Why is oud so expensive?

Oud is a fragrant resinous wood commonly used in perfumes and incense. Its high price is mainly due to the rarity of the agarwood tree, from which oud is derived. Agarwood trees are often infected by a specific type of mold, triggering the production of resin as a defence mechanism. This resin is what gives oud its distinctive aroma. Because the infection is relatively rare and not every agarwood tree produces high-quality resin, the supply of oud is limited, leading to its high cost. Additionally, the labour-intensive extraction process and the lengthy aging period also contribute to the expense.

Oud is made from the resinous heartwood of agarwood trees (Aquilaria and Gyrinops species) through a complex natural process. Here’s a general overview of how oud is made:

  1. Infection: Agarwood trees become infected by a specific type of mold or fungus. This infection triggers the tree to produce resin as a defence mechanism. The resin accumulates in the heartwood, the innermost part of the tree.

  1. Resin Formation: As the infection progresses, the tree produces layers of resin-soaked heartwood. This resin is what gives oud its unique and aromatic properties.

3. Harvesting: Once the resin-rich heartwood has developed sufficiently, the tree is felled, and the heartwood is extracted. It’s important to note that not all agarwood trees will develop high-quality resin suitable for oud production.

  1. Extraction: The extracted heartwood is typically chipped or ground into smaller pieces to facilitate further processing. The quality of the heartwood, as well as the technique used in extraction, can significantly influence the final aroma and value of the oud.

  1. Distillation: The resin-soaked wood chips or fragments are distilled to extract the essential oil. This process involves steam distillation, where steam is passed through the material to vaporize and collect the aromatic compounds. The resulting condensed liquid is the oud essential oil.

  1. Aging: Oud oil is often aged for a period of time, ranging from several months to several years. During this aging process, the aroma of the oil can develop and mature, resulting in a more refined and complex fragrance.

The complexity of this process, along with the rarity of high-quality agarwood, the uncertainty of infection, and the expertise required to extract and distill the oil, all contribute to the high cost of oud.