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Oudh: The World’s Most Expensive Perfume Ingredient Comes From A Tree Fungus

Oudh: The World’s Most Expensive Perfume Ingredient Comes From A Tree Fungus

If you love perfumes or have travelled to the middle east, chances are you have heard of Oudh. It’s one of the most expensive and exotic perfume ingredients in the world. Oudh, in a nutshell, is tree fungus, but more on that later. Think of it as the caviar of the fragrance industry. One kg of pure-grade Oudh can cost upwards of ₹80lacs. And because of the hefty price tag, it is also known as liquid gold.

We spoke to one of India’s leading perfumers, Abdulla Ajmal, the CEO of Ajmal Perfumes India to understand why Oudh is so expensive and so rare.

So What Is Oudh?

The fungal infection on the agarwood tree beginning to set in

Oudh is derived from an Agarwood (Aquilaria) tree. In India, Agarwood trees are native to Hojai, Assam. For Oudh to form, it all starts with a fungal infection. This is where things get really interesting! The tree has to be infected by a particular type of fungus. As the infection spreads, the tree’s defence mechanism kicks in and starts producing a dark fragrant resin in response to fight the infection. That resin is known as Oudh.

Why Is It So Expensive?

The resin is only ready to be harvested once the infection has spread throughout the entire tree, this process can take decades to complete. But here’s the real kicker – not all Aquilaria trees produce Oudh. In fact, less than 2% of trees have the infection that makes the resin needed to make Oudh, this is what makes it the most sought-after ingredient in the perfume industry. And even then, it takes about 20-50 years for the tree to be ready for harvest!


But wait, that’s not it, it gets better.

The Extraction Process Is Tedious And Labour-Intensive

Refining the Agarwood pieces before they can be used

Oudh is commonly called Liquid Gold, and this is where it all starts to make sense. Once the tree is ready to harvest, the wood is chopped into small pieces. These pieces are then refined with a blade over a period of 4-5 weeks. Once the wood chips are cleaned, they are graded by labourers. Every tree produces different grades of Oudh. The grading process ensures that the best pieces make it to the distillation process.

The traditional distillation unit at Ajmal Perfumes where the Oudh oil is extracted

To extract the oil, the pieces of wood are soaked in water for several days after which the water is heated to produce steam. This steam is then collected and condensed and that results in the oil separating from the water.

A quick science lesson here, oil is denser than water, therefore it floats on top.

Oudh oil is extracted from water, manually

The oil that’s risen to the surface is then collected by hand and transferred into a different container. The entire extraction process can take anywhere from days to weeks to complete. 

But Does It Smell Rotten? 

Technically Oudh is a fungus that’s many many years old. The scent of Oudh is extremely complex and definitely not for the faint-hearted. It evolves with time and is best described as rich, woody, smoky, and musky, with hints of sweetness and spice. It is a warm and luxurious fragrance that is sure to leave a lasting impression.

Have you ever walked into a mall in the Middle East and wondered how everything (and everyone) smells so good? Yes, most likely that is Oudh. 

Oudh Is A Status Symbol

For many, Oudh isn’t just a perfume. It is a lifestyle. The fragrance is highly valued in many cultures around the world, especially in the Middle East and Asia. Oudh has been associated with royalty and luxury for centuries. In ancient times, it was traded as a special commodity and even today, Oudh is still considered a symbol of wealth and status. 


Potent Elixir With Many Uses

One of the many ways to use Oudh is to add fragrance to your hair and your clothes

There are many ways this ingredient can be used. You can use it in its oil form (most potent) or in the form of wood chips. Oudh oil is most commonly used as an ingredient in perfumes. You can even apply the undiluted oil to your pulse points as a perfume or add a few drops to a diffuser for a relaxing atmosphere in your home. You can use it as a massage oil or add it to your bath for a luxurious soak. It can help to relieve stress and soothe sore muscles, leaving you feeling relaxed and rejuvenated. Oudh oil can also be mixed in with body, skin or haircare for added fragrance and benefits. 

In its solid state, you can burn agarwood on an incense burner to make your home, hair and clothes more fragrant. The fragrance is also believed to calm and soothe the mind and has been used for centuries for medicinal and spiritual purposes. 

Make Your Own Unique Fragrance

You can apply a few drops of Oudh oil on your pulse points, and massage some onto your hands and legs. Spritz your favourite perfume over these areas and watch the magic happen. Oudh oil mixed in with perfumes and your body’s temperature & pH will create a fragrance that’s unique only to you. The best part here is that it’s going to make sure you smell good all day (and night).

Where You Can Buy Oudh

Want in on this exclusive perfume ingredient? Here are some Oudh-infused products you can get your hands on.


Go ahead and indulge in a bottle of this exclusive fragrance.

Featured Image: Pexels

21 Mar 2023

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