Back in August 2007 I left one of my rare Amazon.com (of the world famous, best selling incense Shrinivas Sughandalaya Sai Baba Nag Champa) reviews here. If you browse around a little you’ll find that even with a 3/5 star rating, my review is easily one of the most critical for that product and at the time I still hadn’t quite learned exactly why I was continuing to notice a variation in this product from box to box.
Wikipedia’s Nag Champa entry describes Nag Champa, saying “Champa incenses contain a natural ingredient indigenous to India called “halmaddi”, which is a semi-liquid resin taken from the Ailanthus Malabarica tree. It is what gives Nag Champa its characteristic grey color. Halmaddi is hygroscopic which means it absorbs moisture from the air. This can cause Nag Champa incenses to have a wet feeling to them.” What it doesn’t say is the the resin halmaddi was also reponsible for the large portion of the incense’s scent.
However, halmaddi has become increasing rare and now is part of biodiversity conservation measures to prevent the declining population of one of many non-timber forest products in India. And about a decade ago, without a word, the Blue Box Nag Champa incense, famous worldwide for its quality, changed its recipe by removing most, if not all halmaddi from its champas. What was once an incense institution now left users scratching their heads and trying to figure out why things weren’t the same. But not only did this shortage affect the famous Nag Champa, it laid a trail of devastation through several companies and has unfortunately laid waste to most of the Shrinivas Sugandhalaya catalog. Super Hit, Satya Natural and many others are just not the incenses they once were.
The most obvious way of telling the halmaddi has been reduced is that the incenses are not wet anymore and the deep and resonant honey and vanilla scent of the halmaddi has become a shadow of itself. What’s perhaps interesting about all of this is that halmaddi hasn’t completely disappeared, if you look around you can still find the resin itself. So it’s likely it’s just too expensive now to be an ingredient in a box that retails for only a few dollars. But as no company has taken it upon themselves to create halmaddi champas in a more premium price range as of this writing (I suppose I’m still crossing my fingers that the two new Shroff wet masalas might fill this niche), perhaps there are other conservation regulatory complexities I’m not aware of.
This write up is going to talk about a group of champas in the modern age. I’ll state right at the front that while a few of these are quite good, there’s not a one of them that truly resembles the old Blue Box, none of them have the semi-wet, gooey consistency the original had and while I’d guess maybe one or two of these do have a slight hint of halmaddi, none of them have enough to cause the incense to display the hygroscopic tendencies it used to. Read the rest of this entry »