If you are an avid e-cigarette user, and especially if you have experimented with numerous flavors, brands, and ingredients you have probably noticed that e-liquid flavor can fluctuate from day to day. This is especially true of complex e-liquids in which several constituent flavors have been combined in an effort to deliver a unique flavor profile.
The process of e-liquid steeping can be used to accentuate the liquid’s flavor signature and to bring out some of the more subtle flavor inclusions. Some e-liquid flavors, however, do not respond as well to steeping as do others. This is dependent on a number of variables, such as the emulsifying base of each flavor. Many e-liquid manufacturers steep their juices before they are even distributed. The decision to steep one’s e-liquids involves the consideration of the various steeping methods and what effect they might have on the final product.
Why Steep E-Liquid?
Certain e-liquid flavors are rather complex in their constitution. This means that each of these complex e-liquids incorporates several, individual flavors into a proprietary formula, making a unique, new flavor. Flavor experts have been able to use basic flavors, combined in very specific ways, to bring out entirely new flavor profiles. To provide an example, the inclusion of a small amount of graham cracker and/or cheesecake flavoring can create a cereal-like flavor in an e-liquid. Steeping can help to bring these flavors forward enough to achieve the desired results.
We have found that juices with higher percentages of vegetable glycerin (VG) tend to require more steeping than do others with a high propylene glycol (PG) content. PG is a better flavor emulsifier, meaning that flavors in PG are more intense and longer-lasting. In fact, many flavor companies use a PG base for flavoring, which is one of the reasons why e-liquids exhibit VG/PG ratios (e.g. 80/20). In 80/20 mixes, the 20% PG rating usually means that the flavor content is also 20%. VG is generally used as a filler and vapor-softener, as its vapor is gentler on the throat than is PG.
E-liquid steeping is essentially done in order to allow for bonding of flavor molecules to the other ingredients, primarily the PG and VG. This facilitates the transmittal of flavor via atomized liquid to the taste buds of the vaper. Some flavors are suspended in an alcohol solution, and steeping will give the alcohol a chance to evaporate. As this evaporation process takes place, the remaining flavor molecules will bond to the PG or VG for a smoother, more flavorful vaping experience.
Will Particular E-Liquids Respond Better to Steeping?
The benefit of steeping e-liquids depends greatly on individual preferences and a variety other factors. If you are a recent convert from “analog,” tobacco cigarettes, you are probably using high-nicotine e-liquids. Nicotine tends to oxidize in e-liquid solutions, especially under high heat conditions, darkening the color of the juice. Nicotine also affects e-liquid flavor. In its most basic form, Nicotine is a type of salt. Throat hit, or the amount of harshness experienced in the inhalation of e-liquid vapor, can be made even more harsh by nicotine. Oxidation can intensify this harshness to some degree.
E-liquids with a higher content of PG tend to require less steeping time because PG brings out flavor more intensely and effectively. Single, standard flavors (such as raspberry, strawberry, vanilla, etc.) are also typically fine without steeping, because there are no subtle flavor inclusions needing to be “brought to the surface” via steeping. As mentioned previously, alcohol-based flavors can benefit from steeping due to the evaporation of the harsh, alcohol emulsifier. The steeping of more “perfumey” flavors (like rose and lavender), can actually mellow their severe intensity.
It is important to remember that e-liquid steeping is largely based on personal preference. If you are happy with the flavor of a newly-opened, recently purchased juice, there is really no reason to steep. More and more e-liquid manufacturers are incorporating a steeping process into their manufacturing methods. The recently released VaporFi Reserve Collection is one example of this; each batch of e-liquid is aged prior to sale. Some shops mix their own, house e-liquids. In these cases, steeping may be required since the juice itself was initially mixed maybe a day or two prior to purchase. We have discovered that our own preferences rarely include any steeping at all, but everyone is different. In short, a little experimentation goes a long way.
How to Steep E-Liquid
The particulars of e-liquid steeping are largely a matter of personal preference. Brand, flavor, and VG/PG ratio preferences also play a significant part. Most will agree, however, that newly purchased e-liquid should first be exposed to room temperature air, if only for a moment while breaking the air-tight seal on the juice bottle. The bottle should then be shaken in order to thoroughly mix all of the components of the e-liquid and to speed molecular bonding. This can be repeated numerous times over several days, a week, a month, etc. The average amount of steeping time used by experienced vapers is one to two weeks. During this time, the general consensus suggests storing your e-liquid bottles in a cool, dark place in order to cut down on nicotine oxidation.
For beginners, we suggest tasting the e-liquid as is, immediately upon purchasing. This will provide a flavor baseline against which you can compare and contrast post-steeped flavor testings. Having tasted the juice you have already exposed it to air, so close the bottle, give it a good shake, and store it away in a cool, dark location like a kitchen cabinet. Let it sit for a week. Once a day, open the bottle briefly, close it, and give it another quick shake. After a week has passed, try the e-liquid again to see if the flavor has improved, intensified, mellowed, etc. If it’s not quite to your liking yet, repeat the process for another week. Experimentation is key, and eventually you will discover your own steeping method.
Steep E-Liquid Quickly
Setting an e-liquid bottle in a bowl of hot water, occasionally shaking the bottle, can speed up the process if need be. Some people prefer leaving their juice near a heat source, computer vent, and the like. Bear in mind, however, that heat can cause other problems, such as the aforementioned oxidation of nicotine. Heat may also affect plastic bottles and containers negatively as well. Also, steeping has its limits, and it is entirely possible to over-steep your juices to the point where their flavor is ruined. The longer steeping methods require more patience, but the payoff is typically well worth the wait in most cases.
Give E-Liquid Steeping a Try
In conclusion, e-liquid flavor can be significantly improved through the process of steeping. A number of important factors must be considered, though, when deciding if and how to steep your juices. Are you using a complex, mixed flavor or a single, basic flavor? What is the VG/PG ratio of your e-liquid? Does the manufacturer pre-steep their juices before distribution? What is the nicotine content of your liquid (if any)? Do you have the time and budget necessary to steep juices over a period of days, weeks, or even months? We suggest experimenting over time with different methods, times, etc. You will find your preferred method and your vaping experience will most likely improve substantially.