Perique Tobacco: Steeped in Choctaw Tradition

May 20, 2013

Perique (pronounced pə-réek) is a rare, dark and richly flavored tobacco originally cultivated by the Choctaw Indians more than 400 years ago. Perique must be force-fermented, and it develops its unique, spicy taste and sweet aroma through a pressurized aging process. According to Gun and Garden, the Choctaws fermented the tobacco in hollow logs. Today it is typically aged in oak whiskey barrels for at least a year.

The name is misleading attributed to Pierre “Perique” Chenet, who learned this technique from the Choctaws in Louisiana, and began selling pressure-fermented tobacco in 1824 from St. James Parish on the Mississippi River.

A popular perique maker in St. James, the Martin family reaped success in the 1920s, but business gradually declined until the company nearly shut its doors 15 years ago. Business was revived in 1998, when the product made it to the desk of Mike Little, now the president of Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company, which makes American Spirit cigarettes.

“I was just enamored by the process and so impressed by the work ethic of these farmers,” Mr. Little told the Times. “And the end product you get is just this very unique, very spicy tobacco product. Being an old tobacco guy and a blender, it was a real experience.”

American Spirit officially introduced a perique cigarette in 2000, and the perique blend keeps expanding its customer base in America and overseas. (American Spirit is not a Native-owned company.)

With increased production comes heightened federal oversight and regulation from American Spirit, but the fundamental process of creating perique remains the same, based on Choctaw tradition.


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