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Ensar Oud - First Impressions

The World of Oud and Sandalwood Oils

Part of the art of selling single ingredients commodities such as tea lies in the ability of labeling and dating them appropriately with a memorable name. Dealing with oud is no different, with each specimen having a limited supply and very high demand.

Ensar Oud has done an outstanding job in not only sourcing a wide variety of pure oud oils (for wearing neat on the skin, I thought you might ask) and wood (for burning) - but also giving them imaginary names.

Ensar Oud does that with enticing names that make it a lot more memorable than just dates and numbers (although these do have their place and value in recognizing and comparing various aromatic specimens).

Jing Shen Lu
Khao Ra Kam, 2014 
Straight from the vial: Notes of spikenard, a tad minty-cool, alongside pungent notes of paint, tar and carbolineum. Reminiscent of antique patchouli as well.
On the skin: Elegant, clean, cool yet also spicy. Vetiver, berry and grass notes - reminiscent of nagramotha and davana mixed together. Tobacco-like with hints of helicrysum also.
Dryout: Woody, sweet yet clean.

China Sayang
China, 2005
Straight from the vial: Musty, old furniture, yet also mellow. Another time it smelled intense animal odours to me - like being surrounded by goats and camels, or sitting in a tent made of goat's hair and sheep's wool, dusty old cow cakes, and visiting caves where the above animals slept in.
On the skin: Grows warmer and sweeter on the skin.
Dryout: Dusty, with the animalic barnyard remnants persist. I happen to be very fond of goats, but find that wearing this on its own is a bit too realistic. I would be curious to blend it in a perfume where it would add a surprising element but only hint to the animals, without smelling so literal.

Oud Haroon
Siam, 2015
Straight from the vial: Funky, animals, valerian, hint of mint, mushroomy (like sour Cepes absolute), Marmite undertones. All in all quite yeasty.
On the skin: Strong yet somehow dull and flat.
Dryout: Becomes cooler woodier as it dries on the skin. Elegant finish to a rather funky beginnings.

Oud Yusuf
Trat, 2012
Straight from the vial: Although it begins with a blow of gasoline fumes notes that brings to mind the rather harsh opening of nagramotha (AKA Cypriol, a type of papyrus with a scent that closely resembles vetiver) - this is the mellowest of the four. Berry-like and smooth-wood body, with dusty clay and dried figs undertones.
On the skin: Clean woody. Hints of roasted nuts and coffee. A tad floral, perhaps even rosy. With herbaceous-grassy undertones, reminiscent of chamomile and blonde tobacco.
Dryout: Warm-woody, a little like vetiver.

After sampling oud oils and woods in various circumstances, I came to the realization that this is one of the most curious, sneaky and fascinating raw materials. It makes a huge difference when, how and where you experience the scents (as burned or warmed wood chips; oils on your skin or on paper or in the vial, etc.). Also, the order in which they are smelled makes a huge impact on their perception. If I were to smell these four ouds in a completely different order, they would smell quite different. I would recommend actually not smelling them side by side but immersing yourself completely in one at a time (which I would do later for each one of the oud oils I have in my collection).

If you decide to warm the oud chips as incense, using the Japanese koh-doh method, try different sequences of the ouds you have. Take lots of notes, not for others to read, but for yourself. It helps a great deal to refine the sense of smell and one's perception, and to pay more attention to the many nuances in these rich and complex treasures. Also this will help you to memorize the very confusing array of ouds available - which may seem useless for a layperson, but if you want to share these treasures with friends and host a little incense party - it will be very helpful to know what you're burning and in which order to place them. It will greatly affect the experience. For example: if a scent is very strong its best to place it last after the more subtle specimens. Also, memorization of what you have will help you enjoy more and be able to better appreciate other ouds that you stumble upon in other places.


Oud Truffles



Yes, you heard it right:
Oud truffles.
As in chocolate, with oud in it, to eat and enjoy.

This is very unconventional flavour. It creates more of an aroma that enhances the chocolate.

The occasion is my book signing event: I was thinking - what would be reminiscent of old libraries, leather-bound books, something mysterious, alluring and totally out there? First I was thinking ambergris (which I've already created before for my Orcas perfume launch - with amazing result). I had a sniffing session of oud the other day with my student (who's originally from Kuwait - she's in fact, the daughter of an Arabian perfumer and oud merchant). As a result, oud was on my mind... I had a hunch that oud would create a similar effect to that of ambergris - bring the best out of the chocolate. I was right.

I've used an incredibly animalic, rich, and slightly berry-like oud (the same one that I use in my Razala perfume). The result was everything I hoped and non of the bitterness I feared that would result from adding wood oil to the already-bitter 72% dark cocoa. It blossomed into this spectacular, slightly flowery chocolate. Rich in aroma, intriguing, intense, but also very refined and not in the least overpowering. I'm going to pair it with a nice big red, spicy wine like Zinfandel or Shiraz tonight!
Please join me!

Song of Songs + Giveaway


Book of Love, originally uploaded by Thorne Enterprises.

The book of Canticles (aka Song of Solomon or Song of Songs) is traditionally read on the morning of the Sabbath during Passover. Hence, my perfume bearing that name is particularly appropriate for this time of year and I thought it would be a great start for talking about how to use oud in perfumery, revealing the different facets of its complex beauty.

I created Song of Songs perfume using the ancient perfumes mentioned in this book, including agarwood, spikenard root, oils of myrrh and frankincense oils, and labdanum absolute, which together form a resinous and woody base; a bouquet of roses (from Morocco, Turkey and Bulgaria) for the heart, and saffron absolute at the top, which makes it very exotic and unusual. At some point I had some hyacinth absolute in my organ, which I used for the heart as well, but this is long gone. The hyacinths stand for the lilies mentioned in the poem, and which according to my research were what the Song of Songs refers to as "Lily of the Valley" (convillarias do not grow in Israel or anywhere in the Middle East). Hyacinth absolute is very sweet (almost candy sweet) and with some green-herbaceous aspect. But like I said - it rarely turns out in the market. I also had an idea of having cedar in it at certain point in the design process, but that was more of a story-telling idea, rather than perfumed idea (the book mentions cedar of Lebanon, which was used to build the temple of Solomon; however I don't know that cedar was necessarily a biblical perfume material so I abandoned that idea early on).

Song of Songs is honeyed, resinous and exotic and has a very profound impact on my mind when I wear it. It makes me feel connected to the ancient civilizations where my ancestors came from. There. the Orient and the Occident unite through veins of caravans transporting spices, medicine and wisdom. Like the poem it was inspired by, the perfume sits comfortably between the sacred and the profane (despite the fact that the poetry in the book of Canticles is very erotic and more than just suggestive, it is considered by the Jews to be the holiest one in the bible).

Although I created it before knowing anything about Arabian perfumery or smelling any Arabian or Indian attars (Song of Songs was created in 2002, just about a year after I started my journey in the art of perfumery) - it is a very "Middle Eastern" perfume, similar in some ways to the Arabian attars I smelled at the perfume bazzar at the souk years later, but far more pure and intense with its true attar of rose, spikenard and agarwood and all the rest. The spikenard really brings out the mustiness and earthy animalic aspect of agarwood, and the saffron brings it up another notch with its almost leathery dryness. Along with the ambery labdanum and the precious woodsy notes of olibanum and myrrh, these elements really make the roses sing and stand out during the heart phase. It becomes woodier and dryer as it dries on the skin.

Interestingly, Song of Songs is really popular with my local clientele - those who pick it by smelling it rather than reading the history and notes on the website. But those who do pick it from the virtual boutique end up being long time devotees. I can see why: there is something really soothing about it. I worn it yesterday and I will be wearing it for the rest of the Passover week.

Comment on this post and get entered into a draw to win a preview-vial (15ml) of Song of Songs anointing body oil, with nourishing and fast-absorbing oils of jojoba, coconut, avocado and vitamin E.

Decoding Obscure Notes Part IX-B: Religious Uses and Cultural Significance of Agarwood

The top consumers globally for agarwood products are the United Arab Emirates, Saudia Arabia, Japan and Taiwan. Singapore and Hong-Kong are the largest re-exporters of agarwood from its countries of origin (i.e.: Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, etc.).

Agarwood uses are mainly in incense, for both religious and cultural purposes; and to a lesser extent (because of its dear cost) in medicine and perfumery. The list of commercial perfumes using agarwood is rather short, because agarwood is very expensive and cannot be replicated very well with synthetics. Besides, the scent of agarwood is an acquired taste that has only recently become more trendy in the Western world.

Religious and Cultural Significance
Agarwood is used in religious rituals and ceremonies of Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam. Agarwood culture have reached its height in popularity and sophistication in both Arabia and Japan – even though it is not native to either of these regions, and in both cultures it has become significant for both religious purposes and for pleasure, thus becoming a rich component of these two cultures. Because of its enormously high price, only select few people can enjoy agarwood, and even fewer can enjoy the highest grades of agarwood.
Agarwood is mentioned in the bible only in later books of Psalms and Canticles. Although both books are very holy to the Jews, the context in which agarwood is mentnioned in both books seems to be for lucury and personal use, rather than religious purposes (it is not mentioned in the holy incense or anointing oils of the tabernacle).

References and sources for entire agarwood series:
CITES: The Use and Trade of Agarwood in Japan
CITES: Agarwood Use and Trade & CITES Implementation for A. Malaccensis
The Cropwatch Files 1
The Cropwatch Files 2
Wikipedia
Royal Oudh
Balashon
Bo Jensen

Decoding Obscure Notes Part IX-C: Oud in Arabia & Perfumery


Agarwood has made its way from Southern Asia to Arabia by way of the spice caravans, and is known as “oud” in the region, which is also the name for wood, and for an Arabic musical instrument resembling the lute. The nomadic cultures of the Arabs and Bedouins have grown fond of oud’s fine and intense aroma and use it for both religious purposes and for pleasure. Oud has become an inseparable part from Arabic culture.

Oud chips and incense are burnt in an incense burner called mabakhir during the holy month of Ramadan, after breaking the daily fasting with a meal and showering, and before the evening prayers at the mosque. It is also incorporated into the Hadj ceremonies and is burnt during Eid.

Burning oud is considered a great honour, and is part of the customs of guest welcoming (when the host can afford it!). Hospitality is a custom that is held in much regard, and is considered a virtue in Arabia and in the Middle East. The hosts share their best commodities with their guests, no matter how rich or poor they are. What began out of necessity for survival in the desert by offering clean water and a feast to break the wonderer’s hunger has evolved into entertaining with more precious commodities such as coffee, sweets and burning the finest and most precious incense the host possesses.

Oud is also used to scent clothing by saturating the garments in agarwood smoke, a custom that interestingly enough is common to both Arabia and Japan.

Grading: Agarwood manufacturers classify agarwood into four distinct grades:
Grade 1 Black/True Agar: mainly exported to Arabia as incense Grade 2 Bantang: mainly exported to Arabia as incense Grade 3 Bhuta or Phuta: sometimes extracted for a superior oil Grade 4 Dhum: used for oil (Source: Cropwatch)

Perfumery:
The Arabs are particularly fond of oud oil, dehn al-oud, which they use as a personal fragrance. Because alcohol is forbidden in Islam, Arabian perfumes are traditionally either essential oils that are worn neat on the skin, or based in an oil carrier.
Agarwood is the most expensive natural essence known in perfumery, and therefore mostly been used by the royalty or nobelty, or wealthy merchants. Agarwood is more often than never used as a single note from a specific country and grade. And less often it is blended with other notes such as rose, sandalwood, musk, ambergris, etc. And as mentioned in the 1st part of the series, it is not uncommon for the oil to be adulterated with lodh oil and several synthetics.

Oud is also used in a lesser extent in Indian perfumery. I have with me a sample of “musk oud attar”, which is a very dark, musky, animalic oud distilled with other secret plant materials into sandalwood oil. It has great tenacity and longevity.

Agarwood is an unusual woody note that is rarely used in perfumery, because of it prohibitive cost. There is an increased interest in agarwood in the past decade, perhaps triggered by the release of M7 by YSL in 2002, which was the first Western commercial perfume to use agarwood as a distinct note. Until than, agarwood oil was mostly used by Arabian perfume companies (i.e.: Ajmal, Arabian Oud, Madini, Rasasi) and the odd niche perfume house (i.e.: Montale’s oud line).

Agarwood is used in luxurious Oriental and woody compositions. It creates a sensual, resinous-animalic or clean-woody warmth and blends well with resins, balsams, spices and precious florals to make outstanding perfumes. A little touch of agarwood can turn an otherwise simple and ordinary scent into a magical phenomenon.

Examples for contemporary perfumes with agarwood:
M7

Oud Abu Dabi

Oud Wood

Arabian Aud (Ayala Moriel) - one of a kind

Click here for more perfumes I've created containing agarwood.

P.s. We will come back later with more insights on oud in perfumery.
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