Genuine sandalwood has always fascinated us. However, owing to the overexploitation in India over the last few decades, it has become increasingly difficult to source real Santalum album. Time and again, we’ve placed test orders only to find that most of the sandalwood on the market is not genuine Santalum album. It’s frustrating to receive a knock-off when you’re hoping for the real thing.
None of the sandalwood alternatives have the captivating warm, sweet scent that we love so much. In 2019, we finally found a supplier for real Santalum album in Indonesia. Over time, we developed a loyal friendship and he has since become a brother to us. We’re in contact almost every day and he has taught us everything he knows about the intricacies of sandalwood.
There are a few countries where genuine Santalum album can be found. India is best known as an export country for this special variety, but the high demand for sandalwood around 20-30 years ago caused an unbelievable overharvesting. The Indian government eventually intervened and took control of the harvesting and export of sandalwood, but it was too late. India has been buying sandalwood for years from other countries, mostly Sri Lanka and Indonesia, for one unfortunate reason: there are very few sandalwood trees left in India and the plantations are not yet ready to be harvested.
These days, Indonesia is the only country in the world that grows Santalum album comparable to the Indian variety. The countries share similar soil conditions and climate, allowing them to grow the highest quality sandalwood trees. Real Santalum album is also harvested in other countries like Sri Lanka, but it does not match the quality of sandalwood sourced from India or Indonesia.
Although there are up to 8 grades of sandalwood, we currently only import 3 or 4 to avoid overwhelming our customers with variety. But all sandalwood is naturally sourced from the heartwood of the tree.
So, what is heartwood?
Depending on the climatic conditions, the sandalwood tree goes through some important changes after 5-10 years: the precious heartwood starts developing from the roots. Before that happens, the sandalwood is relatively “useless” as it has no scent. Without the tree’s special transformation, the wood is odorless and light in color (hence the name “album”, meaning “white” in Latin). But the wood of the tree changes through a biological process, developing the desired essential oils. This valuable inner wood is the heartwood, which matures over the years, growing upward and filling the tree. The previously white sandalwood (also called sapwood) slowly transforms to a fragrant, darker wood full of essential oils. Some white sandalwood can still be found just behind the bark, but depending on the health and age of the tree, it will increasingly change to heartwood.
This heartwood is the sandalwood we all know and love. It has been distilled for centuries, to be used in perfumes and cosmetics. It is also this heartwood that we use as incense, whose captivating aroma we so adore.
The quality of the heartwood determines the grade and ultimately, the price.
The young heartwood comes from younger trees, around 5-20 years old. Of course, the tree has developed valuable heartwood, but it’s still relatively young and has not yet produced as many essential oils as the older grades. That said, it still bears the recognizable sandalwood scent. We import young sandalwood heartwood in both grind and powder form.
The next quality we import is old sandalwood heartwood from naturally dead trees. The heartwood has already reached a certain degree of maturity and is usually over 40 years old. The heartwood of naturally dead trees has a wonderfully sweet scent, which makes it very popular for burning. Dead heartwood cannot be distilled, as essential oils must always come from freshly harvested sandalwood trees, but the rich fragrance makes it ideal for burning as incense. We import naturally dead sandalwood heartwood as both grind and powder. We also carry the popular Balloon Dust, an extra-fine powder, in this sandalwood grade.
Of course, we also import the top grades of sandalwood heartwood, known as A1 and A2 grade (be careful not to mistake this with the 1A white sandalwood, which is often traded in European markets and has nothing to do with these higher grades).
A1 and A2 sandalwood can be compared in quality with the frankincense sourced from Oman. Both the Royal frankincense and Superior frankincense could be described as first grade, but the Royal Hojari receives the special top spot because it comes from trees that get plenty of sun and almost no rainfall. As a result, the frankincense tree gives off a greenish shimmering resin with a unique aroma, even though the Superior frankincense comes from the same tree.
So it goes with sandalwood A1 and A2. Both come from the highest quality heartwood and yet there are certain differences between them. A1 grade is also referred to as Mysore quality, named after the famous sandalwood city of Mysore in India.
The A1 grade comes from the same Santalum album tree as all the other qualities, but there is a subtle difference: the tree grows in particularly dry, rocky areas where there is hardly any rainfall and lots of sun. As a result, the Santalum album tree changes a little, adapting to the environment and the weather.
The trunk of the tree becomes thinner, the leaves grow smaller, and the fruits are sometimes a different color. Most importantly, the inner heartwood develops a different color and a unique scent. The scent of the Mysore grade is truly special, making it stand out from all other qualities. The scent is much sweeter and warmer than the A2 grade or the younger trees.
We offer A1 grade and A2 grade in sticks, grind and powder form.
We also import three different grades of sandalwood oils, likewise sourced from genuine Santalum album trees.