All about the Oud(h) note. What does it smell like?
by Alex Copeland on Aug 21, 2019
Self-indulgent, intoxicating and potent.
Tipping the scales at nearly $5,000 a pound, Oud is one of the most expensive and most desired perfume ingredients in the world. Also known as oudh, aoud, or 'Liquid Gold' with it's heavy, rich and almost animalistic smell that combines wood, incense, and ambergis, it is a synonym for East where it comes from.
Oud is the channel, that bridge between the eastern and western perfume industry that are seemingly polar opposites. That can explain its popularity in the West lately. “Oud is astonishingly rare,” says Chandler Burr, the former New York Times perfume critic and author of The Emperor of Scent. “It has a very particular scent and there is nothing like it on the market. It’s dark, rich and opaque.” Rooted in the culture of the East, oud has been used for ages, through ancient times and yesteryear civilizations as an aphrodisiac.
It is said to have a magical way of attracting new loves and pushing away evil forces and its potency is mentioned in Indian vedas.
So what exactly is oud? It's a resin that comes from the heart of the tropical wood of Southeast Asian Agar tree. Unfortunately, this species of tree is threatened on several fronts– population growth and loss of habitat from illegal logging. Strangely enough, the treasured part of the tree is actually diseased; the heartwood is attacked by a fungus that permeates the resin with its characteristic odor, which is dark and somber, somehow both smoky and therapeutic and very powerful. The infected parts of the wood are much darker than the healthy areas, creating a dramatic streaking look once the wood is cut into pieces.
The use of oud extend back to ancient Egypt, where oud was applied to the dead to embalm bodies during the mummification process. Historically the trees have been found over a wide swath of Asia from Mesopotamia to the Far East, but their haven has since become scattered. In an effort to spare the wild trees, they are being grown in plantations and injected with the fungal organism specifically for cultivating the disease and creating the precious resin.
The therapeutic odor of oud resin might yield a clue as to its other uses...and sure enough it is a stalwart of Ayurvedic medicine. Being used as a treatment for a number of illnesses including cardiac problems, arthritis and digestive disorders. It is considered to be an anti-inflammatory and rejuvenating tonic, as well as a topical treatment for skin ulcers and even leprosy. Lord Dhanvantari, the traditional spiritual figure who is thought to give the gift of Ayurveda to its first practitioner, holds in one of his four hands a vessel containing “immortal, celestial ambrosia” – and who is to say that it was not an oud elixir?
In the perfume industry, oud is used in oriental bases as well as woodsy and fougère compositions. (Fougère perfumes are made with a blend of fragrances: top-notes are sweet, with the scent of lavender flowers; as the more volatile components evaporate, the scents of oakmoss, derived from a species of lichen and described as woodys, sharp and slightly sweet, similar to the scent of new-mown hay, become noticeable.)
Oud goes well with vetiver, sandalwood, rose, lavender, geranium and carnation and sometimes with citruses like bergamot.
Perfumes with oud, have are very strong and long lasting component, placing oud in the spotlight while other notes, floral, citrus and balsamic are just backup singers. It can be intimidating to wear oud perfumes for the first time, as they are certainly not for everyone. Oud is a precious ingredient, one of the most expensive natural essential oils in perfumery today and the fragrances that contain it are in the same way pricey.
Be warned however, that once you fall in love with the aroma of oud, there is no going back; you are hooked for life.