We would like to introduce to you a brief description of each of the most common Agarwood varieties to be found in the world.
Just as oud oils from different regions have unmistakably unique scent profiles, so too do oud wood chips from different regions when they are burned. Each region in the oud-producing world offers something unique, and not only does the scent differ, but so do other properties of the smoke they produce.
We will look at ouds from some common regions, and briefly comment on their scents and other properties.
Indian oud has been famous for centuries for its scent and was most probably the first agarwood to be popular outside its country of origin. Today, almost all Indian agarwood chips available in the market are from cultivated trees, and in most cases wood chips from other regions are deliberately labeled ‘Indian oud’ in an attempt to attract customers.
When burned atop a hot coal, the first wisps have a creamy sweetness, but the scent becomes richer, spicier and woodier as the smoke starts to be produced in earnest. The scent lingers for a long time. Good Indian oud is ideal for scenting oneself and clothes, as well as the house. It is also very calming and grounding.
Next in line after Indian Oud, Cambodian agarwood is highly sought after, for its hypnotic and tranquilizing aroma. It is ideal for scenting oneself and for those times when you just want to relax.
Like Indian oud, almost all Cambodian wood to be found today has been harvested from cultivated trees, since over-harvestation has almost completely depleted the jungles of old wild trees with naturally-produced resin. Thai oud is also commonly sold as ‘Cambodian’ oud.
The first wisps of smoke are intensely sweet, narcotic, cinammony, with some nutmeg,and a healthy dose of berries and figs. As the chip continues to burn, the scent becomes more woody and earthy.
Vietnamese agarwood can be divided into many subgroups, each with its own unique scent profile. The primary ones are sweet, peppery, and bitter. Vietnam is also home to Kinam, which is a very rare type of agarwood with its own unique scent and chemical composition. Kyara, which is the most resinuous form of agarwood and the most prized, has also traditionally been sourced from Vietnam as well.
Vietnamese oud is the most versatile of all ouds, and can be used for meditating, relaxing, scenting oneself and clothes, and is possibly the most suitable oud for fumigation as well since the scent left behind after the smoke dissipates is devoid of off-notes which might be found when using wood from other countries.
Burmese and Laotian Oud
Burmese and Laotian agarwood chips produce a very pleasant and satisfying smoke. There are primarily two different kinds of oud to be found here: those that resemble Indian oud and those that resemble sweet Cambodian and Vietnamese ouds.
It is extremely difficult to obtain good Laotian wood, and trees in the wild hardly exist now.
Burma still has good quality wood, in some ways similar to what could be found in India about a century ago. In Eastern Burma, good agarwood similar to Vietnamese varieties can be found.
Malaysia and Thailand
Peninsular Malaysia and Thailand produce some agarwood similar to that found in Cambodia, but most of the agarwood from these two countries have a heady aroma with sweet undertones and earthy overtones.
Thailand has many oud plantations with trees that are artificually inoculated with the fungi that are responsible for producing the fragrant resin, and some of the chips acquired from these trees produce a pleasant enough smoke that is suitable for scenting oneself and clothes. However, the lingering scent can be funky and offputing, with sour overtones.
Malaysian agarwood produces a deep woody and satisfying smoke. There is usually a very bold contrast between the vibrant top and deep base notes.
Malaysia has a very large population of wild mature agarwood trees, however much of the wood chips and oils that make it to the oud market is from wild trees that have been artificially inoculated.
Borneo Island (Indonesia)
Indonesia arguably has the highest quality, oldest, and most resinuous agarwood trees to be found anywhere in the world today, although the numbers are dwindling at an astonishing rate due to greed and over-harvestation. Without a doubt, the island of Borneo is the most prized region for oud in Indonesia. When placed on a hot coal, Borneo oud chips produce the densest smoke and the longest burn.
The first wisps deliver the scent of damp earth and subtly-sweet herbs. Soon a crisp woodiness and spiciness take over, that last the entire life of the burn. Subtle hints of palm sugar and mild fruitiness tease the nostrils and give the scent a syrupy depth.
Of all the Indonesian islands, agarwood from Borneo island is the only one suitable for fumigating the house. The scent that lingers after the smokiness goes away has a clean, sweet woody smell. It is also excellent for scenting one’s clothes, because the scent is very rich, spicy and woody.
Sadly, despite the abundance of high quality Borneo agarwood, much of what is sold is adulterated with oils, paints, waxes, lead and sand.
Papua Island (Indonesia)
Papua island has even more wild, naturally-resinated agarwood trees than Borneo island. However, although the oil extracted from Papuan wood is very appealing, the smoke produced from burning Papuan wood is not too suitable for fumigation, although it is still suitable for scenting clothes.
The smoke produced is grassy and herbal, with a deep woody base. In Arab countries, it is often used in wedding ceremonies and other large-scale events.
Cheating is very rare.
Sumatra Island (Indonesia)
Sumatra is also home to an abundance of old wild agarwood trees, however there are bandits roaming the forests who will not think twice before taking a human life, so procuring good wood can be difficult.
Sumatran agarwood produces smoke that is sweet, salty and slightly bitter, It is quite popular in Southern Arab countries. Some might find its smoke strange due to the saltiness. However it is very good for scenting clothes, as the scent that sticks after the smokiness dissipates has a very satisfying oudiness.