The history and tradition of incense is a long and complex one. Many different societies and cultures each had their own rendition and style of producing incense sticks. Regions such as India, Japan, China, and Tibet have held their own unique and profound influences upon such traditions.
In the below section we are going to discuss different styles and types of incense available throughout the world.
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Masala Incense Sticks
Masala incense sticks are one of the more common Indian varieties of incense and they often incorporate traditional, recognizable ingredients such as herbs, flowers and resins. The combined mixture is formed into a paste and spread over a wooden stick.
Durbar Incense Sticks
Although durbar styled incense is quite similar in composition with traditional masalas, the ingredients are slightly different. Especially to a western audience. Durbars are often laden with oil and hold a complex aroma which is often to fuse sweet and spicy elements. It is not uncommon for these to be slightly wet or soft to the touch.
Champa Incense Sticks
Nag champa is one of the most popular incense styles in the world. The scent usually combines the sweet scent of plumeria with the base scent of sandalwood, although sometimes magnolia is sometimes used in place of plumeria. These ingredients are often combined with halmaddi, a resin harvested from the Ailanthus Malabarica tree, which gives champa styles a unique twist.
Fluxo’s typically hold a rich and complex scent, and often incorporate a wide number of ingredients. Although the scent may vary depending on the ingredients, they are typically quite pungent and detecting individual subtleties is typically quite difficult.
A good representation would be Sri Sai Flora Fluxo, which is quite popular in India but may not be well-suited to a western palette.
A cheaper variety of incense is the hand-dipped variety. Many of these still smell amazing but sometimes lack the depth of traditional varieties. These are often made from a wood/charcoal core which is then dipped into fragrance oil.
A good representation of a quality hand-dipped incense would be Wild-Berry, an incense manufacturer originating from Cleveland, Ohio, USA.
Some manufacturers also combine hand dipping with more traditional incense manufacturing methods, such as dipping masala incense sticks into oils for added fragrance.
Dhoop sticks are a malleable variety common in India and Tibet.
These are a core-less, and most varieties are bendable, although there are some dry styles as well.
This style of incense is common in Incense and Tibet.
The term Senko the Japanese term for incense sticks. However, these incense sticks do not have a bamboo core and are usually of a thin and smooth composition.
Other names for Senko sticks include: sen-koh, senkoo, senkou
Simpoi incense sticks are a Tibetan variety.
These are also coreless, and are typically hand-rolled and thick.
The Deodar cedar is a common ingredient in this style of incense.
Incense coils are made in a similar style as Japanese incense except that they are rolled into coils.
These typically burn for much longer than incense sticks, often up to 6 or 8 hours.
Related Incense Terms
These are some other related incense terms and their meaning.
Agarbatti simply refers to stick incense. Its name is derived from the terms “agar” and “batti”, meaning agarwood and stick, correspondingly.
The term agarbatti refers to your typical Indian style incense stick, with the bamboo core.
Other terms for agarbatti include: agarbathi, batti, and batties.
Popular Incense Fragrances
Agarwood is harvested wood from trees of the Aquilaria genus which has been infected with Phialophora parasitica mold. The tree develops a very fragrant resin as a defensive response to the mold infestation.
It is one of the most traditional incense ingredients throughout Asia and has a very unique scent.
Unfortunately, due to scarcity from over-harvesting and because the resin takes so long to develop, the price of agarwood has skyrocketed in recent years.
Amber is an aromatic composite made from styrax resin, vanilla, and other fragrant materials.
It smells deep, resinous, and very fragrant.
These are multiple different types of amber resin and each one can smell a little different. It’s not uncommon for amber recipes to be closely guarded family secrets. Most of it is produced in South Asia in places such as India and Indonesia.
Sandalwood is the traditional incense fragrance in India. The most treasured sandalwood from India is known as ‘Old Mountain’ sandalwood, and comes from the Mysore region.
Sandalwood has a sweet, woody, creamy, and buttery fragrance.
Frankincense is most well-known due to its inclusion in the Bible and the story of the Three Wise Men. In this story, the Three Wise Men brought frankincense, myrrh, and gold to the birth of Baby Jesus.
Frankincense has a musky, resinous aroma with hints of pine and citrus.
Patchouli is an aromatic herb which grows in many regions of the world.
It has an earthy, grassy, citrus scent which grew to popularity in the 60’s and 60’s.
Most of us are familiar with cinnamon. It’s often used in cooking, or to spice up a hot cocoa. However, cinnamon’s sweet and spicy aroma also makes an excellent addition to incense formulations.
Dragon’s Blood has a very dark aroma, a bit musky, with notes of earth and a light floral sweetness.
People seem to have very mixed reactions on whether they actually enjoy the fragrance or not. Sometimes it’s sweet, sometimes it’s dry. Sometimes it can even smell a little like plastic. In my experience, dragon’s blood seems to be inconsistent. This could also be because there are several types of related trees which all produce ‘dragons blood’, but may have different properties and/or fragrances.
Other popular incense fragrances include: