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The History of Chewing Tobacco in America

beechnut chew

Leaf chewing tobacco has been known by folks around the world by many names which all mean just “Chewing tobacco”. In the states, Chew and Chaw were the most common names that Leaf chewing tobacco was known for hundreds of years. The method of chewing tobacco leaves goes way back in history to the Native North and South Americans, where they would chew the leaves with the mineral Lime to help bring out the Nicotine. The American colonists adapted the practice of chewing tobacco leaves but put an American spin to its manufacture.

You see, Native Americans would either dry the tobacco in the sun or, just chew it straight from the plant but, the colonists wanted to create a product that was more palatable and therefore, more saleable! What they first figured was if they added a smoky element, it would mellow the harsh flavor of the raw tobacco so; they erected unique drying barns and built smoldering fires within them where the smoke would flavor the tobacco. The next thing they did was to add a sweet element to it by soaking the smoked tobacco in either Molasses or sugar water. This gave the tobacco a well rounded flavor that was both smoky and sweet and immediately became a huge success. The flavor combination was so successful that even today, the recipes haven’t changed! But there were two things that happened in the late 1800’s that helped chaw become the number one way to use tobacco, the invention of baseball and the westward expansion!
Ever since the beginning of the 20th century, Leaf chewing tobacco has been closely associated with sports and back then, almost every baseball player, and spectator for that matter, used chewing tobacco. In fact, chewing tobacco was so popular back then that there were hundreds of different brands with the most popular being Mail Pouch, Red Man, Beech Nut and Levi Garrett.
In the American west, chewing tobacco was the most popular form of tobacco use by gold miners and cowboys due to its low cost, portability and ease of use. All you would have to do was open the foil pouch, take out a leaf or two, put it in your cheek and chew. The juice that would be produced was just spit out and gave rise to an icon of the American west, and western saloons everywhere, the spittoon!

In the 1930’s though, chewing tobacco began to fall out of favor due to the invention of the pre-rolled cigarette but was still popular in the south where the tobacco was grown. Today, chewing tobacco is beginning to see a revival in popularity, especially in Europe. Due to the new smoking restrictions, smokeless tobacco forms are beginning to be reassessed across the world and Leaf chewing tobacco is one of the forms seeing a rise in popularity.

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