Malaysian Incense : Scents Around the World

Aromas play an important role in cultural practices around the world. In Malaysia, for instance, insense is part of the Chinese temples rituals. There is usually a large cauldron full of smoking joss sticks. The most popular blends are based on sandalwood, with anise, cinnamon, and a touch of camphor and rose.

I wonder what incense fragrance would match this combination.

Photography by Bois de Jasmin, Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia

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26 Comments

  • Liesl: I pulled out Bois d’Encens after reading this. Your picture made me crave incense. January 23, 2017 at 10:01am Reply

    • Victoria: Bois d’Encens is one of my incense gold standards. January 23, 2017 at 11:00am Reply

      • sara: who makes it? January 23, 2017 at 11:57am Reply

        • Victoria: That one by Giorgio Armani. January 23, 2017 at 12:49pm Reply

  • sara: it must smell very good in there! incense is a difficult note for me to wear as a perfume because it becomes too smoky on me. i’d like something where incense isn’t too strong. January 23, 2017 at 11:56am Reply

    • Victoria: Have you tried Chanel No 22? It has a delicate touch of incense, only enough to offset the floral notes. January 23, 2017 at 12:49pm Reply

    • Notturno7: I think Byzance has the incense note. I’m not sure if it’s been reformulated. I wish I bought it as I haven’t seen in in stores for a long time. January 23, 2017 at 3:19pm Reply

      • Victoria: I’m not even sure if it’s made anymore. I didn’t check the stock lists, but it’s been ages since I’ve seen it. January 23, 2017 at 4:37pm Reply

        • Notturno7: I just checked,too. It’s discontinued!! Too bad. It was lovely and almost like one of those great classics that I love! January 24, 2017 at 12:33am Reply

          • Victoria: It’s really too bad, since it was a beautiful perfume. And the bottle was also striking. January 24, 2017 at 4:22pm Reply

  • Alex K: Hello, Victoria! I’m inspired to learn how to make my own incense. Do you have any recipe books to recommend? January 23, 2017 at 12:05pm Reply

    • Victoria: I only have The Complete Book of Incense, Oils & Brews by Scott Cunningham, and it offers quite an impressive overview. But I’m not sure if it’s in print. January 23, 2017 at 12:52pm Reply

      • Victoria: I just checked, and it’s in print. And it’s even available in a Kindle version. The book has all sorts of whimsical stuff in it, but the recipes and the substitution chart for hard-to-find ingredients are excellent. January 23, 2017 at 12:55pm Reply

  • Liz: I think I’ll go out on my only incense perfume, Parfum Sacre Intense. I just have a small sample, but it’s lovely and I will probably get a full bottle some day. And maybe I’ll go all in and burn a stick of autumn leaves. Both from your recommendations Victoria. January 23, 2017 at 2:18pm Reply

    • Victoria: Now that you mention it, I think that Parfum Sacré would be perfect, since it contains lots of rose, sweet spices and sandalwood. The idea of finding a perfume similar to the Malaysian incense has been haunting me since I first visited Penang. January 23, 2017 at 2:26pm Reply

  • Austenfan: Incense has proven to be one of the hardest notes for me to appreciate in perfume. However, the one exception is Bois d’Encens. I hesitated for over a year before finally getting a bottle at the very end of last year. A great perfume for meditating of just random thinking.
    Not a match at all with your Malaysian brew, I think. January 23, 2017 at 2:29pm Reply

    • Victoria: To tell you the truth, I also enjoy incense as part of a blend. There are some beautiful incense heavy compositions out there like Tom Ford Sahara Noir, but I don’t reach for them often. But when incense is used in a more subtle way, I find it irresistible. Like in Nicolai’s SacreBleu or Chanel no 22.

      That being said, Bois d’Encens is unrivalled. A pure incense perfume, more or less, but it’s so gauzy and airy. January 23, 2017 at 2:35pm Reply

      • Austenfan: Which it is why I’m so surprised to love it as much as I do. It must be because it is so ‘bare’ for want of a better word. Both you and Luca wrote such rave reviews of it, which prompted me to seek it out.
        Sacrebleu is so lovely. I decanted some for one of the MSF winners and my fingers were covered in it. Bliss!

        I only tried No.22 once, at Place Vendôme. The extrait de parfum is so beautiful. January 23, 2017 at 2:59pm Reply

        • Victoria: The balance of incense and cedarwood that gives Bois d’Encens its shape is exquisite. That paired with its radiant quality makes for a unique fragrance.

          No 22 extrait de parfum is striking. I do love the EDT just as much, but it’s far more aldehydic. January 23, 2017 at 4:40pm Reply

  • AndreaR: Two ladies at church were talking about keeping moths away from clothing. I mentioned that my great- grandmother kept tobacco with her woolen items. The ladies laughed and said you could smell tobacco wafting off the ladies coats during church services in the winter. The combo of tobacco and incense sounds very intriguing. January 23, 2017 at 7:13pm Reply

    • Victoria: What a great story! I had no idea that moths are repelled by tobacco. Trying to imagine the scent of tobacco and church incense… January 24, 2017 at 4:23pm Reply

      • AndreaR: I have no idea if the tobacco worked or not. Need to figure out a way to try the incense and tobacco combo. I do like Jasmin and Cigarette, but that seems to be more smoke than the actual tobacco. My dad’s can of tobacco seemed to have a honeyed note to it. The search is on! January 24, 2017 at 6:50pm Reply

  • SM Chong: Hi V! I grew up around these — my grandmother would burn a few joss sticks every morning at the altar.

    The closest perfume I know of that approximates the smell of Malaysian Chinese incense is CdG’s Kyoto from the Incense Series. It is a little more refined and not as heavy as the actual incense, but my first sniff of Kyoto always brings be back to the local temples. January 24, 2017 at 3:58am Reply

    • Victoria: The first time I visited during the Chinese New Year, the whole Georgetown smelled of this incense.

      Off to find my bottle of Kyoto. January 24, 2017 at 4:25pm Reply

  • Aurora: What an interesting photo of the Malaysian ritual. I hope you will track your perfect incense. This evening I am wearing Montale Full Incense from a sample and Encens Flamboyant from my dwindling bottle. EF is definitely my favorite of the 2 because it wears its rich notes so lightly, I’ll have to get another bottle. Sahara Noir wears me so sometimes I’m not up to it. January 24, 2017 at 1:34pm Reply

    • Victoria: I feel the same way about Sahara Noir. It takes over and feels like another presence. Not always something I want. January 24, 2017 at 4:26pm Reply

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