Interview with Pablo Avion

Taha Syed is owner of Agar Aura, which sells an affordable collection of oud oils and woods online. He’s also a frequent contributor to the oud lovers group at

What is oud / agarwood?

Oud, aloeswood or agarwood is the resinous heartwood of the agarwood tree. The essential oil extracted from the wood is commonly known as oud oil (sometimes even just ‘oud’), dahn al-oud (the Arabic term for ‘oud oil’), and agarwood oil.

The tree produces the aromatic resin as a reaction to a fungal attack, and over the years as the fungal infection grows, so does the resin in the heartwood.

Oud oil is, however, more than just a fragrant essential oil. For many, it provides a highly engaging olfactory experience due to its naturally complex scent spectrum. For others, it is grounding, pacifying and tranquilizing, and is used as an aid in meditation. Yet others use oud for purely medicinal reasons.

In short: it is a gift of nature which has more to offer than just an addictive scent.

What is the “agar aura” as you envision it?

Believe it or not, this is actually the first time someone has asked me this!

The ‘agar aura’ is a complete experience that involves the use of oud oil and the smoke of oud wood chips for scenting oneself. Basically, the combination of the two creates a scent halo around you, and you become the equivalent of a walking incense stick.

It is highly pleasing to both the wearer as well as anyone they are around, or even walk past. I remember when I was in university my friends would tell me that they always knew what days I was there because they could smell my ‘presence’. And that was hours after I had been there!

But more importantly, to me, the agar aura experience is more about pampering oneself. The scent from the combination of using oud oil and oud smoke is such an engaging and beautiful olfactory experience that often times I will catch myself zoned out, drowned in the sheer complexity of what my nose is blissing out on.

What is the oud oil extraction / creation process? What makes your oil different?

No doubt, there are numerous sources of oud oils (as well as aromatic concoctions being passed off as oud). Sadly, most oud oils available to the public are adulterated. In some cases, there is not a drop of the real stuff in the bottle. I cannot name more than a few retailers who I believe sell 100% pure unadulterated oud oils.

There is a lot involved in the process of extracting oud oil from the wood, and there are various methods employed to obtain it. Hydro-distillation and steam-distillation are the most popular methods.

In general, the quality of the wood, the distillation techniques employed, and the purity of the oil determine the scent. It would be safe to say that 99% of oud oils out there have been extracted from the lowest grades of oud wood, the worst distillation techniques are employed, and the end product is more often than not adulterated. Why, you ask? Because oud is rare and expensive, and opting for quality can become morbidly expensive if a company wishes to have large-scale operations.

Agar Aura caters specifically to the niche sector of the oud market. Our focus is on quality, purity and rarity. We believe that the difference between high and low quality oils is so huge that they should be treated as two separate fragrances altogether.

I like to use the example of carbon: it can be quite dull (coal), or it can be the most brilliant and prized of all gemstones (diamonds). That’s the case with oud as well.

What are some myths about oud oil (from how people “think it smells” to differences in fragrance to actual quality)?

The oud craze is a relatively recent phenomenon in the West, but it has been around for a long time in the East. However, it might surprise you to know that most of the same misconceptions exist in both markets.

I think the main misconception is about the scent itself: most people believe that oud is supposed to smell leathery, pungent, rubbery, or harsh in one way or another. It is often associated incorrectly with the ‘dirty’ note found in a lot of Western perfumes.

Now ‘leathery’ and ‘pungent’ may certainly be used to describe the scent of some oud oils from certain geographical regions, however they are by no means unpleasant. But what most people have come to think of as the ‘oud note’ is actually the scent of horribly low-quality oud oil, distilled with such poor extraction methods that it would in fact be unfair to call the resulting oil ‘oud’. And in many cases, perfume houses use synthetic oud, which is an aroma-chemical and is neither extracted from agarwood trees nor smells anything like real oud oil.

Let us now turn to high quality oud oils. It may be surprising for many to know that in reality oud oils from most regions are not leathery, rubbery or harsh. Bold, yes – and it can take a week or 2 to get accustomed to the boldness – but certainly not dirty or harsh smelling. Did you know, for example, that oils from Borneo island can be fruity, floral, bright and zesty?

The point is: different regions produce oud oils that are very, very different from each other. Each type of oud oil comes with its own set of distinct properties and scent.

In fact, every single batch of oud oil (even from the same jungle) smells different. So the experiences you get from oud are limitless, and every oud oil that you acquire will have a different story to tell.

I believe this is also one of the main reasons why the big perfume houses opt for synthetics and low-grade oud (which is more generic smelling). They have to sell thousands, if not millions, of bottles of any given fragrance and the juice in each bottle has to smell exactly like the one next to it. This is impossible to do with high quality oud oil at that scale.

Tell us a little about yourself. Your background, how you got into this business, and what you love about it.

I grew up in Saudi Arabia, and it was during the 15 years spent there that I developed a love for perfume, and Arabian perfumery in particular.

I remember as a kid I would love spending time at the tiny oud shop just yards away from where I lived.

In malls and mosques, they would always be burning oud chips and bukhoors (incense pellets), and I would stand close to the burner greedily try to get as much of the smoke on myself and my clothes as possible. Then I would come home and enjoy the scent of the resin sticking to my clothes after the smokiness dissipated.

Now I also happen to draw and paint. I create my ‘mukhallats’ (oud-based perfume blends) the same way I paint: I envision something in my mind and then go about recreating it. In the case of paintings, I would pour out my imagination onto a canvas. With perfumery, the canvas is my mixing bottle.

For me, Agar Aura started out as a hobby; I wanted to share my passion with the world. But business quickly picked up, and today I’m happy to be one of the very few sellers world-wide who specialize in pure oud oils of exceptional quality.

How did you get involved with Basenotes? What has your experience been like there?

I remember having come across the website a long time ago, but I did not sign up or get involved back then. It was only a few years ago that I discovered the “oud lovers” group there and I realized its immense value for the English-speaking, oud-lovin’ world.

This particular discussion group embodies how oud connoisseurs perceive and express their oud experiences. The vocabulary its members have developed is worthy of being compiled into an “Oud Lovers’ Dictionary”.

Scents notes have been isolated and identified, terms have been coined, the scent of oud oils have been broken down into individual scent notes, and a wealth of knowledge and experience has been shared by members around the globe.

I myself have greatly benefited from the group as well. In fact, it was one Basenotes member in particular who always pushed me to keep stepping up my game, and she is one of the main reasons why today Agar Aura carries some of the highest quality oud oils in the world.

5 Comments Add yours
  1. One thing I have noticed when I went for Umrah is the numerous burners that are present , not only in the hotels but in the various shops and malls around the Holy Mosques. Each one is a work of art on its own. Have you come across any interesting looking burners?

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