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What is Incense?

A smokey way to explore fragrance.

Incense refers to both flammable and nonflammable combinations of aromatic plant materials, resins and oils that produce fragrant smoke when exposed to a flame or a heat source.

Incense comes in two primary types, based on whether the incense materials are combustible, or are unable to burn and requires a separate source of heat in order to create the fragrant incense smoke.

Those two main types of incense are referred to as direct-burning incense and indirect-burning incense.

Direct-burning Incense

Direct-burning incense is usually found in the form of incense sticks and incense cones. Many incense sticks are made with a wooden core, which is typically made of bamboo as it’s strong, fast growing and relatively odorless.

The most prevalent way to make direct-burning incense involves distilling the aromatic materials into essential oils and blending with perfume industry synthetics to create fragrance oils.

Finely ground bamboo or charcoal is mixed with a binding agent, and then pressed onto a bamboo stick or molded into an incense cone.

The odorless incense stick or cone is then dipped in the fragrance oils, absorbs some, and then is placed aside to cure, which essentially means dry. If there is too much moisture in the incense it will not burn effectively.

After the incense has cured, flame is applied directly to the incense stick or cone, and then blown out, leaving a smoldering ember that releases the fragrant smoke. Direct-burning incense made this way is fairly durable and transportable.

Another method for making direct-burning incense is to take the dried aromatic incense materials and mix them with a plant based binding agent or honey.

The sticky fragrant paste is then rolled around a bamboo incense stick or pressed into an incense cone. Incense made by this method needs to be handled gently and moved minimally as it tends to crumble easily.

Flame is applied directly and then blown out, allowing the incense to smolder and release fragrant smoke.

Indirect-burning incense refers mostly to fragrant resins and mixtures of aromatic materials that do not ignite. They release fragrance when next to a heat source, such as a smoldering coal.

For example, benzoin is a traditional resin used as indirect-burning incense. Heated coals are placed in a heat resistant vessel, and pieces of the incense resin or resin mixture are placed directly next to the coals. As the resin heats up it releases fragrance.

Written by Kristi

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