco, essentially vaporizing the tobacco to draw out the essence of it. It does not use an open flame and is not combustible, so when the bowl is finished there is no ash, only dehydrated tobacco leaves. This is what separates hookah from other forms of smoking such as cigarettes, pipes, and cigars. Vaporizing the tobacco gives it a very smooth, flavorful taste that will not burn your throat, make your clothes smell, or leave you with a bad taste in your mouth. Coupled with a relaxing atmosphere where you can socialize with your friends, it is no surprise why hookah is a growing trend for all ages.
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