What is Oud?
This is a question that is always asked…especially by those who begin their voyage into this heavenly substance, which we have been blessed with on Earth. Oud for each individual is a journey of olfactory and spiritual magnitudes, it opens doors and closes others a real mystical treat for the body, mind and soul. Oud is a dark resinous heartwood which is formed by the Aquilaria species of trees which are found in Southeast Asia.
When a tree is wounded, engrossed by fungus, burrowed in by ants the reaction of the large evergreens is to produce an antibody which is the fragrant dense aromatic resin called Oud. Oud is the most precious raw material on the planet with less than 7% of trees being naturally infected in the jungles. The Trees are then harvested and the Oud is carved out to be sold as chips or distilled to make Oud oil.
Oud oil is produced via steam or hydro distillation techniques. The wood is usually soaked prior to distilling and crafted using different methods to achieve a certain scent spectrum. Oud oil with age improves and tends to become deeper, richer and smoother.
Oud in Different Countries
Oud in the Arabic tradition means “wood” however it is known by different terms in different countries, you may hear terms being used which all mean Oud. Below are some of these:
- In the Chinese tradition Oud is known as “Chenxiang”
- In the Hindi Tradition Oud is known as “Agar”
- In the Indonesian and Malay tradition it is known as “Gaharu”
- In the Thai tradition it is known as Mai “Kritsana”
- In the Sri Lankan tradition it is known as “Walla Patta”
- In the Papuan tradition it is known as “Eaglewood”
- In the Laos tradition it is known as “Mai Ketsana”
- In the Hong Kong tradition it is known as “Aloeswood”
Oud has a 3,000 year old history in the Middle East, Arabia, Japan and China. Only royal’s and the very wealthy were able to benefit from its mystical powers, however today Oud is more readily available but its fast running out. Oud is mentioned in the Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu and Sikh holy books.
Therefore, it played a key role throughout various empires and nations. In the Muslim tradition Oud is mentioned several times and today Muslims are the largest consumers of Oud in the world. Oud is mainly used for fumigating and heated prior to religious services this is due to its fragrant and physiological properties.
Classifications of Oud wood
The Japanese have devised a classification listing of Oud woods in 6 different categories.
Kyara, Manaban, Rakoku, Manaka, Sumotara, Sasora
- Kyara This is the most famous and well known of all Oud wood some believe to come from either Vietnam or Cambodia. Kyara is a particular odor described as: “A gentle and dignified smell with a touch of bitterness. The fragrance is like an aristocrat in its elegance and gracefulness.” Kiyoko Morita notes in her published work, “The Book of Incense,” that opinions differ from incense masters on what is kyara.
- Rakoku A sharp and pungent smell similar to sandalwood. Its smell is generally bitter, and reminds one of a warrior
- Manaka Smells light and enticing, changing like the mood of a woman with bitter feelings. The fragrance is of good quality if it disappears quickly. None of the five qualities are easily detectable
- Manaban Mostly sweet, the presence of sticky oil on a mica plate is often present after smoldering Manaban. The smell is coarse and unrefined, just like that of a peasant.
- Sumotara Sour at the beginning and end. Sometimes mistaken for Kyara, but with something distasteful and ill-bred about it, like a peasant disguised as a noble.
- Sasora Cool and sour. Good-quality sasora is mistaken for kyara, especially at the beginning. It reminds one of a monk. Sometimes very light and disappearing.
So how do we get from the tree to the precious oil? Well the highest grade of woods are never distilled as they are used for carving/heating and sell for up to 1000’s of dollars per gram. However the high quality oils offered by Habzoud are distilled using the finest raw materials. Resinated chips are crushed, grinded and then left to soak in water to help soften wood fibres which allow more oil to be extracted. The soak duration can affect the overall scent profile of an oil and sometimes a no soak technique is applied. Longer soaks tend to results in more barny/animalic style oils. Once this process is complete the raw material are put into stills which are usually made from copper or steel and fired up. This is where the craftsmanship comes into play as temperature, apparatus and a constant monitoring is required to extract the most beautiful smelling Oud. It’s not as simple as just making a stew but requires a true skill the “art of distillation”.
There are two classical styles of distillation hydro and steam. Hydro distillation requires more effort and usually takes longer where as steam distillation extracts oils faster as it uses pressure to extract the precious drops of oil. Once an oil is distilled it’s not over, now the oil needs to be filtered to clean any debris, cured and then left to settle and age as a fresh oil tends to be loud and sharp and needs some time to settle. Most distilleries are located in remote villages and places around the world, Habzoud works closely with expert distillers with generations of experience to bring you the finest Oud oil you have ever experienced.