July 11, 2023

3 Minute Guide to Oud

By Hamza hhperfumes@outlook.com
3 Minute Guide to Oud

Oud is one of the rarest scents ever known, a treasured and sought after rarity for millennia even featuring in the bible. Initially revered by cultures all across Asia and the Middle East, oud has since come to the West, featuring in products by the most famous of Western fragrance houses.

With mass produced perfumes by designer brands and even niche brands it should come of no surprise that most of the oud used in these perfumes is synthetic - produced in labs - that doesn’t even come close to the real scent of oud. 

So what exactly is oud?

Oud is the resinous product produced by agarwood trees after they have sustained an infection. Only a handful of trees will have enough oud to be harvested, after which it is cut up and graded with the highest grades being used as incense chips for burning on coal and the lower grade going towards products such as oil, incense sticks and bakhoor.

Oud oil is what is used in spray perfumes and as pure oil applied to the skin as a fragrance, it is made by distilling oud chips and shavings (think whiskey) in a painstaking process lasting weeks. The yield for such distillations is typically low (between 1-2%), it takes kilos and kilos of oud wood for mere millilitres of oud oil. This is why oud oil is impeccably rare and not suited for mass produced designer perfumes. Real oud is rare and most “oud” you see in commercial products is not in fact oud, but rather marketing dribble utilising the great reputation of oud.

This has sadly created much confusion amongst consumers, why does our oud oil cost several hundred dollars compared with a thirty dollar oil from a commercial brand? Simply they are not selling pure oud oil and in many cases they are not using oud at all, but rather utilising the name “oud” in their marketing.

This is the story behind artisanal oud and our brand, a renaissance effort to restore oud to its full glory in the eyes of oud enthusiasts and fragheads. Collectors often look back at the old days when oud “was great, unique and raw” and today great oud is not readily available to enthusiasts, it takes the work of an artisan to bring out these great oils and woods from the dusty shelves and vaults of great collectors, as well as the pots of the finest modern day distillers. 

Why so many different products?

To understand what we mean by “oud” we need to break it down further. Oud today has sadly become a marketing term used en masse by various brands for their "oud" fragrances, diffusers and candles. These products almost never contain real oud, after all how could a candle or fragrance below $100 possibly contain pure oud oil when it is so rare and costly to produce.

In the artisanal oud tradition we use oud as 3 different products: Oil, wood and incense sticks. 

As we covered above, oud oil is extracted by hydrodistillation of the wood. Now moving on to wood, it’s simply harvested from oud trees and separated from the non-fragrant white wood surround the resinated and oily parts full of the good aromatic stuff we know as oud! There’s a whole science to how you grade oud so well that for another time. But simply, the best quality sinks in water and the rest is classed as non sinking and broken down further into various other grades. 

How is oud used?

The most common way to burn oud is on a small piece of coal, the Arabian tradition is on a shisha coconut coal or a disc shaped coal, while the Eastern tradition takes out further with high quality bamboo charcoal. The true connoisseur method is through utilising an electric subitism or kinam burner, this allows for one to control the temperature of the surface for unlocking the various aromas in stages, bringing the full experience. With this method, a small piece of wood, such as 0.1-0.2g (the size of a finger nail) is more than enough to last beyond an hour - making great oud experiences truly affordable.

Oud oil is simply a beautiful perfume like scent, it has a core “oud like aroma”, with top and middle notes being very different. The top notes might be fruits, spices, liquor, camphor, incense and more. Oud oil is applied as a pure perfume oil, it usually come in a small 3g perfume bottle (1/4 tola depending where you’re from) and contain a plastic or glass dipstick inside. To use the oil you simply remove the stick and swipe over your skin and clothes, applying to pulse points (wrists & neck) just like spray perfumes. Our artisanal oud oils require no more than drop to understand the full scent profile and if you’re feeling brave why not swipe the whole stick and bask in the wonderful aroma for longer!

Incense sticks are a classic in Asian culture, featuring in various religions and present all through the Asian continent. They are often composed of various ingredients including oud, sandalwood, spices amongst other aromatics.

What do all the regions and years mean?

With all the advanced terminology used it can get a little confusing at times, particularly when one is starting out and looking for a scent to wear as their everyday fragrance or for a special occasion. This is why we’ve created the 3 minute guide, a step by step breakdown of oud for all, with more to come in the near future for all things artisanal fragrance.

The best comparison for this is wine, as with oud you also get varying regions of production and different years of harvest and production of the oil. The older the oud, the better and more refined it generally is, with a more rounded profile and better aroma overall. It is aged oils which are the envy of every collector, being priced higher due to their rarity and the costs incurred due to the production and ageing process for the vendor. 

Just as with oil, wood chips and incense sticks also vary in their aroma depending on the region they are sourced from, the type of soil & atmosphere amongst other variables. Vintage and darker coloured woods (more resin) are more desired and represent higher quality and better aged wood. This resin along with the oil content in the wood is what gives it its aroma and the bubbling ooze when heated. 

How do I try oud and what are the different options?

To start off your collection we recommend purchasing sample size vials of oud oil containing approximately 0.1g-0.3g. These contain small amounts of oil perfect for sampling and to learn and understand the individual facets to each oil's scent profile. 

Our sample and learning packs are the perfect way to begin your oud journey

Taiwanese Oud Learning Pack

Zenith Collection Study Set

Taiwanese Oud Oil Sample Pack

You may also see terms like 1g/1ml or 2.5g, these are simply measuring the weight of each oil, 2.5g is roughly equivalent to 2.5ml or 1/4 tola as its known in the Middle East. 1 swipe a day of a bottle this size should last approximately 1 year, as you can see oud is affordable and very practical for everyday use, particularly as even only a drop is needed.

Our sample and learning packs are the perfect way to begin your oud journey, you'll find them in our product pages.


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