Oudh (sometimes spelled ‘oud’) has become a phenomenally popular ingredient, but still divides opinion. It’s one of those ‘Marmite’ perfumery ingredients, which people either swoon over or clutch their pearls and scream while avoiding at all costs.

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 oudh is becoming hard to source.

That’s because it takes almost forever to produce oudh, 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 oudh 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. There truly is an oudh for all tastes, now!

Smell oudh in:

Cartier Les Heures Voyageuses Oud & Menthe
Floris Honey Oud
Maison Francis Kurkdjian Oud Satin Mood
Molton Brown Mesmerising Oudh Accord & Gold
Penhaligon’s Halfeti
Strangelove deadofnight
THOO (The House of Oud) Wonderly

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