Is it Plume or Mold? This is an important question that every cigar enthusiast should be able to answer. Plume and mold represent opposite ends of the spectrum for your cigar. Plume on your stogies is the embodiment of optimal deliciousness while mold may very well mean the end of your precious collection. Have I got your attention now? So, first things first…
What is Plume?
Plume, also referred to as Bloom, is a powdery white dust found on the surface of your cigar. Plume forms when a perfectly-aged cigar exudes oils from the filler, binder, and wrapper. These oils crystalize on the wrapper creating a hazy light ashy powder. Plume can take months or even years to form.
Cigars that have the foggy, hazy, plume are usually the ones packed in cellophane. Naked cigars often acquire crystalline greyish sparkly specks that generally cover the entire cigar with higher concentration of specks along the veins of the wrapper.
Plume is excellent to have on your cigars. It indicates a perfect cigar and a well-maintained humidor. When your cigars acquire plume, this is the optimal time to sit back and have a smoke. Even though bloom does not improve the taste of your cigar, it just feels great to smoke a stogie at its optimal state.
Not all cigars are capable of developing plume. So, if you don’t find plume on your stogies there is no need to worry. Plume is common on stogies with oilier wrappers like Maduro.
What to Do When You Have Plume On Your Cigar
Plume comes off easy. Just gently wipe it off and check for any stains. If it is bloom, it will not leave a trace. Any stains left on the wrapper mean you have bigger problems. Also, keep in mind that plume never grows on the foot of a cigar. Therefore, if you have anything growing on the foot of your stogie, you have mold.
Cigar mold is no different from the common mold that grows on anything warm and moist. It appears as white splotches with subtle webbing in between. Unlike bloom which covers the entire cigar, mold occurs in random spots.
To ascertain that your cigar has mold and not bloom, examine it closely. As you know, mold is fungi and therefore it is constantly growing and spreading. A closer look at mildew will reveal fuzzy stringy stalks growing in batches called colonies. Each stalk is topped with a cap called a spore. Between colonies are web-like stolons connecting each colony to the other.
While bloom is smooth and hazy, mold is fuzzy and bumpy. You can wipe or gently blow bloom away and leave your cigar spotless. Rubbing off mold causes permanent stains on the wrapper.
In case you still aren’t certain, smell your cigar. Mold always has a pungent, musty odor.
What causes mold?
Just like typical mold, cigar mold is caused by excess humidity. Any humidor set above 70% RH will more likely develop a mold problem. Always check your hygrometer on your humidifier to ensure the humidity falls below 70% RH.
Additionally, leaving your stogies unattended for long periods of time can add to the risk of mildew. Cigars need to be rotated every few days to eliminate the risk of accumulating excess moisture in the same spot.
Overcrowding your humidor may increase the risk of mold. Pristine humidor conditions must include an uninhibited circulation of air. If you put in more cigars than your humidifier can handle, moist air may end up accumulating in certain areas more than others. This moisture ends up soaking both the cigars and wood in that area encouraging mildew growth.
Cigars that come in tubes, also known as “tubos”, should be removed from the tube before putting them in the humidor. These tubes are prime breeding grounds for fungi. Cellophane, on the other hand, prevents the growth and spread of fungi. So, remove “tubos” from their casing but keep the cellophane cigars in their wrapper.
A less likely cause of mold in your humidor is handling cigars with unhygienic hands. Dirty hands carry tons of bacteria. A warm and moist environment is all bacteria need to thrive. Transferring bacteria from your hands to your cigars may cause mold so ensure you wash and dry your hands before handling your cigars.
Can You Save a Moldy Cigar?
Cigar mold varies in color. It can range from tiny whitish spots that resemble bloom to full-blown furry green, blue, or yellow fungi. The color and intensity of the fungi determines if the cigar can be saved. Also, it is important to remember that mildew does not only affect the cigars, it affects the humidor too. This means your humidor has to be thoroughly cleaned before you put cigars back in.
If your cigar is spotting a few splotches of whitish mold, you may be able to save it. Check the foot of the cigar for any fungi. If there is none, then this is a salvageable cigar.
Any cigar that has multiple colors of mold needs to be tossed. If you notice mold growing in the foot of the cigar it means the filler and binder are compromised and therefore you need to discard it.
How to Salvage a Moldy Cigar
Sort the cigars into three groups; the cigars without mold, salvageable, and unsalvageable cigars. Put the cigars without mold in an airtight container and store them in the fridge for a week. Check them every few days to see if they develop any mold.
For the salvageable cigars, clean the fungi with a cotton swab dipped in denaturized alcohol like vodka. Ensure you get all the spots. Afterwards, store the cigars in an airtight container and keep it in the freezer for a week. Every few days, open the container to check if the mold has resurfaced. If it does, try cleaning it off with the denaturalized alcohol again. If the mildew reoccurs, throw the cigar away.
How to Clean a Humidor
Humidors are made from extremely porous wood and that is why they maintain moisture so well. Unfortunately, the same reason makes them susceptible to fungi.
Start by brushing your humidor to ensure all the fungi is gone. Clean the interior with isopropyl alcohol. Let the humidor air dry for at least 24 hours. Depending on the level of infestation, you can even let it air for a few days.
Rub the interior surfaces with fine sand paper to unearth any spores hidden in the wood crevices. Finally, wipe it down with distilled water. If your humidor still has the musty mildew odor, set down a paper plate of baking soda to absorb the smell.
After restoring the humidor back to perfect conditions, rehumidify it and add your cigars back. Ensure you only use distilled water or propylene glycol for your humidor. Never use tap water because it is teeming with bacteria that may bring mildew back to your humidor.
As a rule of thumb, smoke the affected cigars first. If possible, get a separate humidifier for the clean cigars instead of adding them back in the same humidor with the previously infected cigars.
Other Types of Spots On Wrappers
Aside from mold and bloom, you may be perplexed by other spots and discoloration on your cigar wrappers. Here are the most common ones.
Green patches on your wrapper are not harmful. They occur as a result of improper tobacco drying. When wrappers are dried hastily in high temperatures and low humidity, the chlorophyll in the leaves does not break down properly causing tiny cracks where chlorophyll pools. These pools are the green patches you see on your wrapper. They do not affect the taste or burn of your stogie.
Black patches are caused by excess humidity during the drying process. The sugars in the tobacco leaves need to break down completely. Leaves that experience excessive humidity acquire black splotches. These splotches don’t ferment wholly giving off a “fresh” taste that is irritating to the throat.
Yellow patches represent scarce levels of humidity during the drying process. These patches are dried out areas of the leaf that are unable to ferment. Typically, these wrappers should not be used to wrap a cigar.
If the white stain falls right next to a leaf vein, it could be blue mold that affects the leaf at plant level. If the white are tiny spots, it may be Cercospora fungus that also affects the leaf at plant level. Both of these instances are inconsequential after fermentation and do not affect the taste or burn of the cigar.
Tan spots, also known as sun spots, are common discolorations on cigar wrappers. These are caused by droplets of water that fall on the leaf and create a lens effect. The sun concentration on a tiny spot affects the leaf chlorophyll causing light spots visible after curing. These spots do not affect the taste or burn of the cigar.
Ultimately, all we want is a perfect stogie experience with no issues. But since we don’t live in an ideal world, learning the different cigar afflictions and how they may affect your smoke is wise.
Happy learning and happy smoking.