You probably know this as oud (or oudh) – which has become an incredibly popular perfume ingredient, in the past few years. A key ingredient in old and new Arabic perfumery, renowned as an element within high-quality incense in Arabic, Japanese and Indian cultures, oudh has now definitively crossed over to the west. It’s rare, and seriously expensive, and even endangered: as it’s become more popular, high-quality oud is becoming hard to source.
That’s because it takes almost forever to produce agarwood, which is actually the resinous heart-wood from fast-growing evergreen trees – usually the Aquilaria tree. The agarwood is a result of a reaction to a fungal attack, which turns this usually pale and light wood into a dark, resinous wood with a distinct fragrance – a process that takes hundreds of years. From that ‘rotten’ wood, an oil is made – and then blended into perfume. The aroma of ‘natural’ oud is distinctively irresistible and attractive with bitter sweet and woody nuances: seriously earthy (and in small quantities, seriously sexy).
Collection of agarwood from natural forests is now illegal under CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endanged Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), but some is now beginning to be plantation grown in Vietnam.
As an alternative, perfumers have turned to synthetic oud, although trained noses will tell you that it smells plainer, woody and leathery – but without the warm, balsamic qualities.
Smell agarwood (oudh) in: