Brief Introduction to Oud
Oud also known as Oudh in the Middle East, Agarwood oil in the west, Gaharu in Indonesia and Malaysia & Agar in India and Bangladesh. Eucalyptus Oil is an extremely popular perfume oil amongst the elite of Eastern countries. The Oud resin naturally forms in very few Aquilaria trees after they have been infected by a parasite fungus. There are new ways to cultivate the Oud resin in trees grown in plantations but they are less favourable to consumers than the natural Oud. There is huge demand for Oud especially in the Middle East, with growing demand in the west, a large number of western perfume houses have started using Oud as a base for their perfume lines such as Montale, Kilian and many others.
There are two common ways that the Oud is extracted, the oldest method being water distillation and the modern method is steam distillation.
In water distillation also known as hydro-distillation, the Oud wood that have been chopped into fine pieces is immersed in water for about five days, sometimes longer depending on the grade of wood, the wet wood chips are then placed in big burners know as ‘stills’ or ‘degs’ in Hindi (Indian language), from which a pipe comes out, carrying the Oud oil and some water, the Oil is then separated.
The art of water distillation is great and cannot be done by everyone, the temperature and pressure has to be constantly maintained to a certain degree and level. The Oud oil to come out first within three days is the highest grade oil and will be extremely black in colour, the oil to come out after this for up to ten days is lesser grade oil and is much lighter in colour and cheaper to purchase. This method was invented and perfected in India many centuries ago and still continues to this day in the Assam province of India and also in Bangladesh.
A little note here about Oud chips, the highest grade Oud wood or the wood that contains the most resin isn’t distilled and is sold as Oud chips, the lower grade Oud chips are used to make the Oud perfume oil. The Oud chips are burned by consumers in specially made burners.
Steam distillation is used to extract the Oud oil from Oud chips by heating it up to boiling and then collecting the vapors containing the oil by passing them through a cooling system and condensing them into another container, the condensed vapors are then separated into water and Oud. The temperature needs to be controlled so as not to burn the oil or the wood, just enough to release the oil.
In steam distillation the oil produced is lighter in colour and less viscous usually with a tinge of red. This perfume oil is preferred by some but Middle Eastern and Asian consumers prefer their Oud to be thick and black which is only produced through water distillation.