Agarwood vs Sandalwood: Decoding the Scented Woods of the East Featured Image

Agarwood vs Sandalwood: Decoding the Scented Woods of the East

In the world of aromatic woods, the debate between agarwood vs sandalwood stands out prominently. Both these woods hold a special place in various cultures, perfumeries, and rituals. This article delves deep into the nuances of each, providing a balanced viewpoint on their similarities, differences, and unique characteristics.

What is Agarwood and What is Sandalwood?

Agarwood is a rare and precious wood that originates from the Aquilaria tree, found mainly in Southeast Asia. When the tree is infected by a certain type of mold, it reacts by producing a dark, aromatic resin, which then gets embedded within its heartwood. This resin-embedded wood is what’s commonly known as agarwood or ‘oud’ in many cultures. It’s prized for its unique and complex fragrance, often used in incense, perfumes, and traditional medicines.

Sandalwood is derived from the genus Santalum. These trees are typically found in the Pacific Islands, India, and Australia. Sandalwood heartwood, from mature trees, is yellow and fine-grained, and unlike many other aromatic woods, retains its fragrance for decades. Sandalwood oil, obtained from the wood, is used extensively in perfumes, cosmetics, and traditional medicines.

What is the Main Difference Between agarwood and sandalwood?

The main difference between agarwood and sandalwood is that agarwood is derived from the resinous heartwood of certain species of trees in the Aquilaria and Gyrinops genera when they become infected with a type of mold, resulting in a dark, fragrant wood. This contrasts with sandalwood, which is derived from the aromatic heartwood of trees primarily in the Santalum genus. Agarwood possesses a rich and complex scent profile, often described as warm, sweet, and woody with spicy undertones, while sandalwood features a soft, milky, warm, and uniformly woody aroma.

Key Differences Between Agarwood and Sandalwood

  1. Origin: Agarwood primarily comes from the Aquilaria tree found in Southeast Asia, while Sandalwood is from the Santalum genus located in areas like the Pacific Islands, India, and Australia.
  2. Formation: Agarwood’s unique properties and scent are a result of a defense mechanism against infections, especially from molds. Sandalwood’s aromatic properties are inherent and do not result from any infections.
  3. Fragrance Longevity: While both woods are known for their long-lasting scents, Sandalwood retains its fragrance for decades, even after being cut.
  4. Usage in Perfumery: Agarwood’s scent is typically more pungent, rich, and musky, often used in high-end perfumes. Sandalwood provides a soft, warm, milky, and woody scent to fragrances.
  5. Color: Agarwood can vary in color from pale yellow to dark brown depending on the resin content. Sandalwood is typically yellow or golden in color.
  6. Price: Due to its rarity and the specific conditions required for its formation, Agarwood is generally more expensive than Sandalwood.
  7. Cultural Significance: Both woods have cultural and religious significance in various regions, but Agarwood, also known as ‘oud,’ holds special importance in Middle Eastern cultures.
  8. Conservation Status: Due to overharvesting, many species of both Agarwood-producing trees and Sandalwood are now threatened. However, the conservation status varies by specific species and region.

Key Similarities Between Agarwood and Sandalwood

  1. Aromatic Nature: Both Agarwood and Sandalwood are prized for their unique and captivating fragrances.
  2. Use in Traditional Medicine: Both types of wood have been used in traditional medicine in various cultures for their perceived health benefits.
  3. Role in Perfumery: Both woods are highly sought after in the perfume industry for the distinct scents they bring to fragrances.
  4. Spiritual Use: In various cultures, both Agarwood and Sandalwood are used in religious and spiritual rituals, especially as incense.
  5. Threat from Overharvesting: Both types of wood have faced threats from overharvesting due to their high demand, leading to conservation efforts.
  6. Longevity: The scents of both Agarwood and Sandalwood are known to last for a very long time, with Sandalwood retaining its fragrance for decades.

Pros of Agarwood Over Sandalwood

  1. Complex Fragrance: Agarwood offers a richer and more complex scent profile, ranging from sweet, floral notes to deep, woody undertones, making it highly sought after in the world of perfumery.
  2. Cultural Prestige: In many cultures, especially in the Middle East, Agarwood (often referred to as ‘oud’) is seen as a symbol of luxury and status due to its rarity and distinct scent.
  3. Potential Health Benefits: Some traditional medicine practices attribute various health benefits to Agarwood, including anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.
  4. Natural Formation: The unique scent of Agarwood is a result of a natural defense mechanism against mold and other pathogens, which can be seen as a testament to the tree’s resilience.
  5. Rarity: The specific conditions needed for the formation of Agarwood, such as the presence of certain molds, makes it rarer and can be seen as more exclusive compared to Sandalwood.
  6. Artisanal Appeal: The craftsmanship involved in extracting and processing Agarwood, especially in its traditional regions, adds to its artisanal and authentic appeal.

Cons of Agarwood Compared to Sandalwood

  1. Price: Due to its rarity and the specific conditions required for its formation, Agarwood is generally more expensive than Sandalwood.
  2. Sustainability Concerns: Overharvesting and high demand for Agarwood have led to conservation concerns and, in some regions, it’s becoming harder to source sustainably.
  3. Variability: Since the scent and quality of Agarwood depend on factors like the type of mold infection and the region of growth, there can be more variability in its quality compared to Sandalwood.
  4. Lesser Known: Outside of specific regions or industries like high-end perfumery, Agarwood is less well-known compared to the more globally recognized Sandalwood.
  5. Acquired Taste: The potent and unique scent of Agarwood can be an acquired taste for some, whereas Sandalwood’s softer and milky fragrance is often seen as more universally appealing.
  6. Processing Challenges: Extracting the highest quality Agarwood resin and ensuring it’s genuine can be challenging, making the sourcing and authentication process more complex compared to Sandalwood.

Pros of Sandalwood Over Agarwood

  1. Universal Appeal: Sandalwood’s soft, warm, milky, and woody scent is often seen as universally appealing, making it a favorite in many cultures and perfumery traditions.
  2. Consistency: Sandalwood generally offers a more consistent scent profile across different sources, making it a reliable choice for various applications.
  3. Versatility: The gentle nature of Sandalwood’s fragrance makes it versatile and suitable for a broader range of products, from perfumes to skincare.
  4. Recognition: Globally, Sandalwood is more well-known and recognized than Agarwood, especially outside of niche perfume and luxury markets.
  5. Sustainability: While there are concerns about overharvesting, initiatives and plantations have been set up to ensure sustainable production of Sandalwood.
  6. Traditional Uses: Sandalwood has a vast array of traditional uses, from spiritual rituals to medicinal applications, showcasing its multifaceted significance.
  7. Longevity of Scent: Sandalwood retains its fragrance for decades, even after being cut, ensuring its aromatic properties last for a long time in products.

Cons of Sandalwood Compared to Agarwood

  1. Scent Complexity: Sandalwood, while pleasant, might not offer the same depth and complexity of scent that Agarwood’s varied profile provides.
  2. Overharvesting: Due to its popularity, Sandalwood has faced threats from overharvesting, leading to depletion in some regions.
  3. Price Fluctuations: While Sandalwood can be more affordable than Agarwood, its price has seen fluctuations due to demand, leading to potential unpredictability in sourcing costs.
  4. Synthetic Substitutes: The widespread popularity of Sandalwood has led to the creation of many synthetic substitutes, which can dilute the perceived value of genuine Sandalwood.
  5. Cultural Significance: While Sandalwood holds importance in various cultures, Agarwood’s status, especially in Middle Eastern cultures, can be seen as more prestigious due to its rarity.
  6. Scent Variability: Even though Sandalwood generally offers a consistent profile, variations between different species can still exist, potentially affecting product formulation.

Situations When Agarwood is Better Than Sandalwood

  1. High-End Perfumery: Due to its rich and complex scent profile, Agarwood is often preferred in luxury and niche fragrances, providing depth and a touch of exoticism.
  2. Cultural Ceremonies: Especially in the Middle East, Agarwood, or ‘oud’, holds a significant place in various ceremonies and is favored for its distinct aroma.
  3. Meditative Practices: For those seeking a deep, grounding aroma during meditation or spiritual rituals, Agarwood’s intense and multifaceted scent can enhance the experience.
  4. Aromatic Therapy: When aiming for a strong and enveloping atmosphere in aromatherapy sessions, Agarwood’s potency can be more effective than the subtler Sandalwood.
  5. Status Symbol: As a luxury item, especially in certain cultures, Agarwood serves as a status symbol, making it preferable for gifting or showcasing opulence.
  6. Artisanal Crafts: Due to the intricate process of harvesting and crafting with Agarwood, it’s often chosen for artisanal and bespoke products.
  7. Collectors’ Choice: For fragrance and wood collectors, the rarity and uniqueness of Agarwood make it a prized possession over the more commonly available Sandalwood.

Situations When Sandalwood is Better Than Agarwood

  1. Skincare Products: Sandalwood’s anti-inflammatory and soothing properties, coupled with its gentle scent, make it a preferred choice in skincare formulations.
  2. Mass-Market Perfumery: For a broad audience appeal, the universally liked aroma of Sandalwood is often chosen for mass-market fragrances.
  3. Calmative Therapies: In therapeutic settings where a calming and serene ambiance is desired, Sandalwood’s soft and milky fragrance is preferable.
  4. Daily Rituals: For daily rituals, such as morning prayers or simple meditations, the less overpowering scent of Sandalwood is often chosen.
  5. Woodcraft: For crafting items like furniture or artifacts, the consistent texture and fragrance of Sandalwood might be more suitable than the varied Agarwood.
  6. Affordability: When budget constraints come into play, Sandalwood, generally being more affordable than Agarwood, becomes the go-to choice for many products and uses.
  7. Inclusivity: When catering to a global audience with varied tastes, the universally recognized and accepted Sandalwood aroma is often a safer bet.

Sandalwood vs. Agarwood Incense

When diving into the aromatic realm of incense, Sandalwood and Agarwood emerge as two titans, revered for their distinct fragrances and spiritual significance. Here’s a closer look at the two when used in incense:

Sandalwood Incense:

  • Aroma: Sandalwood incense releases a creamy, warm, and woody aroma. Its scent is often described as calming and meditative, with subtle sweet notes that linger.
  • Usage: Traditionally, Sandalwood incense has been widely used in religious rituals across various cultures, especially in Hindu, Buddhist, and Zen ceremonies. The scent is believed to promote calmness, aiding meditation and spiritual practices.
  • Composition: Sandalwood incense is typically made by grinding the heartwood of the Sandalwood tree into a fine powder, which is then combined with a natural binder before being shaped into sticks or cones.
  • Benefits: Apart from its spiritual significance, Sandalwood incense is believed to have therapeutic properties. It is said to enhance mental clarity, reduce anxiety, and create a tranquil atmosphere.

Agarwood Incense:

  • Aroma: Agarwood, also known as ‘Oud’, emits a rich, deep, and resinous fragrance when burned. Its profile can range from sweet and woody to earthy with nuances of spices and fruits.
  • Usage: Agarwood incense holds a special place in many Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian ceremonies. It’s also a favorite in Japanese Kōdō, the traditional art of appreciating incense.
  • Composition: Agarwood incense is produced from the resin-infused heartwood of trees belonging to the Aquilaria and Gyrinops genera. This resin forms as a defense mechanism against mold infection.
  • Benefits: Apart from its ceremonial importance, Agarwood incense is believed to have myriad benefits. It’s considered purifying and is often used in therapeutic practices for its potential mood-enhancing and relaxing effects.

Both Sandalwood and Agarwood incenses offer unique and enriching aromatic experiences. While Sandalwood tends to be more universally calming and grounding, Agarwood offers a more complex and luxurious scent, often associated with opulence and deep spirituality. Choosing between them often comes down to personal preference and the specific ambiance one desires to create.

Sandalwood vs. Agarwood Smell

The olfactory profiles of Sandalwood and Agarwood are among the most cherished in the world of perfumery and aromatics. These two fragrances, while both woody in essence, present distinctly different aromatic experiences. Here’s an exploration into their individual scents:


  • Aroma Profile: Sandalwood exudes a soft, milky, and distinctly woody aroma. The fragrance is often characterized as creamy, warm, and rich with a slight sweetness that remains consistent across its evaporation curve.
  • Complexity: While its scent is relatively linear, Sandalwood offers depth with its velvety and long-lasting aroma. Some people also detect faint notes of vanilla, floral undertones, or even a balsamic quality, depending on the origin of the wood.
  • Mood and Feel: The fragrance of Sandalwood evokes feelings of tranquility, warmth, and comfort. It’s this serene and grounding quality that has made it a staple in meditation and spiritual rituals.


  • Aroma Profile: Agarwood, known in the fragrance world as ‘Oud’, has a vastly intricate and multifaceted scent. Depending on the type, origin, and age of the resin, Agarwood can range from sweet and spicy to woody, smoky, and even animalic.
  • Complexity: Agarwood’s fragrance is anything but linear. It evolves, telling a story that moves from an initial sharpness to deep, resinous warmth. Varieties of Agarwood can even have nuances of dried fruits, leather, or green freshness.
  • Mood and Feel: The scent of Agarwood is opulent and luxurious, often described as mysterious and alluring. Its complex aroma has a transformative quality, taking the user on an olfactory journey, making it a prized ingredient in high-end perfumery.

While both Sandalwood and Agarwood belong to the woody category of scents, their aromas are worlds apart. Sandalwood is soothing, consistent, and universally appreciated, whereas Agarwood is complex, evolving, and sometimes an acquired taste, offering a rich tapestry of scents that intrigue and captivate. The choice between them is often a matter of personal preference, with each offering its own unique olfactory charm.

Agarwood vs. Sandalwood Price

the exact prices of Agarwood and Sandalwood can vary widely based on factors like grade, origin, age, and current market demand. However, here is a general overview:


  • Low-grade: This might cost anywhere from $100 to $500 per kilogram.
  • Mid-grade: Prices can range from $1,000 to $5,000 per kilogram.
  • High-grade: This can fetch anywhere from $10,000 to $50,000 per kilogram or even more for very rare pieces. Oud oil, distilled from agarwood, can also be very expensive, sometimes costing hundreds of dollars for just a few milliliters.


  • Low-grade: Prices could be around $30 to $100 per kilogram.
  • Mid-grade: Ranges from $200 to $1,000 per kilogram.
  • High-grade (like Mysore Sandalwood): Can cost upwards of $2,000 to $5,000 per kilogram. The oil is also valuable, often priced at $2,000 to $3,000 per liter or even higher, depending on purity and origin.

The global demand and reverence for both Agarwood and Sandalwood have significantly influenced their market prices. Here’s a concise breakdown of their pricing dynamics:


  • Pricing: Among the two, Agarwood generally commands a higher price, especially for the highest quality resin-infused heartwood and oil. In some cases, top-grade Agarwood can fetch thousands of dollars per kilogram.
  • Factors Influencing Price: The high cost of Agarwood is attributed to its rarity, the time-consuming process of its formation, and the high demand in perfume and luxury goods industries. The quality, age, and geographic origin of the resin also play a crucial role in its valuation.


  • Pricing: Sandalwood is also expensive, but it typically doesn’t reach the astronomical prices of the finest Agarwood. The price for genuine sandalwood oil and heartwood has been on the rise due to over-harvesting and increasing demand.
  • Factors Influencing Price: The cost of Sandalwood is driven by its slow growth rate, overharvesting concerns, and the length of time (often decades) before a tree is mature enough to produce valuable heartwood. Authentic Mysore Sandalwood from India tends to be among the priciest.

While both Agarwood and Sandalwood are premium commodities with prices reflecting their revered status and demand, Agarwood, especially its highest grades, can often surpass Sandalwood in terms of cost per weight. As always, the provenance, authenticity, and quality play decisive roles in the final pricing of both these aromatic treasures.


What are the primary regions where agarwood and sandalwood are harvested?

Agarwood is primarily harvested in countries of Southeast Asia, particularly Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia, and parts of the Middle East. Sandalwood is majorly sourced from India (especially Mysore), Australia, and islands in the Pacific.

How are agarwood and sandalwood oils extracted?

Agarwood oil is extracted using steam distillation from the resinous heartwood. Sandalwood oil is also extracted through steam distillation, but from the chipped heartwood where the concentration of oil is highest.

Why is agarwood sometimes referred to as ‘oud’?

‘Oud’ is an Arabic term which directly translates to ‘wood’. It has become synonymous with the resin-infused heartwood from which agarwood oil is extracted, especially in the Middle East.

What are the primary uses of agarwood and sandalwood in traditional medicine?

In traditional medicine, agarwood is believed to have properties that treat digestive and respiratory issues. Sandalwood, on the other hand, is used for its anti-inflammatory properties and is believed to soothe skin ailments, reduce anxiety, and improve mental clarity.

How can one determine the authenticity of agarwood and sandalwood products?

Authenticity can be determined through scent, texture, and sometimes color. Genuine agarwood has a deep, complex scent that’s hard to replicate synthetically. Authentic sandalwood has a soft, lasting scent and a distinct smooth texture. However, lab tests or expert opinions are often the most reliable ways to ascertain authenticity.

Agarwood vs Sandalwood Summary

Understanding the intricacies of agarwood vs sandalwood is essential for aficionados, industry professionals, and anyone with an interest in aromatic woods. While both have their own set of merits, it’s their unique characteristics that define their significance in different applications. As we’ve seen, whether it’s for perfumery, rituals, or therapeutic uses, choosing between them depends largely on the desired outcome and cultural context.

FragranceComplex and varied scent profileSoft, warm, milky, and woody scent
RecognitionLesser-known globallyGlobally recognized
PricingGenerally more expensiveCan be more affordable
Used in PerfumeryYesYes
Cultural SignificanceYesYes
ComplexityRicher scent profileUniversally appealing aroma
Cultural PrestigeSeen as luxury in Middle EastRecognized globally
Price & RarityMore expensive due to rarityPrice fluctuations due to demand
Synthetic SubstitutesFewerMany available
Situations Favored
High-End PerfumeryPreferredUsed in mass-market fragrances
SkincareLess commonPreferred due to soothing properties
Agarwood vs Sandalwood Summary

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