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Oud: the liquid gold of perfumery

by Peacock Bazaar Team 08 Oct 2023
unique & luxurious fragrances UK

Perfume to olfactory senses is like music to ears. And like music, what is in a fragrance is called a composition, which has three layers of notes - the top, middle, and base. Scents have a strong relationship with our emotions. They have a neurobiological response that acquires meaning and associative learning. The aromatic plumes of smouldering herbs ascending towards the heavens had the power to awaken the spirituality within ancient people in early religious rituals. Eventually, this act of "per perfumar," which means "through smoke" in Latin, became "perfume." However, some fragrant compounds and accents are more evocative and luxurious. Oud is one such prized ingredient that is also called liquid gold. So, why is it pricier than gold?

What is Oud?

Oud, also known as agarwood, is a highly aromatic resinous wood that comes from the heartwood of the Aquilaria tree, primarily found in Southeast Asia. Known as the ‘King of Incense’ and ‘Wood of God’, it is prized for its heady scent, described as complex, woody, sweet, and musky.

Agarwood forms when Aquilaria trees are damaged, allowing mould to attack the timber. When harvested, the infected, dark, resinous wood pares away from the healthy, scentless, cream-coloured wood. The coveted resin of agarwood gets distilled to make Oud oil, an essential ingredient in high-end perfumes.

Agarwood has been a highly valued commodity since ancient times and has been traded extensively in the Middle East and Asia. Its unique, rich and woody fragrance has sacred connections to Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, and Taoism.

Origin of Oud

Agarwood was a highly revered aromatic in the Arab world, and many ancient documents mention its use for medicinal and perfumery purposes. It is burned in homes to purify rooms and gifted to loved ones. No other fragrance permeates Middle Eastern life the way oud does. It appears in the stories of Arabian Nights as perfume, incense, prayer rituals, trade and as an item of tribute. More oud gets burned in the Arabian Peninsula than anywhere else.

The terms aloes and aloeswood are used to describe the resin-infused agarwood in ancient texts, scripture, classical literature, and historical texts.

The Vedas of ancient India mention the use of agarwood for religious offerings, in which fragrant smoke facilitated spiritual connections. The nobility used it to perfume their homes and signal wealth. Agarwood is also referenced several times in the Old Testament of the Christian Bible. Agarwood is said to have arrived in China, Japan, and Vietnam with Buddhism.

Before the Islamic era, numerous Arab tribes traded with people from North Africa, the west coast of India, Southeast Asia, and China. A commercial network based on the exchange of aromatic goods, such as agarwood and sandalwood, as well as spices,  including cloves, emerged in the Java Sea during the 2nd and 3rd centuries C.E. In his account of his travels to Southeast Asia around 1345, Ibn Battuta referred to the region as the source of incense benzoin and aromatic agarwood. Some even suggest that the incense trade was the first international trade route in history.

Rarity of Oud

The process of extracting oud oil from the wood is so meticulous and arduous that it is worth more than its weight in gold. Old wild agarwood trees that are naturally infected are the rarest. In natural forests, only 7% to 10% of Aquilaria trees become infected and produce agarwood. It is almost impossible to determine if a tree has an infection from the outside. Felling the tree is the only way to confirm if it contains resin, making sourcing costly.

High-quality agarwood takes years to develop. The older the agarwood, the more valuable it is. Vintage or aged Oud is rare and is an elixir in Oud perfumes.

Agarwood is native to the rainforests of Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia, Northeast India, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Borneo, and New Guinea.

Varieties of Oud

Oud sourced from different regions has its own scent profile and characteristics. Some well-known regional varieties include:

Assam Oud - This variety is from the Assam region in India, known for its sweet and woody fragrance. It is one of the most sought-after Ouds.

Vietnamese Oud - Home to Kyara, the highest sorting grade of agarwood, its Oud is rich, tart-like and has peppery undertones.

Cambodian Oud - Characteristically, it has a slightly sweet, fruity and floral aroma.

Thai Oud - This has a diverse profile ranging from sweet and floral to earthy and spicy.

Malaysian Oud - Often prized for its complexity, with a blend of sweet, fruity, and spicy notes.

Indonesian Oud - The aroma resembles damp earth, grass, and smoky and sweet herbs.

Borneo Oud - This comes from several species of Aquilaria trees with the same aroma profile. Borneo Oud has a uniquely fresh, light character.

Papuan Oud - It has an herbal freshness and displays floral nuances. It has rainforest-like tones.

Laotian Oud - This type has loud, creamy and floral facets.

Indonesian Oud - Each variety of Indonesian Oud and their quality varies extensively. It is dark, jungly, moist, and green.

The significance of Oud in perfumery

Oud is a prized ingredient in luxury perfume. Prestigious perfume houses and niche fragrance brands incorporate it into their creations to appeal to discerning consumers who seek unique and high-quality scents. Oud is typically used as a base note in perfumery due to its longevity. It forms the foundation, anchoring and enhancing other scent components.

A staple in oriental perfumes, it combines with spices, resins, and amber to create rich and opulent scents, often associated with sensuality and warmth. Oud-based woody perfumes focus on the earthy and woody aspects of agarwood. These fragrances are deep, intense, and evocative of forests and nature. Floral fragrances that incorporate oud often achieve a harmonious balance between the freshness of flowers and the depth of oud, resulting in a complex and elegant aroma.

Oud's complex and woody scent can complement and balance floral notes in perfumes. When paired with floral ingredients such as rose, jasmine, or violet, oud adds depth and richness to the fragrance, creating a harmonious blend of sweet, floral, and woody notes.

Oud offers a wide range of scent profiles, from smoky and earthy to sweet and resinous. This complexity arises from various factors, including the type of agarwood used, its geographic origin, and the ageing process. Perfumers often select specific oud varieties or blends to achieve the desired aroma complexity in their fragrances.

The growing popularity of Oud perfumes

By now, Oud has managed to seduce the world. Although the Oud smell always traces back to Middle Eastern culture, it is now a crème de la crème of perfume ingredients. Perfumers are seeking it out to develop exquisite blends. Some of the most highly-regarded Oud fragrances include Tom Ford Oud Wood, Acqua di Parma Oud, Kilian Oud, Gucci Intense Oud, and Boucheron Oud De Carthage.

Oud's timeless allure has only intensified in recent years. It is enduring as it is beguiling, embodying vividly ancient culture, religion, and ritual. Perfumers and consumers are not holding back when it comes to acquiring this sensational aroma. Producing real oud combines the beauty of purity, age-old artistry and rare natural phenomena. Creating masterpiece fragrances with Oud has become an art of seduction. Who excels in it? Find out yourself with an Oud perfume from Peacock Bazaar. Handpicked for their superiority and sourced directly from manufacturers, every bottle you buy from us is genuine.

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