What is Oud (Oudh) in Perfumery?

Why it's one of the most expensive perfume ingredients

Bottles of oud perfume in a perfumery in Qatar. Jason Larkin for Getty Images

Oud is one of the most expensive perfume ingredients in the world (find out what the other 5 are). But why is it so expensive? And what exactly is it?

Oud comes from the wood of the tropical Agar (Aquilaria) tree, believed to have originated in the Assam region of India, and from there spread throughout Southeast Asia. When the wood of this tree gets infected with a certain mold variety (Phialophora parasitica), it reacts by producing a precious, dark and fragrant resin, which is the perfume ingredient oud (also called agarwood).

What It Smells Like

Oud (in Arabian ‘oudh’) is highly valued by perfumers for its sweet, woody, aromatic and complex scent. It is used in forms of oud oil (dehn al oud) or raisin (oud mubakhar). The oil of oud, whether extracted by distillation from wood, or by melting the raisin, is non-irritating and can be applied directly on the skin, or added in a perfume composition, most often as a base note.

Liquid Gold

Due to its rarity, high demand, and the difficulty of harvesting it, oud oil is perhaps the most expensive oil in the world. Its value is estimated as 1.5 times of the value of gold, and it is sometimes referred to as "liquid gold."

Oud Perfumes to Try

Long prized as a perfume ingredient in the Middle East and Europe, oud has recently made great gains in popularity in the West.

Oud plays a starring role in several North American perfumes for women, including the following: