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Agarwood or oud - the precious gift of Southeast Asia

Agarwood, also known as oud or agar, is a highly prized and valuable resinous wood native to Southeast Asia.

Derived from the Aquilaria tree, agarwood is renowned for its rich, woody aroma, which is utilized in the production of perfumes, incense, and traditional medicines.

Agarwood is formed when the Aquilaria tree is infected with a specific type of fungus. This infection triggers the tree's defense response, leading it to produce a resinous substance that protects it from further harm. Over time, this resin creates the dark, fragrant, and dense wood known as agarwood. The production process is lengthy and complex, making agarwood even more valuable due to its limited supply.

Due to the rarity of the wood, agarwood is considered one of the most expensive and luxurious woods in the world. It is often sold in the form of chips or oil, and its price can range from hundreds to thousands of dollars per kilogram.

For centuries, agarwood has been utilized in traditional medicine for its various healing properties. Believed to possess anti-inflammatory, analgesic, and sedative effects, it has been used to treat ailments such as headaches, rheumatism, and asthma. Agarwood is also highly valued in the perfume industry for its unique and complex fragrance, often used as a base note in high-end perfumes. Additionally, agarwood has significant cultural and religious importance in many parts of the world.

Oud's high cost is due to its scarcity, with less than 2% of wild agar trees producing it. Natural oud formation is rare, as only one in ten trees typically shows signs of agarwood production.

India's Assam was once home to a large population of wild agarwood trees, but excessive logging has depleted the natural supply. Harvesting agarwood is now banned in India, which now imports it.

Some countries has ban on harvesting agarwood, and some has export restriction. Commercial plantations have been established, but wild tree populations continue to decline. Oud is challenging for perfumers to work with, as its scent has changed over time due to deforestation.

With wild harvesting banned in countries like Thailand, plantation-grown agarwood has become more prevalent. Aquilaria trees are artificially induced to produce resin through chemical injections. Plantation agarwood is typically harvested after five to ten years, though the highest-quality oud may take up to a century to be ready for harvest.

Plantation chips are often considered lower quality due to the shorter growing period and lower resin concentration.

Agarwood oil extraction methods include hydro distillation, steam distillation, and supercritical CO2 extraction. Older trees have higher resin content, and the first distillation yields the best quality oil. Natural agarwood is highly valuable due to its high oil content and distinct sinking property in water. Cultivated agarwood also has value, though its scent is not as long-lasting or bold as natural agarwood.

Distinguishing real agarwood from fake involves examining the appearance, scent, and submerging the wood in hot water. If the water changes color, the wood is fake. Agarwood is graded based on oil and resin content, with higher grades having a darker color and more resinous trails within the wood.

Oud scents vary depending on the region, ranging from earthy and woody to sweet and spicy. Indian oud is comforting and uplifting, with a rich and spicy earthy scent. Indonesian oud has a damp earth, grass, and sweet herb scent, while Sri Lankan oud is more settled and smooth, rather herbaceous and sweet, than animalistic or raw. Cambodian oud is leathery, animalic, and smokey, while Laotian oud is rich, deep, and complex. Thai oud has an earthy, woody, and slightly sweet scent, while Vietnamese oud is sweet, floral, and woody.

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