The alchemy of agar - May 2019

Agarwood, India’s natural treasure, has been an age-old healer

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“Agarwood oil has been an integral part of Unani formulations. Tried and tested remedies like ‘Qurs Kushta Tila Kalan’ and ‘Lahmina’ tonics that boost sexual vigour have a portion of it,” says Tajul Islam Bakshi of Assam Aromas, one of India’s foremost agarwood distillers and exporters. He says that although the skyrocketing cost of agarwood oil has limited its use in Unani medicine, there are still some hakims in Delhi who use it.

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Agarwood is said to be more expensive than gold, playing a vital role in some of the world’s most exotic upper crust fragrances, western and Arabic. Agarwood chips are used as incense or ‘Bakhoor’ in the Arab world. “The Arab domination of the Indian oud market is passé. The Americas and Europe are among my top markets buying oud as a sought after spiritual indulgence. Oud is more a display of arrogance for the Arabs considering its sky-rocketing prices. The western world has a far deeper understanding of this divine gift,” says Tajul Islam Bakshi of Assam Aromas, one of India’s leading oud distillers.

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Tajul Islam Bakshi of Assam Aromas, one of India’s renowned agarwood distillers, believes while it takes the aquilaria agalocha tree around five to six years to mature that it may often take more than twenty years for resin formation through natural fungus infection, depending on climatic and environmental factors. The aquilaria, a self-germinating plant, has short-lived seeds and requires humid climates to flourish. “Agarwood has become less animalic today as we seldom find animals regularly taking shelter under the aquilaria trees due to excess deforestation. While Assam’s agarwood is generally sweet, animalic, fruity and smoky, region and maturity also play a role in determining agarwood’s fragrance, just like it is with tea,” Bakshi explains. He believes that while the color of agarwood oil deepens with age, its fragrance and color can vary with every batch. The market for Indian agarwood has now extended beyond the Middle East, to North and South America and Europe.
— Krishnaraj Iyengar -

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