Nakhla Zaghloul- Reigning king of the traditional moassels.
Now, anyone who has spent any amount of time around me knows I love traditional moassel more than anything. It’s full of so much flavor and so much more complexity and character than the modern fruit or candy flavored products. That being said, I know a lot of people who have trouble smoking it, or don’t understand the methods of preparing it necessary for it to really shine. My goal here is to illuminate those mysteries so that you can get the most out of this remarkable product.
First, a word about Zaghloul. Zaghloul is classified as a black moassel, and historically, it’s a stepping stone between the traditional dry-leaf products (called Tombac or Jurak) and the modern, highly sweetened and flavored moassel. In its most basic form, black moassel consists of just two ingredients: Tobacco leaf and molasses. Zaghloul itself is a blend of 80% virginia tobacco and 20% of some variety of Oriental that I have yet to identify.
Smoked properly, Zaghloul should smoke as smoothly as any modern product, and the flavor should be mellow, nutty, and slightly sweet. If this isn’t how you’d describe it, if it’s smoking harsh, or the flavor tastes burnt or reminiscent of cigarette, you’re probably doing something wrong. But don’t despair, I’m here to help.
First, for some reason, probably related to limited sales outside of Egypt, the Nakhla company doesn’t see fit to pack Zaghloul in airtight containers as they do with every other product. I have reached out to their representatives here in the states requesting that they change this, but so far no change has been made. Because of this, and because it tends to be a slower-selling product here in the states, it’s likely that your Zaghloul has sat on a shelf for some time (after a lengthy voyage to your locale from Egypt, unless you’re in Egypt, in which case none of this likely applies to you), meaning it’s most likely a solid, dried-out, brick of black nasty tobacco. This will not do.
There are two ways to smoke Zaghloul, but both require the product be sufficiently moist.
“But mine is a dried out brick,” I hear you saying. Do not despair. We can rebuild it, we have the technology.
First, you’ll need to acquire some food-grade vegetable glycerin (if you’re reading this and you happen to be Muslim, this is important, as non-vegetable based glycerin products often source their glycerin from pork fat. Besides, non-vegetable glycerin will make your tobacco nasty.) I use Heritage Store(TM) brand Vegetable Glycerin, which is both food-grade and vegetable sourced, and comes in a bottle big enough to prepare a few kilos of tobacco. VG has other uses as well, such as reviving old, bland tobacco or making your own moassel. Just be careful not to use too much because it will dilute the flavor and give your moassel a soapy mouthfeel.
So, once you’ve got your VG and your Zaghloul, what you need to do is dump the tobacco brick into an airtight container, break it up really good, and drizzle about a tablespoon of glycerin over it. Then close the container and give it a really hard shake, get it really mixed. Then let it sit for a few days. Within 2-3 days, check it. If it’s still pretty hard, mix in another tablespoon of VG and let it sit for another 3-4 days. You shouldn’t need any more VG than that, and will want to avoid using too much for the reasons mentioned above. Let it sit at least a week in total for the VG to soak into every part of the tobacco. Giving it a shake or two every day will help it mix.
You’ll know it’s ready when the texture is soft and moist but not syruppy or drippy. Compared to Nakhla’s Two Apples, it should be roughly the same consistency.
Now that it’s ready, there are two ways to smoke Zaghloul. This is something of a point of contention in various fora and discussion groups. Some hold firm that it should be foiled like any other moassel, and others believe it should be smoked without foil. If one were to travel to Egypt, you’d most likely see it unfoiled, and while this is a legitimate technique, it’s a bit harder to get it smoking right by this method. It’s also worth noting that there are many places in the Mideast where these types of products are smoked with indirect heat as a modern product, using foil, or a plate of brass or clay. Personally, I prefer the foiled method, as the non-foil method offers no advantages that I have seen (aside from looking like an OG). I will illuminate both methods below.
The first method, and my preferred means of smoking it: Pack it into the bowl of your choice (I use an unglazed Elmas funnel-style bowl) moderately dense, but with some room to breathe, and make sure to leave a gap between the tobacco and the foil. Use a tight foil wrap with the whole pattern of your preference, 2-3 natural coals, and smoke as normal. In other words, treat it like any other Nakhla product.
The second, foilless method involves a bit of effort, knowledge, and trial-error playing to get right: While it may seem appealing to just pile it up in a bowl, throw some charcoal on and start pulling, this is the quickest, easiest way to ruin a nice bowl of Zag. What you want to do is this: Using an Egyptian bowl, pack the tobacco loose with plenty of room for it to breathe. Then, you want to take more tobacco and press it with your fingers into a sort of “cake,” a disk of densely-packed tobacco roughly as big around as the top of your bowl. Then put this tobacco-disk on top of your packed bowl, with 3-4 pieces of coal on top, then put a cover over it. Let it sit and cook for about ten minutes. During this time, it is CRITICALLY IMPORTANT that you do NOT try to smoke it, not even a taste. You will pull the embers down into the bowl and ruin it. After ten minutes, remove the windcover, and knock one or two coals off the top. What you are essentially doing is burning-in a “screen” of carbonized tobacco to separate the good stuff from the heat (essentially doing the same thing as foil). After that, you can smoke as normal, just be mindful of the heat, as it can be harder to manage without burning this way.
I prefer the first method because personally, the latter method, despite being traditional, wastes some tobacco and charcoal, and is generally a lot harder to get smoking the way it should. While it may be fun to try, it offers no real advantage over the modern method that I can see.
And as I said above, it should be a mellow, nutty-sweet flavor. If you’re not getting that, you’ve probably burned it.
Zaghloul is a complex yet mild flavor that stands as a nice constrast to the hyper-sweet flavors that dominate the market, and it makes a nice alternative for a smoker with a more matured, complex palate looking for something different.