What Type of Agarwood or Oud Is Best?

Agarwood, known as oud or oudh, is a deeply aromatic resin found in certain trees and has been celebrated for millennia across various cultures for its rich and compelling fragrance.

When selecting the best type of oud, you’re not just choosing a scent; you’re choosing a piece of heritage—one that varies significantly depending on its origin, the tree species, and the way it’s harvested and processed. Each factor contributes to the unique profile of the oud, which can range from sweet and nuanced to deep and intensely woody.

kynam

Regarding what constitutes the finest agarwood, the answer may be quite straightforward: Kyara or kynam. This is a top-grade agarwood, and aside from Kyara, there are other esteemed types such as Pursat agarwood, sinking agarwood, and red soil agarwood.

These four types are considered the most elite categories of agarwood. In this article, I will introduce you to the culture, origins, appearance, and scents of these four types of agarwood. Of course, I will also discuss their market prices.

What is Agarwood?

The Origins of Agarwood

Agarwood is a valuable wood type formed in the heartwood of Aquilaria trees, a natural response to fungal or bacterial infection. When the tree is compromised, it secretes a fragrant resin to encapsulate the attack, which results in the dark, dense, and aromatic heartwood.

So, in a strict sense, agarwood isn’t wood. It’s more described as a resin.

The primary sources of agarwood are now in Southeast Asia, specifically Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia, and Hainan. Most of them are cultivated artificially, and it is quite difficult to find pure, natural, wild agarwood nowadays.

Aquilaria Species and Agarwood

There are several species of the genus Aquilaria, each capable of producing the resin that becomes Agarwood. However, not all Aquilaria trees create this resin; the process begins only when the tree is infected with a specific type of mold.

agarwood-tree
Agarwood Tree

The most sought-after Agarwood comes from mature trees that have had time to develop the resin, with over a dozen identified species of Aquilaria known to produce it.

The rarity of oud is compounded by the fact that Aquilaria trees are becoming increasingly scarce due to overharvesting and habitat loss, making the occurrence of natural agarwood even less common. As a result, genuine agarwood is hard to find and commands very high prices in the market.

How to Grade Agarwood

Several key indicators, including the resin concentration, wood color, and scent profile, determine agarwood quality. High-grade oud, for example, like Kyara or kynam, is densely packed with resin, translating into a darker color and a richer, more complex scent. known for its distinct and highly sought-after fragrance.

Grading Indicators

The grading systems for agarwood, such as the Alphabetic Grading System, Water Grading System, and Resin Saturation Grading System, are commonly used in countries that are major producers and consumers of agarwood. These countries typically include those within Southeast Asia, where agarwood is naturally found and culturally significant.

  • Alphabetic Grading System: Ranges from C to AAA, with AAA being the top grade. This system takes into account the agarwood’s characteristics and overall quality.
  • Water Grading System: Includes terms such as Semi-Sinking, Sinking, and Underwater, which refer to the agarwood’s density and resin content.
  • Resin Saturation Grading System: From Super to Triple Super, this indicates the level of resin in the wood.

4 Best Types of Agarwood

Kyara/Kynam/Kinam

Kyara, also known as Kynam, the crown jewel of agarwood, holds a mystical allure that dates back centuries. Revered in ancient Asian cultures, its rarity and enchanting fragrance made it a symbol of opulence and spirituality.

Reserved for royals and the divine, Kyara’s deep, complex aroma has been celebrated in traditional ceremonies and treasured as a pathway to transcendence.

This precious resin, a serendipitous gift from nature, emerges from the heart of the Aquilaria tree, transformed by time and the elements into a scent that captivates the senses and the soul.

Kyara in Japan

Kyara(伽罗), the Japanese term for the highest grade of agarwood, is central to Japanese incense ceremonies known as Kōdō. Historically, these ceremonies have elevated the use of Kyara to a sophisticated art, appreciating its complex scent through a ritual called “listening to incense.” Kyara’s rarity and the depth of its fragrance have made it a luxurious commodity, often compared in value to gold. In contemporary Japan, possessing and utilizing Kyara is a symbol of wealth and taste, continuing the tradition of its esteemed cultural status.

kyara-incense-stick
Kyara Incense Produced By YAMADAMATSU

In many of Japan’s centuries-old incense houses, series of incense product lines are named after “Kyara.” Of course, these products may not actually contain wild Kyara, but they are enough to illustrate just how deeply intertwined Kyara is with Japanese incense culture.

Kynam in China

In China, kyara is called kynam(奇楠), has been documented as far back as the Song Dynasty, where it was once considered as valuable as gold by weight. Its use was reserved for nobility and royalty and often associated with traditional Chinese medicine and religious rituals. The aroma of Kynam is commonly described as being particularly sweet and refined compared to other types of agarwood. To this day, true Kynam maintains its celebrated position and is sought after by collectors and aficionados, particularly during significant events and cultural festivities.

sinking-agarwood-bracelet
Sinking Agarwood Bracelet

Besides medicine and incense, Agarwood is also used in fine craftsmanship. It is carved into intricate sculptures, beads, and other ornamental objects. These items are often used in personal accessories such as bracelets and necklaces; they believe it can bring good luck and health.

Origins and Market Value

Kyara agarwood primarily originates from regions such as Hainan, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Malaysia. Historically, Hainan Kyara was considered the finest quality and was widely recognized.

However, due to centuries of harvesting, natural Kyara has nearly vanished from Hainan. Nowadays, the industry acknowledges Nha Trang in Vietnam as the premier region for the best Kyara.

Although Kyara is produced in other regions, variations in climate, temperature, humidity, and fungal species result in somewhat inferior quality, with shorter fragrance retention upon burning and less complexity in its olfactory notes.

Oud Essential oil

Genuine wild white Kyara has almost become extinct and is difficult to obtain. At a 2019 auction in Yokohama, a 2100g piece of wild Nha Trang white Kyara was sold for 1.81 million USD, which equates to around 1000 USD per gram.

In this documentary film, “Scent from Heaven,” explores one of the world’s most expensive commodities, oud, tracing its journey from the end users in the Middle East to its source. The film delves into the dark and beautiful side of the trade and can give insight into why natural agarwood is so precious.

Pursat Agarwood

What is Pursat Agarwood

Pursat Agarwood, hailing from the verdant forests of Pursat Province in Cambodia, carries a legacy steeped in the annals of Southeast Asian history and culture. Pursat Agarwood is recognized for its high resin content and rich, multifaceted fragrance profile.

In the realm of cultural significance, Pursat Agarwood is not merely a material but an emblem of heritage. It’s intricately woven into the fabric of Cambodian traditions used in religious rituals and meditation practices that date back to ancient times. The wood’s soothing scent is believed to be a conduit to spiritual awakening and mental clarity, making it an integral part of Buddhist practices.

Pursat Agarwood from Cambodia

The primary uses of Pursat Agarwood include the crafting of high-end incense and perfume oils. Its oil, often extracted through distillation, is a treasured ingredient in the luxury fragrance industry, sought after for its depth and longevity. The wood itself is also carved into artisanal items, such as beads for jewelry and prayer rosaries, each piece carrying the essence of the forest from which it came.

Pursat Agarwood’s rarity and demand have made it a significant player in international markets, especially in the Middle East, where oud-based perfumes are deeply ingrained in the culture. It’s also valued in Western markets, where there’s a growing appreciation for exotic and natural scents. The trade of Pursat Agarwood, while lucrative, is also subject to strict regulations to prevent overharvesting and ensure sustainability, preserving this precious resource for future generations.

Wild Pursat agarwood is also very difficult to obtain nowadays, and the current price for wild Pursat agarwood is approximately 160 USD per gram.

Appearance and Aroma

The appearance of Pursat Agarwood is distinct:

  • Color: Ranges from pale to dark brown, often with darker resinous streaks.
  • Texture: Can vary from moderately dense to very heavy, depending on resin concentration.

Its aroma is equally distinctive and can be described as:

  • Scent Profile: Rich, warm, and woody with a complex bouquet of sweet, balsamic notes.
  • Intensity: Potent, a small piece can fragrance a room for an extended period.

Sinking Grade Agarwood, Hainan, China

In your exploration of the finest oud, the rare and highly valued sinking grade agarwood from Hainan, China, stands out due to its exceptional density and resin content.

What is Sinking Grade Agarwood

Sinking grade agarwood is distinguished by its ability to sink in water, a quality resulting from its high resin saturation. Harvested in the Hainan province, this type of agarwood is the result of a natural process involving the Aquilaria tree. When these trees become infected by a particular mold, they produce an oleoresin to combat the infection, which eventually permeates the heartwood. The wood that has been thoroughly saturated with this resin becomes dense enough to sink when placed in water, hence the name “sinking grade.”

Hainan, Sinking Grade Agarwood

Hainan agarwood is a precious fragrance and traditional medicine, that carries a rich and captivating history. In ancient China, it was known as the “King of Fragrances,” favored by emperors and nobility for its unique scent and profound cultural and spiritual significance. Legends suggest that Hainan agarwood’s story dates back to the Tang and Song dynasties when scholars and literati would burn it in their studies to purify the mind and inspire artistic creativity.

sinking-agarwood-hainan
Sinking Agarwood, Hainan

Hainan agarwood is primarily sourced from the Jianfengling region of Hainan. It generally takes ten to thirty years for the trees to produce the fragrant resin, which is concentrated in the bark of the main trunk. Common areas for resin accumulation include the top of the tree, the forked branches, and places where the tree has been wounded.

This type of agarwood is suitable mainly for medicinal purposes or for the extraction of essential oils. The price of wild Hainan agarwood is quite steep, averaging around 150 US dollars per gram. The finest quality Hainan agarwood includes the “Black Oil Pattern” and “Yellow Oil Pattern” from the resinous heartwood. The Black Oil Pattern is typically dark brown, though it can also feature a mix of light yellow and black, with relatively even resin distribution and dot-like pores.

Hainan agarwood is known for its exceptionally sweet scent that is rich yet not overpowering, differing from Vietnamese agarwood, which carries a slight cooling note.

wood-caving-art-piece
Agarwood Tree Wood Carving Art Piece

Appearance and Aroma

Appearance: Sinking grade agarwood is generally darker due to the abundance of resin. The resin-saturated pieces will often exhibit a shiny, almost wet look and range in color from dark brown to nearly black.

Aroma: The aroma of sinking grade agarwood from Hainan is profoundly rich and complex. Upon heating or burning, it releases a deep, woody scent with layers of musky, earthy, and sweet nuances that reflect its high quality and purity. The fragrance is both powerful and long-lasting, making it highly sought after for its olfactory characteristics.

Red Soil Agarwood, Fusen

What is Red Soil Agarwood?

Red soil agarwood is a high-quality, yet often overlooked, type of agarwood. Its fame may not rival that of Kyara, but it is nonetheless esteemed among connoisseurs. Primarily found in the Fusen region of Vietnam, the price of wild red soil agarwood falls between that of Pursat agarwood and Kyara, with market values hovering around 300 US dollars per gram.

red-soil-agarwood
Red Soil Agarwood, Fusen

This variety of agarwood is buried in the red earth of Vietnam’s Fusen for decades, and sometimes even centuries, resulting in its unique appearance and fragrance profile. A characteristic of red soil agarwood is its distinctive watermelon scent, which leaves a sweet, rich aftertaste. This subtle and complex aroma is a testament to the intricate processes of nature and time that give red soil agarwood its exceptional qualities.

Appearance and Aroma

Appearance: Fusen agarwood exhibits a rich, dark color with a dense resinous texture. The intricate veining of resin throughout the wood is a definitive indicator of its authenticity and superior grade.

Aroma: The scent profile of Fusen is notably watermelon scent. It delivers a powerful and long-lasting fragrance that is both earthy and sweet. The aroma is highly sought-after by connoisseurs and perfumers alike, making this type of agarwood a cherished item for high-end fragrances and incense.

Conclusion

Below is a summary table:

TypeDescriptionOriginMarket Price
Kyara/KynamHighest-grade agarwood with a deep, complex aroma. Used in ceremonies and symbolizes opulence.Hainan, Vietnam, Cambodia, Malaysia~$1000 per gram (wild)
Pursat AgarwoodKnown for high resin content and multifaceted fragrance. Used in incense and perfume oils.Pursat Province, Cambodia~$160 per gram (wild)
Sinking GradeDistinguished by its ability to sink in water due to high resin saturation.Hainan, China~$150 per gram
(wild)
Red Soil AgarwoodFound in red earth, known for its watermelon scent and rich aftertaste.Fusen region, Vietnam~$300 per gram
(wild)
Overall, these four types of agarwood are universally acknowledged by connoisseurs as the pinnacle of agarwood. Although they are costly and difficult to obtain, understanding them can elevate our appreciation of agarwood’s quality and the reasons behind its high value. This may involve a myriad of historical, environmental, and aesthetic factors.
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