French Essence

Notes On Fragrance: Oud

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Oud fragrances have risen in popularity recently, but where does it come from and is it sustainable?

Oud is a woody base note and it’s often the last ingredient to release its scent onto your skin. Like most base notes, it’s used in both male and female fragrances, and it provides an earthy oomph that transforms a sweet scent into a sexy one.

Where Does It Come From?

The name ‘oud’ comes from the Arabic word for ‘stick’ but it’s commonly known as agarwood by the people in Southeast Asia who grow it.

When an Aquilaria tree is fed on by insects, it becomes infected with mould. In order to protect itself, the tree fills its centre with a bitter resin in a process known as tylosis. This can take months to complete but it can extend the life of the tree by several years, maybe even decades. This resin-dense wood is agarwood and when it’s turned into woodchips, it’s called oud.

Is Oud Sustainable?

Agarwood farmers infect the Aqularia trees with the fungus themselves and wait around for the resin to set in before cutting down their crop to harvest the agarwood. Due to over-farming, the Aquilaria population has dwindled and oud has become very expensive.

Agarwood poachers have started seeking out healthy, wild Aqualaria trees to scrape off their bark and return later for the precious agarwood. Communities in Laos, near Vietnam, have started living amongst these trees to protect them from extinction.

Luckily, many fragrance companies have taken to using a synthetic replica so we can all enjoy the sensual aroma of oud without wiping out the Aquilaria trees.

What Does It Smell Of?

A lot of the most popular fragrance ingredients smell a little peculiar on their own and oud is no exception. Like many other sexy scents, it has an animalistic quality to it. When pure oud oil is first applied to the skin it can have a barnyard smell to it but as it develops it unleashes a warm, leathery aroma. Synthetic oud bypasses the…interesting opening notes and cuts straight to the rich, nutty aroma.

How Long Have We Used It?

The short answer is a really, really long time.

Oud was originally used as incense because burning the woodchips adds notes of vanilla to the otherwise musky scent. While it’s commonly grown in places like Vietnam and Thailand, it’s been used by lots of different countries for thousands of years. The earliest recorded use dates back to 1400 B.C.E!

Muslim prophets were said to cleanse and perfume their clothes with oud smoke, and in Islamic countries, it’s burnt everywhere from mosques to family homes. It’s also mentioned in the Bible, as an ingredient in a bridal fragrance.

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