• Sandalwood Dreams, Part 7: What does it smell like?

      This is the penultimate part of Jordan River's Sandalwood Dreams series. You can find links to the previous articles at the end of the feature.

      Over the last several days we have been following the September 2013 harvest of the Santalum album sandalwood trees that were planted in Australia in 1999. Santalum album is the variety of sandalwood that became the world-renown Mysore sandalwood from India. Now we have Australian album grown from the same species and not to be confused with the native Australian sandalwood called Santalum spicatum. Yesterday we looked at the distillation process of the wood into oil.

      What does the oil smell like? We ask an Aromatherapist, a Perfumer, a Perfume Critic and a Perfume Writer.


      Photo: TFS

      The first batch of distilled oil from an earlier trial harvest was sent to several people.


      Clayton Ilolahia at home.


      Clayton Ilolahia from What Men Should Smell Like says…

      Today my #SOTD is not a composed perfume but an essential oil that landed in my mailbox along with a brochure from TFS Corporation, a company that has been cultivating Indian sandalwood (Santalum album) in Australia since 1999. 2013 marks their first harvest from 7,600 hectares of plantation in Australia’s tropical north. The accompanying Certificate of Analysis shows the oil is rich in alpha and beta santalol and meets the ISO 3518 requirements set for Santalum album oil. Alongside the existing Mysore sandalwood oil I have, this Australian oil is also exceptionally good….I just smelled my wrist again…it is very very good.



      I have enjoyed comparing this Australian Santalum album oil to the East Indian Santalum album oil currently on my organ. This new Australian oil is very nice and comparable to what you would expect from Mysore sandalwood.

      The Australian version is clean and has hay-like topnotes with a subtle leather tone, reminiscent of the I.F.F base, Suederal. These aspects are less important since in a perfume they would be covered. After 15 minutes on skin or paper, the oil’s true beauty comes to life and I find the smooth, uniquely woody aspect of sandalwood, which I love.

      In my experience, sandalwood oil is one of the most difficult oils in the ‘woods’ category to work with. It weighs an olfactory ton and can flatten a composition if it is overdosed. As well, the oil can be difficult to smell so there is a precarious balance between boosting the percentage in the formula to increase the odour’s presence and killing the formula by adding too much.

      I have been playing around in my studio with a blend of this Australian album sandalwood oil, as well as the aromachemicals Javanol and Ebanol. Each of these three raw materials have unique properties and together they create an interesting synergy. I know die-hard perfume fans scoff at synthetics that have been used as sandalwood replacers but for me, they are just as interesting; both the natural and synthetic have pluses and minuses, which make them all important and relevant in perfumery today.

      In a formula I have blended my sandalwood base (see above) with vanillin, tonka bean absolute, coumarin, benzoin resinoid, patchouli oil, Norlimbanol and a touch of labdanum absolute. This combination gives me an ambered sandalwood, which is lovely on its own but it requires some texture otherwise it can smell a little flat. To do this I’ve added cypress oil, frankincense oil, cistus labdanum oil, spicy notes derived from clove and a few other things to blend and modify this oriental styled home fragrance. I am going to India next month so it will be interesting to continue this exploration of sandalwood, both in terms of the cultural significance of the oil and the production of it in places like Mysore and parts of Kerala.


      Australian album; Santalum album oil grown and distilled in Australia



      Abdes Salaam Attar, Perfumer Composer

      Abdes Salaam Attar is a Perfume Composer and a Sufi Mystic.

      How would you describe Australian album?

      The result is excellent and very alike the Mysore, especially for the delicate santalol middle and end note totally missing to the Spicatum.

      The Album Australian is just a bit stronger and wilder than the Mysore, which is a prize to it, because the Mysore identity is fully there.

      The Australian version reflects the wilder and harsher land of Australia to the Mysore smell, while the original Album from Mysore echoes the softness of the ancient civilisation of Hindustan.

      An extremely valid substitute to the extinct Mysore sandalwood, a true resuscitation of the unforgettable mythic scent. A happy return.
      Abdes Salaam Attar
      La Via del Profumo



      Australian album; Santalum album sandalwood grown in Australia




      Suzanne R Banks, Aromatherapist.


      Suzanne R Banks is an aromatherapist with extensive experience in treating clients, developing products, and is awaiting the publication of her first book. Her website on essential oils and consciousness is suzannerbanks .She also writes for Australian Perfume Junkies. Suzanne lives in Sydney, Australia.


      Suzanne R Banks, Aromatherapist.

      Suzanne, in terms of aromatherapy how does this oil compare to the native Australian species?

      I was excited to be taking my first sniff of the Australian Santalum album with Portia Turbo from Australian Perfume Junkies – it was a little gift from heaven. At first I was taken aback with a bolt of (almost volatile) woodiness straight from the bottle. Immediately I put a drop on my wrist and continued to sniff at 1 minute intervals for about 5 minutes. Over this time the oil moved from brash and bold, to a deep, sensual, thick and creamy, earthy wood which is typical of Mysore sandalwood.

      There is however, definitely a note of the Australian bush in it – but just a hint. This made me love the oil even more. You can’t mistake the scent of our great land!

      As an aromatherapist I’m also very interested to know the molecular breakdown of the oil and the typical analysis is brilliant and carries all the properties of Indian sandalwood.

      The Certificate of Analysis states:

      Z alpha santalol 47.00%
      trans alpha bergamotol 5.60%
      epi beta santalol 3.60%
      Z beta santalol 18.40%


      This indicates it is a high quality oil – as what we are looking for in sandalwood is a high content of santalol in the breakdown.

      It is also important to me as a therapist to look between molecules to garner the energetic presence so I can treat my clients with an holistic approach. This beautiful oil demands attention with its strong character, and this can help a client by giving insights to their unique spirit and to bolster them with courage and certainty. It allows the individual to see beyond earthly limits to the truth of oneness.


      Oil Analysis from Trial Batch June 2013



      Portia Turbo is the host of the website Australian Perfume Junkies.

      Portia, what do you smell?

      I was sniffing it with Suzanne R Banks when it arrived. It starts out particularly Australian with a mentholated wash over the usual buttery, woody, goodness but evens out after a few minutes to be a fresh version of the Mysore, still rich and lavish but different. It will be very interesting to see how it works for perfumers.



      What do the other perfumers think? TFS, the company that produces this oil, has worked closely with professional perfumers. Introductory smelling events at the Society of French Perfumers, Centifolia, World Perfumery Congress, and in India at FAFAI have been held. The oil has been smelled by many highly experienced perfumers and the response has been extremely positive. This year samples were given to 250 perfumers at a Society of French Perfumers event in Paris. No negative comments were tabled; perfumers normally have no qualms about offering negative comments if they do not like something.

      A renown perfumer, who has to remain anonymous for contractual reasons was able to say this much…

      Regarding the latest offering from Australian sandalwood of TFS (variety Album), my olfactory reviews are positive. This submission is above the Indian quality that we currently have in stock.


      I predict that perfumers will think Australian album to be a welcome relief from Santalum spicatum, and will make for interesting competition with the aroma chemcials Santaliff (IFF), Javanol (Givaudan), Osyrol and Isobornyl cyclohexanol.

      It is also worth noting that this is a perfume ingredient, not a composed perfume. The distillations we are talking about are quite recent – as sandalwood ages it oxidises and adopts a more creamy character, it is like wine, it gets better with age. This is an important factor in comparing the difference between the Australian-grown and Indian-grown.

      Tomorrow we will let you know how to find out for yourself how Australian album smells. You can then make your own evaluation to satisfy your curiosity or your needs.


      Sandalwood Dreams Series - by Jordan River


      1. Myths & Dreams
      2. The Perfumed Chamber
      3. Planting Santalum album Sandalwood in Australia
      4. Harvesting
      5. Grading, processing and shipping to the distillery
      6. Distillation


      1. What does it smell like?
      2. Uses and Markets



      About the author Jordan River
      Author AvatarJordan River is the host of The Fragrant Man and also writes for Olfactoria's Travels and Australian Perfume Junkies. Jordan has been been reading Basenotes and other fragrance websites for the past few years and enjoys the confluence of subjectivity, knowledge and opinion. He is not a Perfume Pontiff and is always happy to be enlightened by your own knowledge and challenged by differing opinions.

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      Comments 10 Comments
      1. efemmeral's Avatar
        efemmeral -
        gorgeous! thanks for putting together these great perspectives on a super new raw material. I've been eagerly anticipating this becoming available!
      1. lpp's Avatar
        lpp -
        Thanks for this series of articles & well done to the Australian growers!
      1. Jordan88888888's Avatar
        Jordan88888888 -
        It has been a delight to write Efemmeral. Spectacular Avatar btw. Stand by for tomorrow - you will have a chance to sample this. Me - bathing in it! The sandalwood dream became a sandalwood bath.
      1. Jordan88888888's Avatar
        Jordan88888888 -
        Indeed Ipp. Love the Aussies. They are fair dinkum players in playing field that used to previously attract smugglers, thieves and pirates.
      1. gandhajala's Avatar
        gandhajala -
        Thanks for the interesting series, Jordan.
        (The first two instalments happily took me back to my days of reading Pāli).
        Ozzie Santalum album figures in Malle's Dries van Noten collaboration.
      1. Jordan88888888's Avatar
        Jordan88888888 -
        You read Pāil? That is seriously cool. Are you from India or South East Asia? Or are you a fragrant monk? Was Purna a story you knew from your own reading?

        Yes Dries van Noten has sandalwood from from a sustainable source - but I did not know that the source was Santalum album from Oz. Thank you for adding this to the conversation.
      1. Lila Das Gupta's Avatar
        Lila Das Gupta -
        A really interesting series of articles Jordan, thanks for writing, have really been enjoying them, well done. Love, love sandalwood. Love the idea of gandhajala being a fragrant monk, I will have to tease him next time I see him! He is indeed cool and brainy.
      1. gandhajala's Avatar
        gandhajala -
        Quote Originally Posted by Jordan88888888 View Post
        You read Pāil? That is seriously cool. Are you from India or South East Asia? Or are you a fragrant monk? Was Purna a story you knew from your own reading?
        Yes Dries van Noten has sandalwood from from a sustainable source - but I did not know that the source was Santalum album from Oz. Thank you for adding this to the conversation.
        Hi Jordan,
        No, I'm not a fragrant monk - just a lowly academic who works on old Indo-Iranian languages.

        Lila - you tease, you ! See you in 2014
      1. Jordan88888888's Avatar
        Jordan88888888 -
        Quote Originally Posted by Lila Das Gupta View Post
        A really interesting series of articles Jordan, thanks for writing, have really been enjoying them, well done. Love, love sandalwood. Love the idea of gandhajala being a fragrant monk, I will have to tease him next time I see him! He is indeed cool and brainy.
        Lila Das Gupta - I love your beautiful sounding name. Based on his recent comment Gandhajala sounds humble and unassuming which are very pleasant qualities in any human. Not so sure about self-deprecation though! Thank you for reading and commenting Lila, I know you to be a busy person. Waft on...
      1. mr. reasonable's Avatar
        mr. reasonable -
        Great series of insightful articles - thanks so much for detailed blow by blow account of the harvest and I'm absolutely delighted to see Mr. Dubrana as one of your assessors - if it's okay for him it's okay for me (I enjoy his Santalum Album EdT and we shared happy memories of how easy it was to get hold of great Mysore Oils back in the 70's - if only we knew then!). It will be interesting to see who makes good use of the new stuff.



    Loving perfume on the Internet since 2000