On the trail of oud

Through a journey both dark and beautiful, we trace one of the world’s most expensive commodities from its end users in the Middle East to its source in the forests of Southeast Asia.


For as long as he can remember, oud, or agarwood, has been a part of Ali Mohamed al-Woozain’s life. In his birthplace, Qatar, the scent of this rare and special wood was used in his home, in the homes of his neighbours and in the mosque.


Known as the "Wood of the Gods", oud is the basis of some of the world’s most  extravagant perfumes.


Derived from the resinous bark of a tree that only grows exclusively in parts of Southeast Asia, it is also one of the world’s rarest and most expensive commodities - kilo for kilo, it is more costly than gold.


Kilo for kilo, oud is more costly than gold

For thousands of years, it has been used in the Middle East and Asia in the form of wooden incense chips, body oils and fragrance - becoming synonymous with hospitality in the Arabian Peninsula. In fact, more oud is burned here than anywhere else in the world.


"When I smell oud, I smell the scent of heaven. Amongst other useful things it does, oud drives depression away; one has a feeling of joy. It also depends on the type of oud. Each oud triggers certain memories. For example, when I smell Cambodian oud I remember my mother. Whilst when I smell Indian oud, I remember my father. Each piece of oud tells its own story, encapsulating decades," says Mohammed Menekher, a PR and event coordinator from Qatar.

Lower quality Indian oud - $5,100/kg

Higher quality Cambodian oud - $34,000/kg

But recently, leading Western perfumers and Chinese investors have also been beguiled by its unique scent. As a result, the wooden chips have become incredibly expensive and, each year, high-quality oud becomes harder to find.


The alley of perfumes in Qatar’s old souk

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