The scent of Dubai
Oud is a fragrant oil derived from resin and worn traditionally by both Emirati men and women. It has a distinctive, mesmerising scent that visitors to Dubai will soon learn to recognise and associate with the Emirates. Oud is one of the most expensive natural resources in the world, fetching 1.5 times the price of gold, and is a great souvenir to take home from your visit to Dubai.
Also known as oodh, oudh or by its Arabic name, عود, the oil is derived from the resinous heartwood (often known as agarwood), produced by trees belonging to the species of the Aquilaria genus of Thymelaeceae family.
Susceptible to mould, an infected tree produces an excess of sap, which then hardens as resin in the trunk’s core. Once harvested, the resin is distilled to the dark brown, thick oil known as oud, with 70kg of wood producing just 20ml of pure product. From here, it’s diluted with carrier oils to create oud-based fragrances to scent the body.
While Western fragrance houses hope to recreate oud’s signature earthiness with synthetic ingredients, local traditional perfumers still use pure oud oil harvested from India’s Assam region.
Where to buy Oud in Dubai
Simple, unmarked vials of the oil are easily found at the Perfume Souk in Deira, with our vendors happy to mix and blend drops of jasmine, rose and other florals in to soften the strong notes. Otherwise, head to the malls for oud fragrances from luxury perfume makers such as Ne’emah and Ajmal.
Bakhoor: a more subtle way to enjoy oud
Dubai’s relationship with fragrance goes beyond personal perfumes, with bakhoor scenting the air in five-star hotels, traditional coffee shops and private Emirati homes.
Used for thousands of years, bakhoor first originated with Arabia’s nomadic Levantine tribes, who upon setting up a camp, would burn agarwood chips to both fragrance the air and deter insects and bad spirit. Like oud, usage continued into the modern day, with people across the Emirates still preferring bakhoor burning over candles, incense and sprays for fragrancing the hosting room.
A more gentle way of enjoying the aroma of oud, bakhoor (or bukhoor; بخور) is the name given to agarwood chips that have been soaked with jasmine and sandalwood to soften and sweeten the heavy scents, or amber and citrus essential oils to add crisp notes to the rising vapours. They are then compressed and shaped before being packaging in square, flat blocks segmented into equal portions. At home, pieces are then burnt over a charcoal stove or electric burner to release plumes of fragrant smoke to fill the room.
Where to find bakhoor in Dubai
Be sure to pick up your own block of bakhoor at Deira’s Spice Souk, or one of the many kiosks in The Souk at Dubai Mall. Competitively priced and perfect for gifting, bakhoor is an exotic alternative to incense, and a lighter option if you find the oud perfumes too strong.