Page update - Sep 23, 2022
If you want to buy something colorful and truly national in the United Arab Emirates then Bakhoor and Oud are a great choice, especially if you want to bring something special to a woman. These gifts are imbued with the spirit of the UAE both literally and figuratively.
The prices on this page were updated in September 2022. Read about all the interesting gifts from the UAE in our detailed review "The best gifts and souvenirs from the UAE".
But before we talk about these products in detail, let's define the concepts. What products should be called by whose words?
The agar tree is not a single tree species, but an entire genus called Aquilaria, consisting of 23 species. These trees have no eatable fruits or valuable wood (in an ordinary situation). The most common, Aquilaria malaccensis, looks like this.
But! If an Aquilaria tree becomes infected with Phaeoacremonium parasitica mold, it begins to secrete a special resin to protect against mold. The resin soaks the wood which darkens. See photo to the right, click on photo to enlarge to full screen.
Agarwood is sodden with this resin and emits a wonderful smell.
Bakhoor is an incense made from agarwood. It is burned for a pleasant aroma in a room or to give a smell to clothes.
Oud oil is an extract from this resin, obtained by distillation. It is used to make perfume.
The agar tree grows in Southeast Asia. In nature, about 7% of these trees are affected by the fungus Phaeoacremonium parasitica. The wood darkens, produces resin, and begins to smell strongly.
People noticed this a long time ago. Agarwood is mentioned in the Indian Vedas, in the Chinese text Nan Zhou Yu Wu Zi (Amazing Things From the West) from the 3rd century, in the Japanese text Nihon Shoki (Chronicles of Japan) from the 6th century. Agarwood and resin have been highly valued since ancient times. They were used for perfumery, medicine, and even magical purposes.
The Arabs-nomads have been burning agarwood in their campsites since ancient times to smoke out insects and to give belongings a pleasant smell. This is how bakhoor appeared, which has hardly changed since ancient times, only other incense began to be added to the agarwood for a more complex aroma.
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In the 9th century, the Arabs perfected and began to actively use the process of distillation. In fact, it was they who invented strong alcoholic beverages, not for nothing that the word "alcohol" is Arabic and translates as "datura".
The distillation technology was a revolutionary invention for perfumery. The distillation made extracts from raw materials possible. Arabs began to extract oil from the agarwood which they called "oud", translated from Arabic as "stick". The oil was used in perfumes, scented candles, incense and other perfumery products.
Agarwood and oud oil have always been very expensive products, available only to the rich. Now the price of agarwood starts at USD 100 per kilogram (USD 45.4 per pound) and goes up to USD 100,000. The price varies greatly depending on the geographic origin, the age of the tree, the color, the properties of the wood and the part of the tree itself from which the wood was extracted.
These days, natural sources of agarwood are shortening rapidly. Most of the wood is obtained from man-made plantations, where all the trees are specially infected with the fungus. It is an interesting fact that such agarwood is officially called "fake".
Oud oil is one of the most expensive substances on our planet. Only 28 ml of oil can be extracted from 100 kilograms of wood. Oud oil is more expensive than gold. Oud oil has a very complex composition, scientists have so far separated 150 components, and the work is not yet finished.
Oud oil is used not only for perfumery. Oud oil is added to tea. It is believed to be able to cure digestive diseases, liver cirrhosis and remove fat from the liver; it is a good laxative. It is also considered an aphrodisiac, and is used for seductive perfumes. All of these properties are not scientifically proven.
Naturally, this set of features provides bakhoor and oud oil perfumes with a very high price. Let's talk about prices and details about each of these products.
Bakhoor is a shavings of agarwood sodden with additional aromas or essential oils. Jasmine, sandalwood, musk, amber and citrus essential oils are popular for more complex flavor bouquet.
Unlike incense sticks, bakhoor does not burn itself, it must be burned (the correct term to use is "smoked"). Special smokers (burners) are used for this purpose, called "mabkhara". See the photo near, click on photo to enlarge to full screen.
The classic mabkhara is a plate in the center of which a charcoal is placed and a bakhoor is placed on the charcoal. The charcoal burns itself and burns the bakhoor. The system somewhat resembles an ordinary hookah. There are electric mabkharas, they are considered to be safer.
Arabs do not burn bakhoor every day, but only on certain occasions - before holidays or if waiting for guests. Also, bakhoor is smoked in a room where intimate intercourse between husband and wife is planned, as the oil from the agarwood tree is considered to be an aphrodisiac.
We use the phrase "husband and wife" for a reason. The fact is that sexual relations out of wedlock were criminalized in the UAE until recently. It wasn't until November 8, 2020, that amendments were made to the laws that removed this responsibility. We talked about this in detail in our review "What not to do in the UAE".
The bakhoor must be burned properly. First, wait until the aromatic smoke fills the room. The smoke should not be very much, so as not to burn a lot of oxygen. Then wait until the objects in the room are saturated with aroma. Then open the windows.
If you want to smoke clothes with bakhoor then hold clothes for about 3 minutes over the smoker so that the smoke gets on them. Be careful not to set your clothes on fire.
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Bakhoor is sold either by weight in shavings, or in the form of round tablets, or in the form of bars with grooves, which looks very much like a chocolate bar (see the photo near, click on the photo to enlarge). We do not recommend tourists to buy by weight in shavings, because in this case you will have to dose the bakhoor yourself, which is difficult for an inexperienced person. It is best to take round tablets.
Be sure to buy bakhoor in its original packaging otherwise there may be problems when passing through customs control. A customs officer may confuse bakhoor with something illegal. Read our detailed review "What you can and can't take out of the UAE".
The pack of bakhoor usually contains 40-70 grams. This is enough for about 10 uses.
The price of the pack ranges from 20 to several hundred dirhams (AED). See our page "UAE Dirham" for the current exchange rates of the Emirati currency.
The best places to buy bakhoor in Dubai are considered to be Deira's Spice Souk (spice market in Deira area) and The Souk Gallery in Dubai Mall. Abu Dhabi has many good stores in Mushrif Mall and Yas Mall.
You can buy a mabkhara smoker in large supermarkets or at markets. The price ranges from 30 dirhams to infinity, there are even mabkharas with gold and precious stones.
There is a huge variety of bakhoor sorts. Each manufacturer makes its own blend of flavors and oils, obtaining unique varieties. It is even difficult to recommend a brand. The advice is simple: go and smell for yourself and buy the one you like.
In the old days, the Arabs used to make their own bakhoor, and it was considered a woman's craft. Each family has kept its unique recipe from generation to generation. Even now, older women in the UAE still buy agarwood and make their own bakhoor.
- Ingestion of bakhoor may lead to death. Keep it out of the reach of children;
- Never burn bakhoor in a room where someone is sleeping. Ask all people to leave the room before burning;
- If using a charcoal burner, be especially careful not to set the house on fire;
- Never leave the smoker unattended;
- Turn off the electric smoker immediately after burning is over;
- Any fire detector will quickly respond to thick smoke from a bakhoor burning;
- Don't forget that the goal of burning is to saturate objects in the room with aroma, not the air. After burning, ventilate the room.
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Nowadays, many companies, including the Western: Versace, Van Cleef & Arpels, Yves Saint Laurent, Tom Ford, Byredo, Dolce & Gabbana, Acqua di Parma, Armani and others are producing perfumes from oud oil. You can buy them in the Western countries. In fact they can be cheaper in the UAE. Why is it? Read the answer in our review "Why the UAE offers low prices".
In the United Arab Emirates, it's best to look for oriental brand perfumes. First and foremost, look for Ajmal Perfumes, the most famous brand in the UAE (pictured near, click on the photo to enlarge). Perfume may be called "itr" or "attar" in Arabic.
Perfume is usually poured in such a way that the price of the package is not less than 100 US dollars. Count on that amount - from 380 dirhams and above.
Aromatic candles or oud oil itself are sold at 3 milligrams. Prices are similar - from 380 dirhams and above. Remember that oud never comes cheap, so beware of fakes.
To buy such perfumes we recommend allocating a separate line in the travel budget. Read our review "How much money to take in the UAE".
We will not advise on how to choose. Go, smell, choose and buy the perfume that suits you.
Good luck shopping in the UAE, and read the best pages about the country on our website (see the list of the links below).
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