What is 'Oud fragrance?'

Discussion in 'Artisanal Oud: Start Here' started by ~A Coburn, Dec 15, 2019.

  1. ~A Coburn

    ~A Coburn Well-Known Member

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    The following presents the fundamental differences between oud perfume, natural oud, and 'artisanal oud' oil and has been divided into several sections: Introduction, Availability, Formation and development, Oud: The note, Artisanal Oud and Conclusion.

    Introduction


    Oud as a note can be found for as little as $1 a gram yet 'artisanal oud' can cost as much as $1,700! That’s a huge discrepancy, so what’s the difference?

    In a nutshell, designer perfumes labeled oud mostly use synthetic aroma chemicals produced by flavor and fragrance manufacturers like Firmitech and Givaudan. As for those that claim to use ‘real oud’ that’s Natural Oud produced in plantations, but neither come close to the satisfying depth and complexity experienced within fine 'artisanal oud' which can exhibit up to 150 different aromatic compounds within a single oil. But there is more to it than just that…

    This exotic and mysterious aromatic substance has a legendary history and has been renowned in regions of the Middle and Far East for centuries, yet the developed Western nations have only relatively recently come to know of the valuable aromatic, unfortunately, in the waning of its existence.

    Agarwood oil is known by many names, with perhaps the most common being Oud; o-u-d.

    Spelling variations of the same word exist and some of the most common are A-o-u-d and o-u-d-h.

    The perception is that such spelling variations are mostly for the sake of novelty, meaning they’re the brands way of distinguishing themselves from the thousands of other oud fragrances that have flooded the market, although some argue these spellings to be more accurate transliterations of the original Arabic word. Which is spelled (عود) ain - wow - dal, read from right to left, with the ain having a slightly guttural pronunciation; So one could see perhaps where the A comes from, however the dal at the end of the word is pronounced like the d in the word end. So I really don't get the ‘h’ but that’s just semantics. . .

    Oud is also known as eagleswood, aloeswood, agarwood, gaharu and by many other regional terms, but in the original sense, it refers to the aquilaria and gyrinops genera of the Thymelaeaceae family of trees. Only found in regions of India and the FarEast.

    There are also other more common aromatic woods that some dilute agarwood oil with, but more on that later.
     
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2020
  2. ~A Coburn

    ~A Coburn Well-Known Member

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    Availability


    Given the huge industry agarwood has been synthesized into aroma chemicals and is also now widely cultivated in plantations covering hectares of the Far East, however, the olfactory profiles produced from the plantations commercially, are a faint echo of the great history of wild oud.

    Given the complex and desirable effects wild oud imparts on perfume, perfumers and designers have been searching for an ‘affordable alternative’ but the oud aroma chemicals fail to exhibit the complex profiles and characteristics of the legendary substance and to convey the degree of satisfaction, so they’re turning to the remnants of its existence, the plantation grown oud being labelled as ‘Natural Oud.’

    The legacy is not lost on the commercial industry, and eager to capitalize on the great history, perfumers and brands reference legendary regions of oud such as ‘oud from Laos;’ however these great regions are now far from legendary. Covered in mono-cultured plantations they produce generic oud that bears little resemblance to the wild oud that put the country on the map.

    With an increasing number of plantations, finding natural oud oil is not difficult, hence the many dealers aka ‘vendors’ popping up all over the place, but finding exceptional oud oil is a different story. . . In fact these days it's next to impossible to get hold of.

    The highest quality artisanal oud oil was produced from wild trees that had been left to naturally mature undisturbed by mankind in pristine terroir for decades. The resin formed, layer upon layer, deeper and deeper into the trees adding to its depth and complexity, transforming from Kyen to Seah, and perhaps even to Kinam the highest grade of oud.

    Until the turn of the century the wild agarwood trade was a civil affair.

    Then with a 'big bang', wild sources were wiped off the map by profit-driven campaigns to obtain as much of the material as possible, as quickly as possible.

    Given the ‘gold rush’ the individuals in the jungles known as ‘hunters’ disregarded that only 7 out of every 100 wild aquilaria trees actually contained any oud resin, and cut down every tree found, almost completely depleting the wild reserves with most of the valuable raw material ending up in the Chinese market, while the remainder of most of the wild trees has been placed under governmental control, protection, and heavy regulations.
     
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  3. ~A Coburn

    ~A Coburn Well-Known Member

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    Formation and development
    Another phenomenal aspect to oud is its formation, because as mentioned not every aquilaria tree has oud.

    The aromatic resin formation known as oud is the tree’s immune response system to traumas; traumas which came from various natural means, such as lightning strikes, strong winds breaking branches, elephants or tigers mauling the bark or even mold and fungus.

    There-after an infection may also form in the tree further triggering the immune response causing resin formation throughout the tree, also borer insects and ants may begin tunneling within the trunk, carving elaborate labyrinths for the resin to develop within the ultimately moribund tree.

    The aromatic resin forms as a repair to the damaged tree and then, as if to give one more time, the tree in its death yields the most valuable aromatic in the world; oud.

    Artisanal oud oil articulates the full story, it accurately expresses the true essence and history of the oud’s formation, literally transforming the tree’s history into a Spirit through the alchemical process of distillation.

    The “Natural oud” nowadays tells a different story, hectares of jungle are cleared for mono-culture plantations which undergo a far different process with some of the so-called farms more resembling hospitals with iv bags literally hanging from the trees dripping lab concocted inoculate into the hormone boosted saplings riddled with nail and drill holes. This is what “sustainable oud” looks like on most plantations behind the scenes, and as their standards lower so does the quality of their oud...

    The resulting resin formation yields oils with shallow, linear profiles termed ‘natural oud.’ The uniform, reproducible generic profile perfectly conforms to the designer and pseudo niche perfume house uses.

    These “Natural Oud” oils are also what most vendors on the proverbial streets of the internet deal on the corner to those that identify as oud-addicts, the oils have just enough oud to make them want more but are far from the satisfying depths and replete enriching profiles of genuine artisanal oud oil.

    To meet the need of mass production, large firms like Givaudan and Firmenich produce synthetic aroma chemicals such as Black Agar Givco and Oud Synthetic 10760 E.

    One whiff of these will reveal the so called key ingredient within many mainstream oud fragrances, yet these aroma chemicals each only portray a single profile from the range exhibited by natural oud, barely scratching the surface of artisanal oud.

    Synthetic oud often exhibits cedar wood-like and leathery notes with the worst of them resembling. . . well, let’s just say the least pleasant origin of indole :confused: perhaps in an attempt to replicate oud of Indian origin.

    Half a liter of these aroma chemicals can be readily purchased for little over $500, about $1 a gram.

    Consequently, the market for essential agarwood oil has become tainted by the spread of synthetic products being sold as 'oud, aoud parfum, oudh eau de toilette' etc, while in fact they hardly ever contain any actual agarwood oil, only its price-tag...
     
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  4. ~A Coburn

    ~A Coburn Well-Known Member

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    Oud: The note

    Because of its value in perfumery and its expansive world wide demand.

    The perfume industry has flooded the market with synthetic oud aroma chemicals, watering down and convoluting the legacy of oud with their shallow and linear plantation ouds.

    To be blunt, most brands starting to use the term are just milking the cash cow that is the growing trend and vast market of wealthy Arab and Middle-eastern nations given their affinity towards everything oud, and nothing to do with appreciation of the fine aromatic.

    The use of oud as a term has never been more widespread, nor has the quality ever been so low.

    For commercial purposes, oud is any ratio of quote/unquote ‘agarwood oil’ in combination with any other oil, be it of natural or synthetic origin.

    Some commonly used natural adulterates include the white portion of the aquilaria tree, vetiver, nagarmotha and crocodile wood.

    Crocodile wood can refer to a member of the Thymeleacea family of the aetoxylon genus. The tree produces visually impressive wood, often carved and fraudulently sold as agarwood online, and the shavings and dust are commonly used in oud distillations to boost the yield although diluting the profile.

    “Crocodile wood” is also used as slang for any number of woods used at the distilleries as diluents.

    Commercially it could be any combination of dioctyl phthalate also known as (DOP) in conjunction with other synthetics.

    So while most oud available is combinations of synthetics or watered down plantation oud. Notable producers like Ensar Oud offer vintage oud oils – oud distilled many years ago in trademark fashion, from a grade of agarwood now literally impossible to get hold of; which was then left to naturally age and mature like fine wine in a cellar.

    But finding premium grade raw agarwood is only half the story.

    A great deal of fantastically good oud wood has also been wasted due to poor distillation procedures.

    An orchestra composed by a do-it-yourself-er after all, is not quite the same as Mozart ;)
     
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  5. ~A Coburn

    ~A Coburn Well-Known Member

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    Artisanal Oud

    Rather than synthetic one note wonders; when composed by the hands of an artisan a single oud oil can possess complexities and depth that surpass most designer fragrances.

    Psychoactive is one way to describe Artisanal Agarwood Oil. Mind-blowing is another.

    A perfumer's guilty pleasure, artisanal oud oil is without a doubt the most valued and refined olfactory merchandise available anywhere.

    And the distillation of such oil is an art form in its own right.

    Producing high-end agarwood oil today is all but a thing of the past because we no longer have ready access to the quality of raw agarwood that established its legendary status.

    However the unheard-of distillation techniques and rigid standards of purity ensures that the agarwood oil you get from known artisanal oud producers such as Ensar Oud are very different products compared to generic, natural ouds, and commercial ouds so widely available from the many street vendors, the overnight artisans and armchair distillers who take advantage of the niche arduously pioneered by “The Man who brought Oud to the West,” and the unsuspecting fragrance lovers who just came to the scene and don't realize a "Vendor of the Year" award could have been "secret award" rewarded from not many more than 50 insider votes, hardly representing the actual Oud and fragrance community.

    Artisanal oud producer Ensar Oud is known for his intimate involvement and hands on, on the ground quality control with obsessive standards that drive distillers crazy although ensuring genuine incense grade agarwood is used in the production of the artisanal oils, and not the alternatives such as crocodile wood which many honest distillers will admit to adding to the pots for their general oils because nowadays diluting is an industry-wide “standard.”

    This degree of quality is too expensive for most perfumers and distributors to implement on a large scale, which is why the small batches of tremendous quality Ensar Oud oils sell out in short order.

    So for commercial purposes white wood and all, is ground up and thrown into the pots, boosting yields, but diluting the aromatic quality in the process. Making the oil even more shallow.

    You see, only the resin of the tree in various stages of development is aromatic, yet white wood will still produce oil ‘boosting’ the yield although diluting the aroma.

    Another yield boosting technique commonly used by commercial distilleries greatly impacting the aromatic quality of the oud oil is lengthy pre-distillation soaks. This is also where the misconception that oud smells like the least pleasant Indole origin comes from. . .

    The distillers soak the ground-up agarwood in water; sometimes for months (without changing it)

    Anaerobic fermentation begins and the wood becomes completely saturated and begins to break down.

    The saturated wood yields more oil when distilled, however the aroma of that oil is as funky as you would expect from what is literally rotting wood, and this process is largely the reason oud has gained the reputation of smelling offensive or foul; because that oud actually is, but that is not artisanal oud.

    Oud of Indian, Cambodian and Laotian origins are most widely known for the unpleasant fermented profiles. Yet the same oud in the hands of an artisan can elicit aromas with a depth and complexity that surpasses many fragrances on the market, with perfect balance and seamless transitions.

    The possible tweaks which would elicit unusual notes is endless.

    Artists can hypothetically distill Assamese oud (renowned for its animalic smell) as well as Cambodian, Thai, Bornean) oils to exhibit the most flamboyant bright scent profiles.

    "But here is where the unique aesthetic of the Artisan must come into the picture, take a firm grip on the reins, and direct his journey of olfactory discovery through inventiveness and creativity in the direction that he feels is right. Imparting his signature into the oud oils."

    There is a Golden Mean which raw materials, distillation techniques, and all the know-how and expertise of the Artisan can aim to attain in this craft: The scent which the oud wood gives off when gently heated; the resin of the wood.

    Of course there are many grades of agarwood quality, with Kyara or Kinam and sinking-grade wood being the most sought after types. But in short, its status as the pinnacle of oud makes Kyara the most coveted incense in the world. Which is why Oriscent Ouds that capture its unearthly scent command the highest prices of $1,700 + per gram.

    But after the raw material is procured then the real nitty-gritty of artisanal oud distillation begins.

    For example, the mineral content of the water you use during distillation has a spectacular effect on the oil.

    Distil an Indian oil in Evian drinking water and rather than the fermented profile standard for Assam, you might just end up with a sweet gourmand profile as delicious as honey.

    And Ensar Oud has long since done exactly that eliciting easy to wear profiles from regions responsible for the stinky-oud stigma so widely spread.

    Oud oils from Assam, Meghalaya, Haflong, Burma, Manipur and Bhutan which we are aging that are floral, sumptuous and elegant, with absolutely zero 'stank' to them.

    Not to mention his most recent works like Betonamu Senkoh which rather than portray what is now known as the 'Arab style' of oud, accurately capture the Japanese aesthetic of scent; subtle, dignified and refined the nuanced profiles unlike any other... Below is a little excerpt from The Oud Journey illustrating the many variables that go into designing and producing a profile, to quote Ensar:

    "But water is only one out of a dozen factors.

    The material the pot for cooking is made of plays a major role, as does the method of soaking.

    What the containers you soak the oud in are made of matters too, as do the ducts inside the boilers.

    And don't forget the condenser.

    You might distil 100-year-old Bhutan raw materials in copper with zero soak and get a rosy Oud oil.

    Yet if you soak them for two weeks and cook in steel the oil will smell more like champaca and tuberose.

    You might soak in Evian for a week and cook in groundwater; or soak in groundwater for a month and cook in Evian.

    You might soak in Evian for two weeks then re-soak in groundwater for another two weeks; or soak in groundwater for a week followed by a three-week Evian soak.

    You might soak in plastic or in clay or in ceramic.

    You might cook in copper or stainless steel or in glass...

    The variables are many, and the ways you can combine them virtually endless...."

    As with any art medium there are also certain fundamental constants such as the region of origin and genus of the material.

    Cambodia, India (also known as Hindi comprised of several East Indian countries) and Thailand are perhaps the most internationally renowned origins, although agarwood also grows in Bhutan, Myanmar, China, Vietnam, Laos, Malaysia and Indonesia.

    Commercially, broad categories of scent are assigned to the regional variations, India is animalic, Cambodia fruity, and Thai ouds sweet. These general profiles of natural oud are what the flavor and fragrance conglomerates have replicated and basic profile categories are where the differences in commercial ouds end.

    As Ensar has pointed out: "... just like their fruit-bearing counterparts, agarwood trees produce radically different types of resin and therefore smells.

    To the same degree that snake fruit can be said to resemble durian, Indian oud oil ‘resembles’ Cambodian, and Bornean resembles Papuan.

    They are all ‘oud' to the same extent that papayas, dragon fruit, lychee, kiwi and oranges are all fruits; but that is where the similarity ends.

    All further comparisons, whether in chemical make-up, olfactory profile, method of inoculation, peak maturation, fermentability, and optimal extraction techniques hold as much water as similar comparisons would between different fruit-bearing trees.

    The best way to harvest mangosteen bears no relevance to harvesting watermelons and the optimal extraction method for orange juice is of little relevance to mulberries."

    When distilled artisanally, purposefully and in much smaller, higher quality batches, each oil becomes a unique fragrance, fabulously complex with up to 150 aromatic compounds in a single artisanal oud oil. While commercial ouds have to be blended to be of interest, artisanal ouds can be worn neat as a standalone fragrance.

    The composer must orchestrate the genus, variances in terroir, and the length of development of the resin, using the right combination of equipment, temperature and water to elicit replete nuanced profiles, harmonizing all of the variables capturing vast vertical and horizontal complexities giving you a luxury - scent from heaven.

    Artisanal Oud is so much more than a single note, it’s an entire symphony orchestra with as many nuances as there are pitches of frequency.

    And just as a composer harmonizes the sounds of the instruments, the producer harmonizes the distillation variables to elicit the profile he envisioned.
     
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  6. ~A Coburn

    ~A Coburn Well-Known Member

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    Conclusion


    For the 'big fragrance houses', oud is merely a scent category, a buzzword fittingly tied to the oil dollar: the dinar. . .

    Synthetic ouds are now openly mixed into oud oils of long established agarwood distributors in the Arabian gulf, and widely used in most "oud perfumes" including those from the big Arabian distributors.

    Natural oud as an aromatic is little better, with its main purpose to appeal to the developing wellness lifestyle market with its natural label, omitting the hectares of jungle that were felled in the process, and the factory conditions of the plantations.

    As an aromatic the upper echelon of artisanal oud oils exhibit a degree of depth, of vertical intensity, unsurpassed by any single aromatic, and a horizontal complexity, the scent development or evolution that rivals and in many cases surpasses mainstream and designer fragrances.

    Wild Oud is almost nonexistent and most of what remains isn’t found in the market, but deep in the vaults of private collectors and estates. The Oud of legend earned its status through its haunting aroma and intrinsic soul stirring attributes.

    Once only available to Prophets, Emperors, Sultans and Kings, a few traces remain, passing through the hands of passionate and eccentric artisans and into the hands of the equally rare individual who appreciates an art for the details, the brilliance of each stroke, the subtle nuanced hues, and the intensity of saturation.

    When investing in an olfactory work of art; be sure to find a reputable artisan, as with any rare commodity the imposters outnumber the authentic sources.

    If you made it this far and found benefit in these words I'd appreciate you pressing that like button, and sharing with a friend who could benefit by sending them the link directly, or recommending it on Facebook with that little button at the bottom left of the page ;)

    With appreciation,
     
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  7. ~A Coburn

    ~A Coburn Well-Known Member

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  8. timoudthy

    timoudthy Active Member

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    Thanks for your well written (and well spoken) video! These great truths are important for all to know. Thank you for finding the time to produce such artistic yet educational content.
     
  9. JohnH

    JohnH Moderator Staff Member

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    Thanks Adam, that's a great video and I think Morgan Freeman may have some competition, what a voice you have!
     
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  10. Ensar Oud

    Ensar Oud Well-Known Member

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    I was thinking the same thing while listening. Beats David Attenborough! :p
     
  11. Smelly Vision

    Smelly Vision Moderator Staff Member

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    An amazing write up Adam MashaAllah. Everyone new to Real Oud has to read this, and even those getting suckered by the big niche fragrance brands need to read it also

    thank you for taking the time to write it
     
  12. Smelly Vision

    Smelly Vision Moderator Staff Member

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    Would be good to see this on YouTube so it could be shared within the Ensar fan page?
     
  13. ~A Coburn

    ~A Coburn Well-Known Member

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    You're welcome to share it with them, should be able to grab the link from YouTube
     
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