Scent from Heaven is an upcoming Al Jazeera documentary about Oud, one of the world’s rarest and most expensive commodities. Also known as Agarwood and Gaharu, kilo for kilo Oud costs more than gold and in recent years has become the basis of some of the world’s most exclusive perfumes. The most prized variety, Kynam, can sell for up to $9m per kilo.
For millennia, Oud had spiritual associations for many Asian cultures, where its smoke was said to aid contemplation. It’s mentioned in the world’s oldest written texts – the Sanskrit Vedas – and appears in the Bible, the Torah and Buddhist and Islamic scriptures.
Oud has long held huge cultural significance in the Gulf and the Middle East, where its fragrance is used to welcome guests and is shared with family and friends.
Increasing demand from Western perfumers and Chinese investors have pushed up prices recently, as has the news that the infected trees it’s sourced from are becoming increasingly endangered and have been placed on the Convention On International Trade In Endangered Species list.
“In a vicious circle, the rarer it gets, the more desirable it becomes, driving up prices and creating a dangerous black market,” says Al Jazeera’s Ali Alwoozain. “There are now people getting killed in the hunt for Oud.”
Alwoozain is a Qatari citizen who has loved Oud all his life. “For as long as I can remember, Oud has been part of my life. The scent of this rare and special wood was present at home, at the neighbours and in the mosque. Nothing gives me a feeling of utter nostalgia like the smell of Oud.”
Until recently though, Alwoozain had not thought much about where Oud actually came from. His journey of discovery takes him from the souks of his homeland to the glossy stores of London’s West End, from the perfumeries of the South of France to jungles in Thailand and Malaysia. Part travelogue, part detective story, and part ode to the power of smell, Scent From Heaven premieres on Al Jazeera English on Friday, 26 February 2016 at 2000GMT/2200CAT.