4 Main Origins of Sandalwood and Scent Characteristics

What is Sandalwood?

Sandalwood, an ancient, mysterious and rare tree species, which is a native plant found in the dense and humid forests of Southeast India, Malaysia and Timor Island. Its roots are attached to the roots of other trees, therefore sandalwood is a semi-parasitic plant that grows extremely slow and usually takes decades to become material. It is one of the slowest growing tree species, and mature sandalwood trees can reach up to ten meters of height.


For more than 4000 years, sandalwood has an irreplaceable sacred purpose in the process of people worshiping God and Buddha. The oldest Sanskrit manuscript mentions that it is a mysterious substance that guides communication between humans and gods. When devout people worship the God and Buddha, they light this precious and scent piece of sandalwood or joss sticks containing sandalwood to pray to the Buddha. It will emit incredible energy and promote people to realize their good wishes.

The statues and holy items carved from sandalwood can also gather the spirits of the heavens and earth, enabling people to reach the realm of close communication with the gods and listening to each other in the peaceful and calm scent.

Sandalwood Guan Yin Status

The smell of sandalwood is tranquil, holy, profound and reserved. Its unique soothing effect can clear the mind, calm the mind, and eliminate distracting thoughts which is very helpful for meditation and tranquillity. Therefore it is widely used in religious rituals. In all the most solemn Buddhist and royal celebrations in the East, sandalwood is an indispensable item. It represents dedicated ideas and the most sincere and holy wishes.

In Western culture, sandalwood is refined into essential oils, which are used for physical and physiological treatments, and are more widely used in the production of high-end perfumes, skin care products, etc.

Where did such ancient and mysterious scent wood come from? What’s so different about it? The following will reveal the mystery of sandalwood for you…

Sandalwood Production Places:

According to the place of origin, sandalwood can be divided into Laoshan (produced in India), Xinshan (produced in Australia), Timor (produced in Indonesia and East Timor), and Xueli (produced in Australia or South Pacific island countries). This is the customary classification method of sandalwood traders in history.

Sandalwood Main Production Area
Sandalwood Main Production Area

Among them, the most widely used sandalwood is Australia sandalwood, followed by Indonesia sandalwood, sandalwood from Fiji, Tonga and sandalwood produced in Africa.

In order to distinguish from the Laoshan sandalwood originally produced in India, it is customary to broadly call these sandalwood from new production areas as Xinshansandalwood. It is said that the former incense material importers imported from other sandalwood production areas because India’s sandalwood resources were declining. Later, consumers discovered that the scent was not the same as before, and the importers said: “Previously, they are from relatively deeper mountain areas, and the age is relatively older, it is called Laoshan, but they are finished now. These are from relatively shallow mountain areas, they are new, and so they are called Xinshan.”

Later, the so-called Xinshan generally refers to those produced in areas other than India. The concept of using Laoshan and Xinshan to distinguish sandalwood is unique to China, and it is not distinguished in this way in the origin of sandalwood.

Australia sandalwood is mainly produced in Western Australia, therefore it is also called Western Australia Sandalwood. Because Australia Sandalwood is the most important variety in the domestic sandalwood market, therefore Australia sandalwood is also called Xinshan sandalwood in a narrow sense. Due to the environment, many Australia sandalwood grow faster than Laoshan sandalwood, therefore obvious growth ring marks on the wood of Australia sandalwood can often be seen. The mellowness of Australia sandalwood is milder than that of Laoshan sandalwood, and that the scent is relatively weaker too after ignition.

Western Australia Xinshan Sandalwood Coil Incense
Western Australia Xinshan Sandalwood Coil Incense

Many islands in the Pacific produce sandalwood. Among them, the sandalwood produced in Australia near the Pacific and the island countries of the South Pacific is called Xueli sandalwood, because Sydney in Australia is translated as Xueli in Taiwan.

The sandalwood produced in the Kingdom of Tonga is called Tonga sandalwood, because the transliteration of Tonga is also called Tonga. The sandalwood produced in Indonesia and East Timor is called Timor, which is derived from the transliteration of the word Timor.

In history, Hawaiian Islands produced sandalwood. It has been heavily harvested by the British since 1971. More than 50 years of logging has caused it to be almost exhausted. It has been restored after protection, but it can no longer able to be harvested on a large scale, therefore it is rare. Historically, Chinese immigrants called Hawaii as Sandalwood Mountain (Honolulu ) because of the sandalwood production there.

Sandalwood currently used to make incense is mainly produced in the following areas:

Laoshan Sandalwood (produced in India)

India is the origin of sandalwood. It is the most used sandalwood in ancient China and Japan. Its sandalwood scent is the richest, dominating, and has the most prominent milk scent, with sweet scent, non-sour, and has strong and lasting scent. The price is also the most expensive in all producing areas.

India sandalwood is produced in most provinces. Mysore is in the south of India, the weather and soil sac make the best-tasting sandalwood, and its price is also the most expensive. Northern India, near Mumbai, also has a large tracts of sandalwood plantation, most of which are fast-growing woods. The price is cheaper than Mysore, but it is also genuine India sandalwood.

Premium Aged Indian Sandalwood Coil Incense

Tonga Sandalwood

Produced in Tonga. Aged Tonga’s colour is a bit like chocolate, and the scent is close to India sandalwood, but it is slightly sour, and its lasting power is not as good as India sandalwood. However, the long-stored Tonga has less sourness and astringency, and the scent is very close to India sandalwood. Therefore, in the market, there are aged Tonga sandalwood posing as India sandalwood, but in fact, Tonga sandalwood is not cheap too, it is close to India sandalwood.

Timor Sandalwood (produced in Indonesia and East Timor)

Indonesia is also a large production area, which is also divided into several small production areas. Indonesia sandalwood has a relatively strong sour taste, and has a strong fishy smell when smell at close distance, and the lasting power is weak. Its price is close to Tonga. There are a lot in this production area, including aged material and new material. It is said that Timor sandalwood and India sandalwood are from the same tree species, and the density and texture of sandalwood are very similar to India sandalwood. But the mellowness of its scent is incomparable with India and Tonga sandalwood.

Australia Sandalwood and Herbs Joss Stick

Regardless of sandalwood from Western Australia, Southern Australia or other, the scent is not sweet and is relatively pungent than the above-mentioned production areas’. It feels very spicy. Although it also has sandalwood scent, it does not have milk sweetness scent. The Australian-made incense stick is good for offering to Buddha, and the price is also the cheapest in this production area.

Aged Sydney Sandalwood Coil Incense

About aged material and new material

First of all, aged material is definitely better, because new material sandalwood has a certain fishy smell. After being placed for decades, the fishy smell will disappear after mellowing, and the taste will be better.

Regarding the sinking of sandalwood

For incense material, the scent is the most important thing, there are taste of sink-grade sandalwood that is not as good as that of non-sink-grade sandalwood. But let’s discuss the value of sink-grade sandalwood. The normal air-dry density of sandalwood is less than 1, therefore it is mostly non-sinking. But why some sandalwood can sink into water? This is due to the specific density of sandalwood oil is greater than that of water, if the core part of the tree contains high oil, it may indeed sink. Then you can understand why merchants want to distinguish between sink-grade and non-sink-grade sandalwood, because the sink-grade sandalwood has a larger oil content. But it cannot be said that sink-grade sandalwood is definitely better than non-sink-grade sandalwood. For example, the decades-old aged non-sink-grade sandalwood from Mysore production area is dozens of times better than the Australia sink-grade sandalwood, and it is also dozens of times more expensive.


Therefore, all in all, the production area and scent of sandalwood directly affect the price of sandalwood. Most beginners choose Xinshan sandalwood to get started, this is mainly because of the price. As for which production area is the best, this is according to one’s lights, just as the saying goes “different strokes for different folks”.

After Sandalwood, you might be interested to know the 13 Famous Production Place of Agarwood, and 7 Differences of Agarwood and Sandalwood.

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