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What Is Shisha Tobacco?

Shisha smoking has been around for hundreds of years, coming from India and parts of the Middle East. The term "hookah" comes from the Hindi word हुक़्क़ा (huqqa), which refers to the pipe itself. "Shisha" comes from the Persian word شیشه (shishe), meaning glass, referring to the glass bowl or vase that was traditionally used. We are going to chat about the varieties, and ingredients, and answer common questions about what is shisha tobacco.

What is Shisha? What is Hookah?

Now you know that both of these terms refer to the actual glass mechanism, typically filled with water, that you use to smoke flavored tobacco. When you come across the terms hookah tobacco, and shisha tobacco, it is just talking about the actual tobacco that is specifically made to be smoked by hookah. So, what exactly is this specific tobacco?

There are over 70 different types of tobacco plants, but only a small number of these are grown and used. The main one is Nicotiana tabacum, part of the Solanaceae family. The leaves of these plants are utilized in various smoking products like cigarettes, cigars, and the nicotine source for e-liquids for vapes. 

Unlike dry cigarette or pipe tobacco, shisha tobacco is moist due to it being soaked in a sweet mixture of glycerin, molasses, or honey, and then infused with flavors. Additionally, the wetness of the tobacco allows it to be smoked slowly over a longer period of time, as it is cooked gradually rather than being quickly burned or combusted.

Three Main Types of Shisha Tobacco

Blonde leaf tobacco

A light color, more dry tobacco smoked in a hookah. It produces less smoke but a stronger flavor. “Blonde” or “Gold” leaf tobacco goes through a rinsing process to wash, or cure, the levels of nicotine. It’s an option for those who aren’t frequent nicotine smokers and still want to enjoy the experience. 

Dark leaf tobacco

A darker, more moist tobacco smoked in a hookah. You will get a bigger cloud of smoke but less flavor. “Dark” or “Black” leaf tobacco doesn’t go through a curing process, making the nicotine levels higher and the burning time longer than blonde leaf tobacco. 

Herbal shisha 

All of the juicy flavors and cloud of smoke on the exhale, but without nicotine. In a sense, but not in comparison, herbal shisha tobacco is different from dark and blonde leaf shisha tobacco, kind of like CBD is different from THC in cannabis. You experience many positive benefits but without the buzz or psychoactive effects.

Herbal shisha

Choosing the Flavor Combination

Major Hookah Flavor Categories


Peppermint: classic mint flavor with a refreshing and cooling taste.

Spearmint: milder mint flavor with a sweet and herbaceous taste.

Double Apple: a blend of apple and mint flavors, creating a sweet and refreshing taste.


Apple: sweet and tart flavor that pairs well with other fruits and mint.

Cherry: sweet and slightly tangy flavor that adds a burst of color to the blend.

Grape: sweet and juicy flavor that is often used as a base flavor.

Lemon: citrusy and refreshing flavor that adds a zesty touch to the blend.

Mango: sweet and tropical flavor that pairs well with other fruity flavors.

Orange: citrusy and tangy flavor that adds a bright and cheerful note to the blend.

Peach: sweet and juicy flavor that pairs well with other fruits and mint.

Pineapple: sweet and tropical flavor that adds a burst of sunshine to the blend.

Strawberry: sweet and slightly tart flavor that pairs well with other fruits and mint.

Watermelon: sweet and refreshing flavor that adds a juicy and summery touch to the blend.



Jasmine: sweet and floral flavor with a delicate and fragrant aroma.

Lavender: calming and relaxing flavor with a slightly floral and herbal taste.

Mint: refreshing and cooling flavor that pairs well with other floral flavors.

Rose: sweet and romantic flavor with a delicate and floral aroma.


Baklava: sweet and nutty flavor with a rich and decadent taste.

Chocolate: rich and indulgent flavor that pairs well with other dessert flavors.

Coffee: bold and aromatic flavor that adds a touch of sophistication to the blend.

Vanilla: sweet and creamy flavor that pairs well with other dessert flavors and fruits.

Hookah Bowl Packing Densities

Using certain packing techniques when getting ready for a hookah session makes quite the difference. Each packing method influences the heat management, flavor intensity, session duration, and overall smoking experience. You are able to prioritize the quality of your tobacco, and while you have the freedom to pack your tobacco however you want, using these methods can make a good smoking session stand out as a great one. The same concept is packing cannabis flower into a bowl.

Fluff pack - 0% density

Exactly how it sounds. The tobacco is loosely placed in the bowl, almost sprinkled. You can tell by lightly pressing on the tobacco and if it springs right back up, it’s a fluff pack. You should use this technique with jucier, blonde leaf tobacco. This gives you a lighter smoke and more rich taste.

Hookah Bowl Packing Densities

Normal pack - 25% density

The tobacco is going to be more compressed than a fluff pack, but still has some airflow. This helps the tobacco burn in sections for a smoother experience. A normal pack is great for juicy, or sticky, blonde leaf tobacco. 

Semi-dense pack - 50% - 70% density

When you pack down the tobacco you are compressing it and eliminating the gaps where air can flow. You will notice that it requires more tobacco to actually fill the hookah bowl. This provides a balance between flavor intensity and a longer smoke session. Use this technique with dark leaf tobacco.

Dense pack - 75% density and beyond

A tightly compressed, dense pack is firm and has little to no airflow. The flavor and smoke are very intense, but you have to be very precise with the amount of heat you use. The dense pack technique is best for smoking dark leaf tobacco. There is the possibility of packing the tobacco too tight which will give you a charred taste. 

Health Effects of Shisha Smoking

While it is often touted that hookah smoking is less harmful than cigarettes, there are still serious health risks that come with smoking shisha tobacco. There are many of the same harmful toxins in both of them that put you at the risk of infections, certain cancer, respiratory issues, and effects on your cardiovascular system. Here’s what the CDC has to say.

One hour of smoking shisha is equivalent to approximately smoking 100 to 200 cigarettes. When smoking shisha tobacco in a hookah, you tend to inhale more smoke compared to a cigarette because you take deeper breaths and smoke for a longer period of time. During an average hookah session, it is said that you inhale 2-3 times the quantity of nicotine compared to a cigarette. About 10 times more carbon monoxide, 25 times the quantity of tar, and up to 50 times more lead compared to a cigarette.