Indian Sandalwood vs Australian: What is the difference?

Sandalwood, revered for its aromatic qualities and cultural significance, is a prized resource in both the traditional and modern worlds. While there are several types of sandalwood, Indian and Australian sandalwoods are noteworthy for their distinctive characteristics and uses.

The Indian variety, known as Santalum album, is traditionally celebrated for its rich and creamy essence, integral to religious and spiritual rituals for centuries.

On the other hand, Australian sandalwood, known as Santalum spicatum, offers a slightly different olfactory experience. Despite sharing the classic woody base notes, it introduces a fresher top note, presenting a contrast to the deeper, earthy tones of Indian sandalwood. 

The key difference between Indian and Australian Sandalwood is their chemical composition and aroma. Indian Sandalwood is highly valued for its higher content of santalol, around 70-90%, giving it a rich, sweet, and woody fragrance. In contrast, Australian Sandalwood contains a lower santalol content, typically around 20-40%, which results in a somewhat different fragrance profile that is less intense than the Indian variety. 

Besides the difference in santalol content, we will also delve into the distinctions between the two types of sandalwood in terms of their origin, aroma, price, sustainability, and other aspects.

Botanical Origins and Species

The genus Santalum encompasses several species of sandalwood, each with unique botanical origins and geographical distribution. Indian sandalwood, or Santalum album, is native to Southern India and Sri Lanka and is highly prized for its rich santalol content that imparts a distinctive, sweet fragrance. This species has a long history of cultural significance, often used in religious ceremonies and traditional medicine.

Australian sandalwood, known scientifically as Santalum spicatum and previously referred to as Fusanus spicatus, is predominantly found in the semi-arid regions of Western Australia. While it belongs to the same family as Indian sandalwood, it is characterized by a different chemical makeup and a subtler scent profile.

Santalum album has also spread to other tropical regions such as Indonesia and Timor Leste. In contrast, Australia is home to various sandalwood species, including Santalum lanceolatum and Santalum acuminatum, which contribute to the diversity of the genus within the country. It’s important to note that red sandalwood (Pterocarpus santalinus) is often mistaken for true sandalwood but is actually from a different genus and not directly related to Santalum species.

Plantation Growth and Variations

Conservation Efforts

Historically, Indian sandalwood harvesting has been less controlled, leading to issues of overexploitation. In contrast, Australian sandalwood harvesting is regulated by the Forest Products Commission (FPC), which ensures that operations are sustainable and minimize the negative impact on ecosystems.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has classified Indian sandalwood as a vulnerable species due to overharvesting and habitat loss. This has prompted both countries to engage in conservation efforts. Through organizations like Quintis, Australia focuses on the sustainability of sandalwood by implementing regeneration programs. These initiatives aim to protect wild populations and sustain supply, balancing the demands of the market with ecological preservation.

Plantation-grown

Plantation-grown sandalwood refers to cultivating sandalwood trees in managed agricultural environments rather than harvesting them from natural forests. This cultivation method is increasingly important for both conservation and commercial purposes, as it helps to ensure a sustainable and traceable supply of sandalwood.

The plantation cultivation of Indian and Australian sandalwood presents differences in methods, scale, and industry maturity. Indian plantations are a newer initiative to reduce reliance on wild-harvested sandalwood. As the industry matures, there is a focus on enhancing resource management, disease control, and quality assurance to achieve a consistent output.

Conversely, Australian sandalwood plantations have a longer history and are more advanced in their cultivation techniques. They are regulated to maintain a consistent, high-quality yield that adheres to strict environmental standards. The environmental conditions in India and Australia also contribute to differences in growth rates, wood quality, and oil composition, affecting the commercial value and applications of the sandalwood produced.

Overall, Australian plantations, with their regulated practices, tend to have a more consistent output, while Indian plantations are still optimizing their methods to achieve similar consistency and quality.

Scent Profile Comparison

Distinctive Scent Profiles

Sandalwood’s reputation in the world of fragrance comes from its unique scent characteristics. The aroma of Indian Sandalwood is highly valued for its creamy, rich, and warm qualities, often associated with luxury and opulence in perfumery. This ‘liquid gold’ is rich in alpha and beta santalols, which give it a profound earthy and woody fragrance, making it a favorite for crafting high-end perfumes.

In contrast, Australian Sandalwood provides a fresher approach to the classic woody scent. It offers a soft yet crisp woody base note with a brighter top note that brings a lively twist to fragrances. This makes it popular for adding a novel and sharp woody element to modern perfume compositions.

Perfumery Uses and Preferences

For Indian Sandalwood (Santalum album):

  • Luxury Perfumery: Its deep and warm scent is a staple in high-end fragrances.
  • Aromatherapy: The rich santalol content is sought for its potential therapeutic properties.
  • Complex Blends: It pairs well with spicy and musky notes, enhancing the depth and complexity of a fragrance.

For Australian Sandalwood (Santalum spicatum):

  • Contemporary Fragrances: Its fresh scent profile is ideal for innovative and modern perfumes.
  • Versatile Combinations: It complements earthy and floral notes, providing a unique contrast.
  • Aromatherapy and Beyond: Used for its lighter scent in essential oil blends and contemporary aromatherapy applications.

When selecting between Indian and Australian Sandalwood, the choice hinges on the specific fragrance profile and application desired. Whether aiming for a traditional, luxurious aroma or a modern, innovative twist, each type of sandalwood brings its own distinctive qualities to the table in the art of perfumery.

Incense Industry Variations

Indian Sandalwood Incense:

  • Favored for classic and ceremonial incense due to its deep, traditional aroma.
  • Used in premium incense products for its rich and warm fragrance.

Australian Sandalwood Incense:

  • Chosen for modern incense blends, offering a lighter and fresher scent.
  • Supports eco-conscious production with its sustainable plantation origins.

In the incense industry, Indian Sandalwood is synonymous with tradition and luxury, while Australian Sandalwood is aligned with contemporary preferences and environmental sustainability. 

Pricing Differences

Indian Sandalwood is generally more expensive due to its higher santalol content and historical and cultural significance. The price for Indian Sandalwood can vary widely, with some sources indicating that high-quality heartwood can cost between 5 to 12 USD per gram, and in some cases, prices can soar as high as 25 USD per gram for top-grade material.

Australian Sandalwood, on the other hand, tends to be less costly, partly because of the more extensive plantation cultivation and the lower santalol content. The price for Australian Sandalwood can range from a few hundred dollars per kilogram for standard quality, making it a more accessible option for both commercial and personal use.

The significant price difference reflects the scarcity and demand for Indian Sandalwood compared to the more abundant and sustainably cultivated Australian Sandalwood. These price points are subject to change based on market conditions, quality, and availability.

Health and Beauty Impact

Indian Sandalwood (Santalum album), with its high concentrations of beneficial compounds, holds a reputed status in aromatherapy and skincare. Its essential oil is rich in antioxidants, which help combat reactive oxygen species responsible for signs of aging and skin damage due to pollution and UV/blue light exposure. Indian sandalwood oil has been celebrated for its medicinal properties and therapeutic uses, often leveraging its soothing aroma as an incense and a fixative in perfumes.

Australian Sandalwood (Santalum spicatum) is recognized for its fresher, greener scent that maintains the characteristic woody note of classic sandalwood. It’s used in the formulation of fragrances as a fixative and offers similar antioxidant properties that contribute to skin health. Essential oils from both trees contain vitamin E, bolstering their impact as nourishing agents for skin and hair care practices.

Conclusion

Here is a comparison table referring to their differences:

AspectIndian Sandalwood (Santalum album)Australian Sandalwood (Santalum spicatum)
OriginSouthern India, Sri LankaWestern Australia
Santalol ContentHigh (70-90%)Lower (20-40%)
AromaRich, creamy, warm, earthy, woodyFresher, softer, with green top notes and a woody base
Use in PerfumeryLuxury perfumes, complex blends with spices and musksModern fragrances, earthy and floral accords
Use in IncenseTraditional, ceremonial, premium productsModern blends, eco-conscious production
PriceMore expensive (5 to 25 USD per gram for heartwood)Less costly (several hundred dollars per kilogram for standard quality)

In summary, Indian Sandalwood (Santalum album) is highly regarded for its traditional use in ceremonies and luxury perfumery, due to its rich and creamy scent profile and high santalol content. It is the more expensive option, reflecting its cultural value and scarcity. Australian Sandalwood (Santalum spicatum), with its fresher and greener notes, is valued in contemporary fragrance creation and is more accessible price-wise and more sustainable.

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