A wood found in the forests of South East Asia became a luxurious necessity and became part of ancient culture that continues its status till today. But what is fascinating is that this fragrance is formed as a result of the Agarwood fighting a mould infection. Imagine if not infected the tree is pale in colour and in lack of odour.
The Thai Trade Exhibition 2018 (TXO 2018) being held at Oman Convention and Exhibition Centre (May 1 to May 5, 2018) has brought in Thai exporters, wholesalers, SMEs, entrepreneurs and OTOP businesses covering various fields ranging from medical to luxury industries.
But pavilions are from the Thai producers of oud oil. Omani perfume designer Talal al Amri who was checking out the varieties of oud oils described it as black liquid gold.
This year around there is another attraction from the oud industry of Thailand and that is the oud tea in two varieties — Agarwood chip tea and Agarwood leaf tea.
The exhibition hall is scented with the fragrance of the Agarwood being burned as well as customers sampling different notes of oud oil. The chips of the fragrant dark resinous wood are important as Oman has many ladies specialising in bakhoor making. They are also sold in Thola just like the oud oil.
Companies have oud from different parts of the world such as Cambodia. Amongst the pavilions specialising in oud is one dedicated to the Thai Agarwood Trade Association. It is from here we learnt the growing prominence of women in the oud industry of Thailand.
“In the past the micro oud producers used to depend on the middlemen to market the produce but now the Association assists. A development is the social media and the Internet because it is enabling us to reach out. Women are able to market it directly. However there are challenges and one of them are the languages. We have to master Arabic because Oman and the Arab region as a whole is an important market for us,” said Yok Waraporn, who owns her own factory to produce oud. She also has her own trees.
Suwattana is the Vice President of the Trade Association has been in the industry for many years and she has seen the modernisation of the industry depending on fire from wood for the process of distillation to gas usage and mechanisation assistance. “The Arab region and Europe are the important markets for oud. In the olden days the Arab customers used to come to Thailand to purchase oud,” Suwattana said.
“We have four types of oud that are being presented here by the Association — the number one is oud that has been fermented for three months, number two labelled oud has gone through one month of fermentation, number three has gone through the same process for seven days and number four — three day fermentation.
The different levels of fermentation give different smells. If you like strong smell I recommend C-1 as it gives the top note and is a result of three months fermentation. If you like sweet smell I recommend C- 3 the oud fermented for one week. Most men prefer C-1 and women prefer C-3. Our Agarwood comes from Thailand. Many factories are represented here through the association,” said Yok.
“Our trees are 30 years old and we have our own factory where we produce pure oud. The longer the fermentation the higher the cost. So obviously C-1 is most expensive,” explained Yok.
According to Al Amri, some people even like to add a drop of oud in their coffee. In the past Agarwood was meant for only the oud oil and the wood chips for burning as incense due to its fragrance but now oud oil is found not in just perfumes but from shampoos to soaps and other beauty products such as creams.
Oud is luxury.
“Oud is king of perfumes! Many ask why this oil is so expensive. My answer is — see the process. There are 23 types of aquilaria situated in the South East Asia. The trees produce oil for protection when attacked by a certain fungus and that is this oil. It is not the disease but the medicine. One drop of oud in a big mug of coffee is good for health but it must be pure oud without any chemical or additions,” said Al Amri.
The oud makers have plantations today but they also get their source from the forests.
“The black part of the wood contains the oud. This is what used and after drying under the sun it is powdered to be taken for the process of fermentation ranging from days to weeks to months according to the tree as well as the experience of the oud producers. After fermentation it is taken through distillation process. The distillation process takes from 10 days to two weeks. Most of the process is now mechanized. The steam takes the oil and it is this oil that is the black gold — oud oil,” noted Al Amri.
Some producers go further — they put the oud oil in a glass and leave it open for maybe ten years to lose the water content totally. “Because even the water in the oud has a certain smell. In Arabic we call it ‘Muateq.’ But the oil that is kept for 10 days is very expensive,” added Al Amri.
So it seems oud oil can even record and narrate history.