Take your first whiff of oud, and you’re probably not going to be very impressed. The disdain deepens when you learn that this is a tree fungus. But the incredulity takes hold when we tell you that this mysterious-smelling (and even nasty-smelling to some!) tree-fungus fragrance is pricier than gold!
What is oud? What makes it so special, so expensive, and much sought after in the perfume world? Here’s everything you need to know about the topic, plus the top three oud perfumes that have us intoxicated!
Bur First, What Is Oud?
Oud, also known as “oudh”, is often referred to as “liquid gold” because of the high price it commands. In use since the third century, this raw fragrance comes from the Aquilaria tree and its species, most commonly found in India, Bangladesh, and Southeast Asia, but here’s the catch—it’s only oud if it comes from fungus-infected tree’s agarwood.
When mold grows on the tree’s bark and branches, the latter creates a fragrant resin (agarwood) in reaction. Subjecting this resin to soaking, melting or distilling, and evaporating produces oud oil, which is then used in various perfumes and cosmetics.
What Makes Oud So Sought After?
Two factors make oud so sought after—its rarity and its distinct scent profile.
What makes oud so rare is that it’s only found in 2% of all Aquilaria trees. Even worse, the yield is quite low—70 kilos of agarwood will only give you about 20 milliliters of oil after all that processing.
Additionally, much of the Second World War destroyed a vast wealth of agar trees in Vietnam, a center for oud harvesting, significantly reducing the world’s stock of agarwood.
While new trees grow in the place of the ones destroyed, these trees, even elsewhere in the world, take decades to produce the kind of heartwood that gives perfumers the complex, rich, warm, subtly sweet, and musky fragrance with its impressive sillage.
What’s more, irresponsible practices like provoking infection or attempts to artificially place fungus on the trees and chipping them away for incense are leading to an even further decline in numbers.
Coupled with the high demand the oil faces, these factors lead to exorbitant price tags for oud oil and products containing the oil.
Oud has a natural quality that enhances the natural muskiness of human skin, resulting in an intimate, deep, and sensual smell. It brings a unique woody warmth with subtle hints of leathery notes.
It’s also quite hard to pin down what exactly oud smells like since it smells different to different people depending on how it reacts with their skin (we take a deeper look at why this happens a little later), which lends it a mysterious air.
Oud also has excellent sillage, beyond other top and base notes that accompany it, lasting for up to six hours on human skin.
Both these factors lead to high demand for oud, making it so expensive.
What Are the Benefits of Oud?
Apart from its benefits to the perfume industry, oud is purported to come with a range of health benefits. It is believed that the oil can treat intestinal bacteria, urinary infections, and liver issues. It also has spiritual and religious value, with many cultures using it in their religious ceremonies, and even otherwise, for many purposes at home.
Oud is also extremely therapeutic and is used as an essential oil. Oud oil can ease stress, promote clarity of the mind, restore balance, promote inner peace, and lead to unwinding, while also purportedly clearing negative vibes from the house.
How Does Oud Smell?
“The Wood of the Gods”, “black gold”, “liquid gold”—by whatever name you call it, this oil, in its natural form, smells beautiful. Experienced noses can pick up notes of earthiness, petrichor, and smokiness, along with hints of spice, leading to a seductively sweet smell (some experts believe that it’s quite an aphrodisiac).
Just a small drop can release quite a heady aroma that is alluring, addictive, and mysterious.
However, the smell of oud can range from woody to herbal depending on various factors, such as the agarwood variety it comes from, the age of the tree, the climate it was grown in, the extraction and distillation processes the resin was subjected to, and, as mentioned earlier, the wearer’s natural scent.
Why Does Oud Smell Different on Different People?
You may have noticed that your Paco Rabanne eau de toilette smells a certain way on you, but completely different on your friend.
Perfumes react differently with each individual because of our body chemistry. Especially with naturally derived oils like oud, the changes are quite amplified and noticeable.
For example, on naturally oily skin, oud will react with the natural oils to produce a sweeter, stronger scent, whereas, on dry skin, it doesn’t bloom as much because there isn’t much natural oil to react with.
Therefore, the reaction of oud with your body’s heat, natural oils, pheromones, and even sweat can lead to distinct individual smells.
Why Do Some People Dislike the Scent of Oud?
You may find that some people who have encountered oud will wrinkle their noses in disgust at the sound of the word! To some folks, oud smells dirty, animalistic, and even fecal.
This is because, at high concentrations, oud smells of decay, manure, and the natural scents associated with it. It needs to be severely diluted before it starts smelling good.
To counter this problem, many perfumers combine oud with strong musky notes.
Is Synthetic Oud a Thing?
Given the rising demand for oud and its limited availability, it’s only obvious that perfumers turn to the possibility of synthetic oud. And they did—synthetic oud is a thing!
Many perfumers have had breakthroughs with synthetic oud and use it in their perfumes with much success. Synthetic oud isn’t really synthetic oud, though, in the sense that isn’t a replication of the natural thing.
Instead, it’s a formula that replicates the smell and properties of the original as closely as possible, using both natural ingredients and synthetic molecules.
Synthetic oud is beneficial for the Aquilaria tree’s dwindling numbers and makes oud harvesting more sustainable, while also meeting market demand. As a natural oil, oud can also be quite unpredictable and unstable in its scent profile; synthetic oud will do away with such inconsistencies and allow more effective replication of the scent.
Synthetic oud can also lead to perfumes with longer shelf lives.
What Is the Cost of Oud?
A liter of oud oil can easily cost anywhere between $50,000 and $80,000, which is why perfumes with oud are so expensive. For a pound, you could easily shell out about $5,000 and about $300 for a meager 3 grams.
In fact, the market value of oud is 1.5 times the market value of gold, creating an annual business worth $6 billion.
The Best Oud Perfumes
If you want a sexy, sweet, smoky, and seductive fragrance that lingers for hours, an oud perfume is the best way to go, perfect for your evening out. Here are our three best oud perfume picks.
If you’ve got a night out planned, the Gucci Oud is your perfect companion. This perfume’s exotic, spicy scent will leave you smelling like a queen of mystery!
Gucci Oud brings together raspberry, saffron, pear, orange blossom, and Bulgarian rose to create this gorgeously sophisticated fragrance. Top notes of raspberry and peach dry out, giving way to a woody rose aroma. The scent and sillage are quite strong, with the latter lasting for days.
It also comes in quite a fancy transparent black bottle made of glass and paired with a golden lid and is available in two different quantities.
Versace Pour Femme Oud Oriental
This unique, summery fragrance blends leather and oud to give customers an aphrodisiac formula that’ll leave them wanting more (of the perfume, of course—no pun intended!)
Despite not being very strong, the Versace Pour Femme Oud Oriental is quite long-lasting. The warm, leathery, spicy, floral fragrance starts with notes of freesia and rose before giving way to deep notes of mint.
Montale Aoud Night
This cozy, perfect-for-winter scent combines hints of sandalwood and citrus, leading to a smoky, sensual scent with fruity notes of bergamot and Sicilian lemon.
If you’re familiar with the brand’s “Damascus”, you may find similarities between the scent of Montale Aoud and Damascus, but the latter is stronger, longer lasting, and faster to bloom.
The Final Word
From only 6 oud-based fragrances in 2007 to over 200 a decade later, it’s clear that the demand for oud is only increasing. Whether you’re aiming for a royal, mysterious aroma or a sultry scent, oud is an excellent choice.