The End of Oud

العود

Welcome to The Scented Salon at The Fragrant Man. This is a place for discussion, education, and appreciation of fragrance. A place for the dissemination of various opinions including yours.

Many of you will be familiar with the smell of synthetic Oud in modern perfumes. This is not what we are talking about. We are talking about oud from nature, from a tree. Most of you would not have come across this smell in daily life unless you have spent some time in an Islamic culture. We will explore this culture today through the prism of scent.

This is Part 2 of Arabian and Islamic views on fragrance.

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عود, Agarwood, Oud, Aloeswood, Gaharu, and Jinko are all names for the Aquilaria tree which grows in South East Asia. This tree can be invaded by tree eating insects. To self-inoculate the tree produces a fragrant resin to repel the invaders. Not every wild tree produces resin and the older the tree the better the resin. The best resin was found in trees that were 60 to 80 years old. These trees have been over harvested and it is now rare to find a wild resin producing tree. They have all but vanished.

The best agarwood is called sinking wood as the amount of resin causes the wood to sink in water instead of floating. This grade of wood is usually reserved for Japanese incense. Chinese carvers also use this grade of agarwood for making fragrant beads and statues.

In terms of fragrance:
Oud wood is made into chips for fragrant burning.
Oud oil is distilled from the tree resin and used as a fragrance and perfume ingredient.

Khai Yai Oud  wood chip Ensar Oud

Khao Yai Oud wood chip. Private Collection: Jordan River

Today we are talking with Ensar from Ensar Oud. Ensar Oud specializes in Artisanal Oud oils that are traceable to specific jungle locations. In April 2012 Ensar rang the bell on the end of wild harvested oud by traditional gaharu hunters. He then researched organic Oud sources and re-imagined his business into the 21st century.

Ensar Oud artisan Oud

Oud Artisan Ensar at work.

Let’s zoom over to Medina now for a chat with Ensar.

Welcome Ensar, Peace.

Ensar: Peace to you too Jordan.

Medina

Outside al-Masjid al-Nabawi in Medina, after morning prayer. Photo: Americophile

Jordan:
What are the smells of Medina?
Ensar: The copious smoke of Oud wood and burning bukhoor reaches you from all sides as you walk down the street. But to quote one vendor: “Oud is finished. There is no more wood these days. Back in 2004, you had Indian wood that was mumtaz (excellent). You had Malaysian as late as 2006 that used to boggle your mind. Real chips, solid. Now all you get is this stuff… (he points to a drawer of well polished Papuan gyrinops agarwood that feels as light as packing peanuts when you hold it) Nothing is real. Fabricated wood is all you get these days.”

Jordan: This is known as Black Magic wood because it is impregnanted with synthetic scent and streaked with black paint to give the impression of Oud resin.

image

Ensar: Indeed. As for the oils that you smell here, that’s an even bleaker story. I hate to say, none of the stuff you find is natural. Everything (literally) is a scent chemical, whether it be from the so-called ‘big houses’ or the small timers tending the corner shops. The French perfume industry is booming; that is certain; and Medina is one major outlet.

المسجد النبوي

Al-Masjid an-Nabawi

Al-Masjid an-Nabawi, The Prophet’s Mosque

Apart from all that, there is another smell in Medina. It is the smell you savor if you happen to doze off on the ground in the holy mosque of the Prophet. And you smell it in the air. You smell it in your hotel room. You taste it. It is the smell of Paradise. That peace that enters the heart when you know there are no worries or concerns here, that all is good and you have just entered an abode of uncanny serenity. Everyone feels this when they enter Medina.

How do Muslim men think of fragrance?
As Muslim men, we are taught that to wear perfume is an act of charity towards others around you. Enabling others to smell something pleasant is equal to giving them a gift.

The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: ‘Beloved to me from your world are women and perfume, and the coolness of my eye is in prayer.’ This tradition famously states the three most beloved things to the Prophet from worldly life. Clearly distinct types of things, if you think about it.

Women are people, our partners and companions in this life. We speak to each other, feel together, serve each other, bond.

The prayer is an action, involving bodily and spiritual states, motions and words. It is something one does, rather than something one possesses.

Of the three pleasures, then, perfume is the only tangible thing beloved to the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him; the only worldly possession that he cared for.

Of the men who followed the Prophet, few were as knowledgeable of the full scope of Islam as his own companions. Of these men, in turn, very few were scholars well versed in religion. But the scholars among them were virtually drowned in fragrance. The companion Ibn Masud, for example, needed no announcement when he arrived somewhere, and people could usually tell he had visited a place well after he’d left, from the fragrance that still lingered in the air.

This love of fragrance is like a second nature in the hearts and souls of Muslims. Those versed in religion know full well that to wear perfume is a part of the religion itself. The only issue nowadays is that the quality of what one wears is not often taken into account, and like anywhere else, people in the Muslim world have lost touch with nature and are for the most part wearing fragrance oils that get imported directly from the laboratories of the French perfume industry – radically different scents to what the Prophet used to wear.

Jordan: Why is incense burnt in the Middle East? Is this for fumigation or for spiritual reasons?

Incense burning for remembrance and invocation as well as personal scenting is woven into Arab and Muslim culture. Again, an innate love of anything that perfumes one is what drives Muslims to bukhoor and Oud wood. Fumigating the house, scenting clothing, and cleansing an area of evil spirits who abhor beautiful fragrance; spreading an unearthly scent to facilitate remembrance in circles of invocation;these are some of the uses of incense in the Middle East.

Jordan: Do you scent your beard? Under your chin?

The way I apply Oud oil is by first taking a swipe on the inside of my left wrist. Then I rub the insides of both wrists. Then I apply that sheen to the left and right sides of my neck, right under the beard. I do not apply any Oud to the beard itself as the scent would be too overpowering.

Ensar oud

Jordan: What terroir of Oud are you distilling next?

We have some logs of incense grade wood, of the quality that was offered by Baieido back in the day, going into the boilers this very week. They were harvested in Chanthaburi Province (in Thailand) a few years back, and are the last specimens of wild Thai oud wood of this calibre that I’ve seen in a very long time.

Jordan: What are the current Top 3 Ensar Oud oils?

Oud Yusuf

Oud Yusuf is by far the most popular Ensar Oud offering at the moment. The Oud is distilled from trees that are never felled, but simply extracted from shavings of the well infected portions of the trunk. There is only one artisan in the entire agarwood producing world who cares that much about his trees, and he is the man behind our Oud Yusuf. The scent is redolent of lilacs and lilies abloom, laced with the creamiest vibes of Cambodi addictiveness. I don’t think even the long gone legends like Oud Royale and Borneo 3000 were as popular as Oud Yusuf.

Oud Sultani

Oud Sultani, the sister oil to Oud Royale I, is perhaps the most intoxicating oil I’ve ever offered. A celestial melody of perfection, it is Perfume itself — yet it is 100% pure, single origin Oud oil, extracted from the very highest grade of Oud wood possible. This ancient distillation ranks as the most unearthly fragrance in the world at the present moment, and with very good reason. Those who have tried it cannot stop singing the praises of its aroma.

Qi Nam Khmer

Qi Nam Khmer is an upcoming release from wild incense-grade Cambodian oud wood done in 2012. You have not smelled genuine Cambodian Oud oil. (Yes, you!) Not if you just recently started your Ouducation; and by ‘recently’ I mean anything past 2000. There are distillers out there selling ‘Cambodis’ left, right, and centre, old ones and new ones, ‘Royal’ and commonwealth – but they’re all Thai oils from cultivated wood that have nothing to do with the scent of genuine wild harvested Cambodian agarwood. I am not ashamed to admit, until I smelled Qi Nam Khmer, I’d only imagined what real incense-grade Cambodian Oud could have smelled like, way back in the day when it was available.

Jordan: Do you extract Oud oil by steam distillation or hydro?

Ensar: I prefer hydrodistillation to steam. There aren’t many tweaks one can conduct in steam extraction apart from playing with the water, and that can get really old really fast. Whereas with hydro distillation you have a proper craft in your hands. From the material of the pot to the condensers and ducts, you can get real technical and elicit notes of wildly different profiles from the same raw materials. Of course, since I mentioned that with the launch of Oud Yusha & Encens d’Angkor, everyone became an expert overnight and started distilling ‘radically different profiles’ from the same batches of wood.

Encens d'Angkor

Jordan: What about the aging of Oud?

Ensar: There is a subtle difference between aging and oxidation, and unfortunately it is one most people cannot discern. Most oud that gets sold is force aged. The vendor will distill his oil, leave it to ‘air’ for five to six months, wait until it is the next calendar year (‘I distilled it last year’) and then sell the oil as a fully mature specimen of Oud oil. The full potential is not reached. There is a synergy that happens when you carefully select the best raw materials, then really let your oud age. And I mean, let it age.

Paul Bartnicki Ensar Oud Oil Collection Str8shooter

Oud Oil, Private Collection: Paul Barnicki, Texas

I have oils from 2008 that are still aging, such as Oud Ebrahim and Oud Zachariyyah. I could have launched these oils in 2009, but opted to age them properly as such special raw materials deserved; in tightly sealed German pyrex, stored in a cool dark place.

Jordan: Ensar, thank you for your time and for sharing your fragrant thoughts. Let’s catch up with you soon in Amman. Khuda Hafiz.

In the video below Ensar explains organic Oud and Holy Perfume.

The end of wild harvested Oud has become the beginning of organically farmed trees. All over South East Asia there are plantations, many of which need several more years to age the resin. I would love to have an Agarwood plantation to pass on to the next generation.

Wild Oud agarwood

Wild Oud Trees are now extremely rare due to over-harvesting. They have also been harvested prematurely before the resin has reached it’s peak scent profile.

Organic Oud plantation

Ensar on an Organic and Sustainable Oud Plantation

Mysore sandalwood in India suffered the same over-harvesting tragedy. In Australia there is a native sandalwood with a different scent profile. Real Mysore stock is also growing right now in Australia on vast plantations and is almost ready for continuous sustainable harvesting.

Ensar usually provides videos of the making of each oil from tree to distillation to bottling.

A complimentary Oud chip for burning is supplied with Oud oil from Ensar Oud. The chips are from the same tree or harvest as the oil in the bottle.
Oud wood chips are also periodically available separately.

Further Reading
Part 1 Arabian and Islamic views on Fragrance

Coming up:
– An interview with a Malay woman about her fragrant choices and how they compliment her personal beliefs

– Denyse Beaulieu in New York launching her book The Perfume Lover

– A chat with Dr O in Vienna and a look at his private collection

– We return to Singapore and investigate Stuart Koe’s Private Collection

– Fragrant molecules explained by Łukasz Szcześniak from The Chemist in the Bottle

– Gaharu Hunters – The Search for Oud in 2013

– The Cost of the Oil in the Alabaster Box

– Daniel returns to Malaysia after a cologne shopping spree in Paris and Rome. He really needed to update his wardrobe from designer-label-mainstream-generic to niche. We have a look at his choices before and after his trip

– Portia on Perfumery

– The Smell of Space – Part 2

– Fragrance Masterclass – Event reporting

– Travelling with Fragrance – a look inside Clayton Ilolahia’s suitcase

56 responses to “The End of Oud

  1. Very interesting information…I am happy to hear that sustainable oud plantations are cropping up….the connection between fragrance and spirituality really resonated with me in this interview…Ensar is doing great things!

  2. I thought I knew a lot about oud — it is, after all, central to Aphrodesia, although the variety in that story is totally fictitious. But at least half of what Ensar said was totally new to me. His ecological conscience and the care he takes in creating his products are both heartening and praiseworthy. May the Prophet (PBUH) smile upon him.

    • I did too. Thank you for your kind words Lanier. As Whitney would say – I learn from the best and I learnt from you…where to find Carol Channing and Carmen Sevilla movies.

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  7. Thank you Jordan for this great article. I’ve had Ensar’s Oud on my wish list for this year since January when I found out about him! And I am definitely going to read Part 1 of this article as we know so little about the use of perfume in the middle east.

  8. Stumbled across this article while doing research on oud, as I intend to start a small business retailing different perfume oils and oud here in Malaysia. I love your story and your dedication. I will definitely follow you.

    • Apa Khabar Kuti? Please keep me informed of your plans. All the very best with your istana perfume. Borneo ouds can be very nice and are close to you as are all the Oud producing lands.

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  10. Thank you for the interview with Ensar, Jordan. I’m very fortunate to own a bottle of Borneo 3000, which is a treasure that will last me a lifetime, as it’s amazing how much wear one gets out of a single drop of Ensar’s oud oils. I was also very fortunate to purchase a sample of his exquisite Kyara Khoutan. I’ve shared some of that with Christos of Memory of Scent and am hoping he writes about it sometime.

    Regarding your interview, it was fascinating to learn about the Muslim traditions regarding perfume … especially to learn that the scholars of the Prophet were apparently well-versed in perfume, and wafted such intense sillages!

    And Ensar’s descriptions of some of his oud oils … well, his descriptions should come with a warning: Read only after putting your wallet in a vault!😀

  11. I am just a short plane ride away Suzanne. Bring the Borneo3000 and I will unlock the sold-out Khao Yai batch made from incense grade Oud. We can waft. I agree that they are treasures to last a lifetime.

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  17. Fascinating post. Patience really is key to true quality. I’m happy to hear about both oud and sandalwood plantations. Good things are definitely worth waiting for.

    • Thank you Anna. I am fascinated too. The beauty of sandalwood and oud oils is that they age beautifully; the scent intensifies and changes into ‘deeper and richer’.
      Have a great day / night ahead.

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  19. thank you for this fragrant insight into Islamic culture. I was first introduced to these delicate oils while visiting a friend following her marriage in Syria. Her and her husband received several viles of fragrance from her in-laws. Along with the fragrance itself, I was impressed by the presentation: the glasswork and wood casing indicated that these were truly precious oils!
    Maybe you have already posted on this topic, but I was hoping you could speak a little to the regional differences in fragrance choice? for example, what is favored in Lebanon as compared to Oman or Yemen? Thank you!

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  32. Hi buddy, been awhile since we’ve been in touch. I deleted both of my other blogs. New beginnings, fresh start with this new one.

    Did you publish your book yet?

    Write to me if you have the time, it’s always nice to hear from you.

  33. This very interesting article dates back to 2013 (now it’s year 2015). And today we can hear about “sustainable Oud” and “new, synthetic ouds so perfect you can’t distinguish from the natural ones”.
    Where’s the truth?

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