Oud oil, a key ingredient in Middle East perfumes, is formed when the agar tree, which is found across South East Asia, becomes infected with a fungus. Below, Josh Castle, of Asia Plantation Capital (APC), talks about why the company created a perfume aimed at the UAE market.
APC has been involved in developing sustainable agar plantations for several years. Why?
We believe in developing commercial plantation projects which also benefit the environment and communities where we operate. We have developed, with a leading agarwood and distillery expert [a professor from Kasetsart University in Thailand], a totally organic process to produce high-quality agar oils totally sustainably, [which] gives us a marketing edge. The environmental aspect is that we help stop and reduce illegal logging of agarwood trees in the wild and the criminal exploitation of rural communities that also can create.
How important is the UAE market to you?
Presently, the UAE and the Middle East in general is the largest market of oud oil and infected wood chips which are simply burned in the home. We supply wholesale oils we produce for the market in Bangkok, which undoubtedly end up in Dubai. We are now looking to establish our own wholesale supply company in Dubai or Abu Dhabi to supply direct to the local markets.
You have just created a fragrance specifically aimed at the UAE market. What's different about it?
Our fragrance has been created by Gallimard in France, which is one of the country's oldest and most respected perfumiers. The company includes in their former clients some illustrious figures such as King Louis XIV of France. This is the first ever fragrance created by Gallimard containing oud oil as its base ingredient. The real major difference with our fragrance is we believe it is the only fragrance developed with oils from 100 per cent sustainable plantations certified by the Cities Convention [an international treaty drawn up in 1973 to protect nature from over-exploitation].
Why did you choose a French perfumer to develop the fragrance?
France is regarded historically as the cutting edge in terms of global fragrances and development as well as production. We believe that the Arabic fragrance and oud oil industry needs almost a gentle education in the quality and importance of [the product] from sustainable plantations ... and [we] felt using a perfumier such as Gallimard, with centuries of history, would help with this.
Has the price of oud increased in recent years?
There is no real agarwood price index, due simply to the fact since 2000 basically 90 per cent of the trade has been illegal. So its very much a cash business where records are not reported or published as such. We have carried out our own extensive research and it's fair to say that historically prices have increased. In particular, we have found due to the Cities banning harvesting in wild stocks, the demand and interest in sustainably sourced and certified oils and wood chips like our own has soared.