Oud is the dark, rich scent that has been taking the perfume world by storm. Called “astonishingly rare” by New York Times perfume critic Chandler Burr, the scent has been known to sell for as much as $30,000 a kilogram in its most pure forms.
But why is this particular aroma so rare and coveted? That’s the question we set out to explore in this article. Read on for an introduction to the world’s most desired scent…
What Is Oud?
“Oud” is the Arabic term for a fragrant resinous wood that is one of the most valuable raw fragrance ingredients in the world, giving off a sweet, complex and musky aroma. Also called “agarwood,” the term refers to about 15 different species in the genus of Aquilaria. It has been used throughout history to make incense and other scent products.
When we talk about oud and scent, however, we are not really talking about the wood itself, but its resin. This dark, aromatic resin is a natural protective measure that the wood produces when it becomes infected with a certain type of mould. It’s actually said to occur in only 2 percent of all agarwood trees, which is one of the reasons it is so expensive. Some say the best oud is found in the oldest trees as they have a higher resin content. The species known as Aquilaria malaccensis, found in Indonesia, is considered by many to be the best producer of agarwood resin.
Where Is It Found?
The various Aquilaria species can be found throughout Asia, particularly in the south and southeast corners of the continent. Native to India, which has long been the principle producer of the tree for use in scent products, oud can be found today in in Bangladesh, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Myanmar, among other countries.
A sturdy, resilient plant, it can grow almost anywhere, including dry sandy soil and on the sides of craggy slopes with long exposure to the sun. However, many of the Aquilaria species are best cultivated in wet, shady conditions.
How Is It Extracted?
The oud-based oil used in perfume is distilled from agarwood after it has been attacked by mould and become saturated with resin. The most common distillation methods are called hydro and steam distillation. The wood is chopped into pieces and then soaked in water, which readies it for the scented resins to be extracted. The period of soaking is key; if it soaks for too short a period, the oil might not come out easily, but too long a period can ruin the oil’s smell.
After soaking, the wood is cooked in a still at a finely-tuned temperature and pressure. The best oils are said to come out in the first 1 to 3 days. While the agarwood can undergo a second distillation, the oil extracted will be lower quality and considered second grade. After distillation, the oil goes through an ageing process for development of the best possible scent.
Needless to say, this all takes a very long time, which is why oud has become such a valuable scent. The cost of production may be high, but the incomparable musky result is well worth it.
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