Agarwood (also known as Oud or Aloeswood) is one of the highest valued aromatics in the incense and perfumery world. Known by incense connoisseurs for it's distinctive woody, sweet and resinous scent, evoking an ambience of mystery and serenity. The wonders of agarwood have been noted for thousands of years, particularly used in the form of incense in religious and spiritual settings.
In many parts of Asia, agarwood incense sticks are used in many monasteries and temples to set a mood for meditation and contemplation. The mysterious scent calms the mind and there are several studies that show that burning agarwood does have effects on calming the nervous system.
Agarwood is not only famous for it's divine scent, but also for it's hefty price tag! Incense buyers that browse out temple-grade Japanese incenses will find that the most expensive blends include higher quantities (and quality) of agarwood.
Let's take a deeper look at how agarwood is produced and find out why incense made with agarwood is higher in price...
How is Agarwood Made?
Agarwood is made using Aquilaria trees that have been infected with a specific fungus called Phialophora parasitica. The infected trees release a fragrant resin called ‘aloes’ in defence against the fungal infection. Over the course of a few years, this fragrant resin gradually permeates into the wood to create sweet, resinous agarwood.
Experienced woodsman are able to tell which trees contain agarwood by looking to see if ants have bored into the wood.These ants produce a fluid that damages the tree and in turn the tree uses sap to cover the wounds which eventually becomes aloeswood. Separating agarwood from the healthy wood around it can take hours. The resin-infused wood chips are known as Oud and can be used to produce Oud essential oil.
Why is Natural Agarwood So Expensive?
Firstly, agarwood is prized for it's incredible scent and calming properties. Within the connoisseur incense and perfumery world, good quality agarwood is in high demand. However, due to poaching and unsustainable production, all types of Aquilaria trees are currently critically endangered. Within the remaining population of Aquiliaria trees, the frequency of natural fungal infection is very low.
As a result, the production of agarwood via natural fungal infection is a difficult task and first-grade naturally produced agarwood can cost as much as £100,00 per kilogram! The misbalance between demand and supply is what makes agarwood so expensive.
In order to drive down prices, many incense manufacturers use artificially infected Aquiliaria trees in order to produce the agarwood needed for high-grade incenses. The quality of artificial agarwood doesn't really differ from it’s natural alternative, though the prices for natural agarwood are much higher due to its rarity and sentimental value.
Within the world of Japanese incense, brands such as Shoyeido, Nippon Kodo, Les Encens du Monde and Baieido produce affordable agarwood incense blends alongside their high-end ranges. The price point often reflects the quantity and quality of agarwood used (with kyara being the most valuable). Here are a few agarwood incense sticks we’d recommend from Lotus Zen: