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What Is Oud and Why Is It So Expensive?

A journey into the heart of perfumery's most prized ingredient.

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Oud
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‘Oud’ is a term you’ve likely seen floating around in the fragrance universe. Often shrouded in mystery, oud is more than just a buzzword. It’s an olfactory story, rich in history and depth. Ahead, I’ll demystify this enigmatic scent and journey into the heart of perfumery’s most prized ingredient.

What is Oud?

Oud, also known as agarwood, is a truly special – and expensive – fragrance ingredient, explains Simone de Vlaming, founder and owner of Beautymone.com. “It is derived from the agar tree, a very rare wood type. It has a rich, warm, woody, and musky scent often described as luxurious, mysterious, intense, and sensual.”

It’s so coveted, she says, because it has such a unique, warm scent that adds depth to any fragrance. “Oud is a long-lasting ingredient that increases longevity when worn – a pro if you’re looking for an all-day-lasting fragrance.”

The Making of Oud Fragrances

How is oud sourced?  Oud is a rare and precious resin found within the Aquilaria tree. This fragrant resin forms as a response to a fungal infection in the tree, a beautiful example of nature turning adversity into allure. Originating from Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and South Asia, oud has been a significant part of various cultural traditions for centuries.

Laura Pucker, founder of Pucker Up Beauty explains the process: “When the tree becomes infected with a certain type of mold, it produces this aromatic resin deep within its wood as a defensive response. The resin has a sweet, woody aroma profile with leather, tabac, and even fecal nuances to it, which make it incredibly compelling, albeit polarizing, in perfumes.”

Its rarity and production process contribute to oud’s mystique and status as “liquid gold” in the fragrance industry, adds Pucker. “The demand for the ingredient far outpaces the dwindling supply of infected Aquilaria trees, making natural oud one of the most expensive raw materials on the planet.”

The Scent Profile

Describing the scent of oud can be as complex as the fragrance itself. It’s a symphony of deep, rich, and warm notes, often with a smoky, woody base. Each oud fragrance can vary significantly, offering a spectrum from sweet and soft to dark and intense. The allure of oud lies in its complexity and its ability to evolve on the skin, revealing different facets over time.

Perfumer Kalliope Amorphous of Amorphous Perfume describes oud as having a has a deep, dark leathery smoky aroma with hints of saffron and earth. “It smells ancient and is beautifully meditative. It blends beautifully with almost every other olfactive family but is especially beautiful when blended with florals.”

Why Oud?

Oud’s popularity in modern perfumery is a testament to its timeless appeal. Its versatility makes it a favorite among perfumers, allowing for an array of interpretations. Oud adds depth and sophistication, creating fragrances that are not just scents but stories – each whiff narrating a different tale.

Why Is Oud Expensive?

Oud has existed for centuries and while it is used in perfumery, it’s also used in many spiritual practices such as the burning of oud incense for meditation, says Amorphous. “It’s also one of the most expensive natural raw materials in the world. It’s expensive (it’s actually more expensive than gold) not only because it has such a unique beautiful aroma, but because it’s rare. It’s considered endangered and its occurrence is extremely rare.”

If you love oud, it’s important to keep in mind the supply isn’t endless. “For luxury perfume connoisseurs, oud is coveted as a mark of quality, exclusivity, and sophistication,” explains Pucker. “Though it has undoubtedly stood the test of time, the production most likely isn’t sustainable because of the dwindling supply.”

Choosing the Right Oud Fragrance

When selecting an oud fragrance, consider your personal scent preferences. Are you drawn to lighter, floral notes or do you prefer something more intense and earthy? Oud can play well with various notes, creating a diverse range of fragrances suitable for different tastes.

Caring for Your Oud Fragrance

To fully appreciate an oud fragrance, store it properly. Keep it away from direct sunlight and fluctuating temperatures. Remember, a little goes a long way, so apply sparingly and let the fragrance develop on your skin.

Oud Fragrances to Explore
 

Maison Francis Kurkdjian Oud Silk Mood ($310) – A blend of Bulgarian rose, chamomile, and oud.

Oud
Photo Francis Kurkdjian

Tom Ford Oud Wood ($295) – A smoky blend of oud, sandalwood, and vetiver.

Photo Tom Ford

Jo Malone London Velvet Rose & Oud Cologne Intense ($160) A floral oud blended with clove and Damask Rose.

Photo Jo Malone

DEMETER Oud  ($35) – An isolated and refined Oud, made into a wearable, single note scent.

Photo DEMETER

Yves Saint Laurent M7 Oud Absolu ($106)  – A modern interpretation with mandarin, patchouli, and oud.

Photo Yves Saint Laurent

Creed Royal Oud – A sophisticated mix of lemon, pink berry, and oud.

Photo Creed