I’m thrilled to be a member of the ORS team, and I especially look forward to writing about oud oils and to reviewing some of my favorite scents. I thought I’d start off with a little background information by way of introduction.
“Oud” (in Arabic, “gaharu” in Malay) is commonly distilled from the resinous wood of Aquillaria species that are endemic to the hills and plains of south and south-east Asia. The precious resin is produced in the heartwood as an immune response to the invasion of a fungus through naturally occurring or artificially produced wounds, possibly assisted by insects. Since ancient times the resin has been said to possess supernatural and psychoactive powers (the psychoactive part I can personally vouch for!). It has been used to banish evil spirits, to aid meditation (scientific research has shown that inhalation of agarwood oil vapor sedates mice) and is a component of Chinese, Tibetan, Ayurvedic, and Yunani medical practice. Countries in the Middle East are the largest importers and consumers of oud oils, however the multitude of recently released alcohol based perfumes featuring oud (mainly synthetic, poor approximations of the scent) attest to its rising popularity in the U.S. and Western Europe. The traditional oud oil perfumes, that are used to perfume the body and to scent cloth (be careful if you apply it on clothes- it stains), can be purchased in pure form (Dehn al Oudh/ Dehen al Oud, literally fat of wood) or in blends called mukhallats (mixture). Unfortunately the number of reliable sellers with Internet sites is limited.
Agarwood oil is produced using either hydro or steam distillation. How “good” the finished product smells depends on many factors. One is the grade of wood chosen by the distiller, which is defined by how much resin it contains. Because older trees contain the greatest amount of resin, and because “wild” trees generally contain more resin than plantation grown trees, the price of oils distilled from old, wild trees is higher. The expertise of the distiller- how long he soaks the wood (soaking makes extraction of the resin easier), how long it is heated, how carefully the temperature and/or pressure are monitored and controlled, how carefully and completely the collected oil is filtered and the trapped moisture particles are removed, AND weather the oil has been aged in the bottle- also affect the quality and price of the finished product.
In my next post I’d like to discuss the different scents of woods associated with distinct geographic regions, unless a bolt of lightening strikes and I feel utterly compelled to write about something else 🙂 If anyone has specific questions I’ll do my best to answer them in future posts and please feel free to come up with ideas and suggestions.