What Is Oud And What Does It Smell Like?

Oud is a rare aromatic resin found in infected Aquilaria trees.
what is oud

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Key Takeaways

  • Oud, oudh, or agarwood, is a rare, aromatic resin found in the heartwood of Aquilaria trees with a fungal infection.
  • It has a distinctive, woody, dark and smoky smell.
  • Oud is often used as a base note in perfumes due to its long-lasting nature, with oud fragrances known to last up to 8-14 hours on the skin.
  • Dating back to around 1400 BC, oud has been mentioned in ancient texts like the Sanskrit Vedas.
  • The creation of oud involves several stages, starting from the natural or artificial infection of Aquilaria trees, followed by harvesting and sorting over 150 grades of agarwood.

    Would you believe me if I told you one of the world’s most costly fragrance ingredients comes from tree fungus? That’s right, oud is a true hidden treasure and ranks as one of the priciest raw materials on the planet. Who knew fungus could be so fancy?

    What is Oud?

    Oud, which is also known as oudh, agarwood or black gold, is a rare and aromatic resin that is found in the heartwood of Aquilaria trees with a fungal infection. It’s a precious essential oil that has been used for centuries in traditional perfumes, incense, and spiritual rituals across various cultures and regions. 

    Because the resin forms only when mold appears in the Aquilaria tree, roughly only 2% of these trees produce it. This rarity makes it one of the most expensive items in the essential oil market.

    Oud, which belongs to the woody fragrance family, is often used as a base note in perfumes, adding intensity, depth, and an animalic woody edge. With its earthy notes and seductive qualities, Oud is prized for its long-lasting nature.

    Where does Oud originate from?

    Oud has been used for centuries in various cultural practices, particularly in Southeast Asia and the Middle East. Its origins date back to around 1400 BC, where it is mentioned in the ancient Sanskrit Vedas. In these texts, oud is associated with riches and opulence, highlighting its significance and value in early societies.

    In addition to its use in herbal medicine and perfumery, oud has played a prominent role in spiritual rituals. This is evident from its mentions in many religious texts and traditions. For instance, agarwood, the source from which oud oil is extracted, is referenced several times in the Bible. This indicates its widespread recognition and value across different cultures and religions.

    What Does Oud Smell Like?

    Generally, Oud smells woody, animalic, earth, dark and intense. It has a warm, sweet aroma and can even have hints of leather, saffron and smokiness depending on the type of oud. 

    Organic oud’s vary depending on the species of aquilaria tree and infection. For instance, some agarwood has a sweeter edge, while others are slightly balsamic or even smoky.

    Meanwhile, synthetic ouds tend to smell a bit nuttier and less animalic than organic ouds. 

    How oud smells also depends on which other ingredients it’s paired with. In my favorite Oud fragrance, Supremacy in Oud by Afnan, the note has a darker, muskier feel. Meanwhile, Royal Princess Oud by Creed has a warmer feel because of the pairing with vanilla. 

    How Oud Perfumes are Made

    The creation of oud cologne is an intricate process that combines traditional methods with the artistry of skilled craftsmen.

    1. Infection

    The journey begins with the infection of the Aquilaria tree, where oud resin is produced as a defense mechanism against mold infection in the heartwood. 

    This process rarely happens naturally, occurring in only about 2% of wild agar trees. Yet, expert artisans agree that naturally infected trees produce better-smelling ouds than their synthetic siblings. 

    In some cases, artificial infection is induced by creating wounds on the trees to accelerate the process, though the resulting aroma tends to be less concentrated.

    oud extracted from tree

    2. Harvesting

    After the rare agarwood is harvested, it is meticulously cut down into small chips. Skilled professionals then sort through these chips, identifying and separating the valuable resinous pieces. 

    This process is crucial as there are over 150 grades of agarwood, each with its distinct smell, necessitating a deep understanding and expertise for proper categorization.

    3. Soaking

    The selected chips are then soaked in water to soften them, ahead of distillation. Artisans play a crucial role in differentiating between the various grades of agarwood, which produce different variations of pure oud. 

    4. Distillation

    The distillation process transforms the wood into oil. The resinous wood chips are ground into a powder-like consistency and soaked in water, left to ferment. 

    During steam distillation, the ingredients are transferred to distillation vessels. Upon heating, the oud oil, which is lighter than the wood particles, is released from the powder and floats to the top of the water. 

    The mixture of condensed water and oud oil is then collected, and the oil is carefully separated and stored.

    5. Sunlight exposure

    The final step in the creation of oud oil involves exposing it to sunlight. This allows any excess moisture to evaporate, ensuring the highest purity of the oil. 

    How long does oud perfume last?

    Oud perfumes can last up to 8-14 hours on the skin given that it’s one of the most potent fragrance ingredients on the planet. As it’s usually a base note, oud is also the last note to leave your skin, long after the top and heart notes have faded. 

    Typically, oud fragrances have a shelf life of up to five years, although this largely depends on how you store your perfume

    How much does oud cost?

    Natural oud is one of the most expensive raw substances in the world, with prices ranging up to $3,500 for artisanal oud. I’ve even seen several companies that sell oud for $5,000 per pound. 

    Agarwood, which oud is extracted from, costs $100,000 per kilo, which also makes it one of the most expensive trees to harvest in the world.

    Why is Oud expensive?

    Oud is expensive due to its rarity, the labor-intensive process of extraction, and the high demand for its distinctive and opulent fragrance. 

    Natural oud is derived from agarwood, which is formed in the heartwood of aquilaria trees in response to infection or injury. Because only 2% of this tree species–which is now a protected species–produce the resin, it’s a very precious and rare fragrance ingredient. 

    On top, the extraction process, which is done by hand, takes many hours. This time-consuming process only makes Oud more expensive. 

    It’s no wonder it’s often called ‘black gold’.

    Oud FAQS

    Checkout the oud FAQs below if you’d like to learn more about Oud perfume.

    What Is The Difference Between Oud And Perfume?

    Oud is a perfume ingredient, but not a perfume in and of itself. Perfume is typically a mixture of many essential oils or aroma compounds. 

    What do Muslims use oud for?

    Oud is a popular arabic scent in many Islamic cultures and is believed to have spiritual and therapeutic benefits for the soul. Halal oud is often used in religious ceremonies and daily wear.

    What is oud called in English?

    Oud, or oudh, has many names in English. Deriving from the Arabic ‘عود’, it is sometimes referred to as agarwood, aloeswood, eaglewood, gharuwood, black gold or Wood of Gods. 

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