Thursday, 12 January 2017

The Arabian Note Pad: The Notes Which Define Arabian Perfumery

Today, I am going to have a look at some fragrance notes, which are so synonymous with Arabian perfumery – and yes!  We know of course that Oud is a major player in the fragrance game, in the Middle East, however there are other fragrance notes that are just as important and also deserve some time in the spotlight.  Although Oud is always the elephant in the room when it comes to Arabian perfumery (or a camel, mind you! ;) ) its appeal would not be there as much if it weren’t for the other supporting actors in the orchestra which is Arabian fine fragrance. 

Here, I am going to break down some important notes found within Arabian perfumery, detailing also why they are so significant in the region.


Saffron is a commodity that is used in different aspect of life in the Middle East, Persia and the neighbouring regions.  In the Arabian gulf region in particular, saffron is used in coffee along with cinnamon and other spices.  Apart from that, of course saffron is used to spice food.  According to Islamic tradition, saffron is the grass of paradise – so it’s no surprise that saffron is used as an important fragrance note in local fragrance creations, especially since fragrance in general has religious connotations.


Again, according to Islamic tradition, musk is the soil of the banks of the rivers of paradise – so its not surprising to find musk to be an important commodity in fragrance.  Both black and white musk are of significant cultural importance, when it comes to perfumery in the Middle East but since it is derived from nature (the musk deer), black musk is the preferred perfumery note.  Today of course, due to restrictions in the trade of black musk, high quality synthetic ingredients can be found to imitate the smell of authentic deer musk, whilst white musk has a nice soapy and calming effect!


Ah rose!  That eternal fragrance note, always lingering in the background of most fragrances wherever they may be from!  The Rose Attar has a strong and long history in the Middle East, in particular, Saudi Arabia.  The city of Taif in Saudi Arabia is a hotbed of roses.  This city hosts an annual rose festival to celebrate its rosey heritage and status as the hothouse for rose cultivation.  The fertile land produces rose waters, roses essences and other rose by-products that have other uses, such as being mixed in milk or food.  It is from here that roses are exported to neighbouring countries of the region and used to form as a part of manufactured fragrances.  Its main cultivation is the ever fragrant variety of the Damask rose species.  Check out this wonderful video shot in the Taif rose plantation:


Henna is a staple of Middle Eastern tradition.  Not only does henna adorn the hands and feet of brides all over the Middle Eastern region, in elaborate and fancy tattoos, but it is also a popular ingredient in regional attars.  In fact, the use of henna by women is something of an Islamic religious obligation, so henna is used throughout the year on a daily basis by women, cementing it has a part of the cultural heritage.  In fragrance, it has a musty wet earthy scent, being a perfect base note to regional attars. 

Frankincense and Myrrh

Well, does this need any introduction?  From biblical times, when Queen of Sheba’s Kingdom and economy had relied heavily on the trade of frankincense, it was exported from Yemen and Oman to lands as far as the levant – destined for Damascus, Jerusalem and Egypt, where churches were and still are, fragranced with these esteemed holy essences.  Referred to as ‘Lubaan’ and ‘Mur’ in Arabic, these notes form as important base notes, especially with linear Arabian attars that have been used since the beginning of time.  It doesn’t look like the use of these notes is going to dwindle anytime soon!  In Oman and Yemen, where frankincense originated, it is even used to produce a drink, mixed with water in order to obtain its health benefits.  Frankincense of course is also used as Bakhoor – burned to release its fragrance.      

Apart from these notes listed above, which are quintessential notes found in traditional Arabian perfumery, of course there are other wonderful notes that have come in from neighbouring regions, including importantly, India – where we see the cultivation of important fragrance commodities including Sandalwood and Jasmine – making their presence known in modern Arabian fragrances.

Apart from Oud, what is your favourite Arabian fragrance note?

Until next time, Happy Sniffing! :)  

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