What you oud to know about oud

Oud, oudh, aoud, od, ud, oudwood, agar, agarwood… So many names and just one perfume ingredient. It appeared in perfume world suddenly and kind of out of nowhere, literally. During the last few years oud has dominated our noses, perfumers noses and was hidden almost in every perfume bottle! Oud was and still is on everyone’s lips. Numerous oud perfume were released providing various combinations and possibilities of choices making it the ingredient for everyone. With this number of oud perfume every perfumista could find an oud fitting their taste and aesthetics. Oud became fashionable somewhere around 2009 or 2010. I can’t name the first perfume that contained it (if you know it, do tell!) In case you didn’t drill through it’s origins I’ve got this article for you.

To us, perfumistas, perfume is an art. Every bottle filled with perfumed juice is a one, the most portable object of art, admirable, desirable, bringing love, envy, hate… They say that art, no matter what kind of art we’re talking about, requires sacrifice. This applies to perfume as well and this applies to oud itself. When we’re talking about oud, you need to sacrifice a tree. And it’s not a first tree you see in the park. It has to be tree from the species of Aquilaria or Gyrinops. Those trees are native to southeast Asia – they grow in India, Vietnam, Cambodia, Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand, but India is the homeland for those tree species.

Every living organism tries to protect itself from harm when danger occurs, right? Aquilaria or Gyrinops are attacked by a specifid kind of ascomycetous mold, Phaeoacremonium parasitica.It’s a dematiaceous (dark walled) fungus. Once this fungus infects the tree tries to fight back and prevent the infection. It does so by producing a resin infused with many volatile compounds. These chemical substances cause fungus to grow slower. The wood colour is originally light, but it becomes darker, it’s mass and density increases with the time of infection. Unfortunately for the tree this is a fight between David & Goliath. Fungus grows quickly and it dominates over a tree, killing it slowly from it’s core… Sad and bit painful, but true.

When the infected tree is dead it can be cut down and then cut again into small pieces so that they can undergo a process of hydro-distillation. This technological proces uses hot water and steam to extract all aromatic, volatile compounds that were dissolved in the agarwood resin. When this process is done you obtain a pure essence of a tree, an oud extract. Have you ever thought about why oud perfume are this expensive? Of course it’s partially because of it’s hype, but the main reason of high prices is the fact that Aquilara trees are endangered species. Their infections and cutting down must be controlled so that they don’t experience extinction. The similar extinction problems apply to sandalwood.

Oud possesses the characteristic, deep and dense aroma, partially resinous, partially woody and incensy. This note found many lovers but there is also a group of haters. I’m somewhere in between, I oscillate between the two poles depending on what oud perfume you would give me to try. What do you think about oud perfume? Do you like it or you don’t? Feel free to share your favourite agarwood perfume with me!

note: to write this article I used some help from Wikipedia, About.com


10 thoughts on “What you oud to know about oud

  1. Wonderful education. I don’t know if I am an oud lover or not. Once of my favorite fragrances is Incense Oud by Kilian, but I think I read somewhere that there isn’t even any oud in the fragrance?! I guess like most notes, oud can be synthesized! But what I don’t like is the thought though of wearing something that is in peril of becoming extinct, be it a plant or animal!

    • lucasai says:

      Same here, I’m not sure if I like it or not, didn’t try many oud perfume. And I don’t know Kilian you mentioned. That’s possibe that only a name has oud, not the perfume. I think it can be obtain in lab. I would feel guilty that my perfume pleasure causes trouble to environment.

    • poodle says:

      I guess if the trees are being attacked by this mold naturally then it’s sort of like the perfumers are making the best out of a bad situation. If they are intentionally infecting and killing the trees I’d feel bad about it too. I like oud but I don’t have anything that’s got a lot, if any of it in it.

      • lucasai says:

        I read that it goes both ways. The natural infections affect like 7% of these trees populations, some trees are being infected on purpose but not many (definitely less than those naturally infected 7%)
        I guess you’re right that perfumers make the best out of this bad situation by extracting oud essence after the tree is dead.

  2. Natalie says:

    Thanks for compiling this info into one helpful post. I’m not an oud lover, but not a hater either. It can add some nice depth to scents, but too much is just too much for me.

  3. I love oud but I am sick and tired of it popping up everywhere. One of the most ridiculously gratuitous oud releases must be Acqua di Parma Colonia Intensa Oud Eau Concentrée. What’s oud got to do with traditional Italian colonia? I guess we have LVMH group to thank for this epiphany.

    I am very suspicious that this oud explosion also has to do with an artificial oud ingredient that must have been available the same way the iris explosion a few years earlier was made possible by the new technique of irradiating orris root to shorten the time it takes for the root to mature. As a chemist, do you have any information on synthetic oud ingredients?

    • lucasai says:

      I’ve been trying to find som information about synthetic oud but the only thing I found was that yes, there is a synthetic material too. Although no formulas, no detailed information. I think they try to keep it secret for a little while longer.

      And I agree about Oud Colonia! What does citrus cologne has to do with oud?

  4. geordie04 says:

    Is it possible that (smelly) solvents are also used to extract oud, or that something (smelly) is used to preserve it? I’m asking because I’ve smelt something similar to acetone in almost all oud perfumes I’ve come across — except for one or two that have smelt gloriously complex and completely acetone-free (most notably Ex Idolo’s Thirty Three and above all Mukhallat Dahn Al Oudh Moattaq by Ajmal).

    • lucasai says:

      Honestly I have no idea. Usually extracting solvents should be odorless, never heard of any that would add their own element to extracted material. Maybe it has more to do with quality of oud or its origins

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