Oud has a long history as a traditional scent ingredient, particularly in the Middle East. It is also one of the world’s most expensive fragrance ingredients. For this reason, it’s often called black gold, since a kilo of gold and a kilo of oud can often fetch similar prices.

The historical allure of oud means that it has been very fashionable for a very long time. In this article, you’ll find out how the use of oud has changed over the centuries and bring you bang up to date with the most modern ways to wear or use this iconic fragrance ingredient.  

What is oud?

Oud is a mysterious and intriguing ingredient that lends an intense and unusual scent to any fragrance it is used in. It really is like no other ingredient. 

Perfumers might describe oud as herbal, woody, earthy, warm, leathery, smokey or sometimes even animalic. Rarely do their descriptions match as this is a scent so special and individual, it is difficult to find comparisons. It also varies slightly according to its exact origins. 

Very few descriptions of oud will give you a clue about what it actually is. Oud is created in very particular conditions. It occurs when a particular wood fungus begins to grow in the aquilaria tree. The reaction between the wood and the fungus creates a dark resin called agarwood that can be found embedded in the tree. Oud is the fragrant oil that can be extracted from this resin. 

What are the origins of the use of oud? 

Oud typically comes from Thailand, Laos, Burma, Vietnam and India. These countries can provide the right growing conditions for both the aquilaria tree and the fungus, Phialophora parasitica, that are needed to create oud.  

The use of oud, however, is more widespread than these five Asian nations. Several countries make claims on the first uses of oud. Chinese records from the 3rd century depict oud being used in both China and Vietnam at the time. Oud is also mentioned in the Sanskrit Vedas from India and the Hebrew Bible. It has been used for many centuries in Japan as part of Buddhist ceremonies, too.

Across many cultures and times, poetry, religious books and pharmacopeia highlight the importance of oud as a medicinal, therapeutic and fragrant ingredient They document a wide range of classical uses, particularly fragrancing the home or place of worship. 

In Islam, the Prophet Muhammed described oud as being something found in paradise. It is believed that he was the first to use oud perfumes as a way to fragrance the skin or clothing, and it is his example that is still followed by many Muslims today. 

Oud as a modern fragrance ingredient

Despite its long history, oud is still setting trends in today’s world. 

In women’s perfumery

Traditionally, oud has been more associated with men’s fragrances than women’s. That’s all changing, however. Oud women’s perfumes today are increasingly popular, as are unisex fragrances.

Women are choosing to wear oud-based scents lifted by fresher, lighter ingredients like saffron, jasmine, lemon, or mandarin. Sweeter additions like vanilla are also in demand. 

By mixing oud with fresher, sweeter top notes, the rich depth of oud is not lost. The results are a more contemporary spin on a centuries-old classic.  

In modern European perfumery

In the Western world, oud is considered to be a mysterious and alluring ingredient. Fragrances that include oud are often marketed in Western countries as being very exotic, opulent and luxurious. 

European perfumers in Paris and London are creating more oud-based perfumes than they did a few decades ago. It’s a versatile ingredient that works well with more traditional Western ingredients like rose and geranium. Wearers enjoy the confident, bold aroma it exudes. 

In the Arab world

Meanwhile, in the Arabian regions where oud is a long-established fragrance ingredient, perfume wearers are looking for innovative ways to wear it. Men and women are looking for fresher and lighter ways to wear oud, especially for every day. Perfume houses are responding to this trend with a greater selection of unisex scents.  

Adding a hint of fresh florals like lily or the delicate lift of bergamot to oud gives the final fragrance a vibrancy without losing any of oud’s signature opulence

As part of a more sustainable planet

The unique conditions needed to harvest oud mean that supplies are naturally limited. Today’s harvesters are taking steps to protect the forests in which it is found with the aim of preserving a steady supply and maintaining the natural environment. Reforestation projects are also being set up to cope with the growing demand and replenish resources. 

That said, the current interest in oud means that prices remain high for this ‘black gold’. Oud is very much a part of modern perfumery and it is still seen as an opulent, powerful scent. Its use enriches the fragrance landscape all over the world, empowering its wearers through its elegant, individual and alluring olfactory properties.



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