Incense sticks are a common tradition within many societies and locations. (Tibetan, Japanese, Indian, Chinese, and so on). Each regional area held a unique take on incense crafting and the recipes, methods used, and end result vary greatly throughout different cultures. To help clear the air, so to speak, we will discuss below the common incense varieties and terms you are likely to encounter.
Stick Incense With a Bamboo Core
The most common variety of incense found in the modern world would have a bamboo core in the middle, with a paste wrapped around it. This variety is often used in Chinese and Indian incense recipes. Some people consider the core (typically bamboo) to give off the smell of smoke when burned.
Cylinder Incense Sticks
Stick incense can also be formed directly from dried paste without a stick or bamboo core. Some examples would be dhoop, simpoi, and some varieties of Japanese and Tibetan incense.
Common Synonyms For Incense Sticks
The term joss originates from China, where it was used to describe objects of religious nature. For example, a Chinese temple is referred to as a joss house and incense sticks would be referred to as joss sticks. However, nowadays the term joss is most often used in reference to incense, such as joss sticks, joss coils, or joss cones. Burning incense has a long history in the Far East and the term Joss has evolved and changed over the years in different cultures. For example, Japanese joss sticks are typically made without a bamboo core, but Indian joss sticks would. Whereas, Chinese joss sticks could be made either way.
Hand Dipped Incense Sticks
Hand-dipped incense sticks could be either a masala or unscented bamboo incense stick which is then dipped by hand into either natural or synthetic fragrance oils.
The term agarbatti means incense stick. The term is derived from the words ‘agar’ and ‘batti’, short for agarwood (aloeswood) and stick, respectively. Agarbatti usually contain a bamboo core and is the most common variety of Indian incense. (relevant terms include agarbathi, agarbathys, bathis bathies, batti, and batties)
Dhoop sticks come in many different sizes and are solid in nature. Common varieties include a dry stick which breaks easily and a softer, more malleable stick. These varieties are common in Indian and Tibet.
Masala sticks hail from South India and contain a complex blend of flowers, herbs, woods, oils, resins, gums, or other ingredients. The mixture is typically formed into a paste and then spread upon bamboo cores.
Durbars are quite similar to Masala incense sticks but they often contain ingredients which are relatively unfamiliar to most of us in the West. These incense sticks are known to hold complex aromas which are sweet and spicy in nature. They rarely dry out entirely due to containing both solid, as well as liquid perfumes inside of the binder. These incense sticks are commonly soft to the touch.
Champas are similar to masala and durbar styles. Most commonly a combination of frangipani (plumeria) and sandalwood, however sometimes other flowers such as magnolia or nagkeshar are incorporated as well. These also contain a natural ingredient which is only really found around India called Halmaddi. Halmaddi is a greyish resin harvested from the Ailanthus Malabarica tree. It compliments the smell of nag champa flower quite well. Halmaddi is known to be hygroscopic, which means it absorbs moisture from it’s surrounding atmosphere. This can make some champas feel wet to the touch.
In Japanese, the term Senko could be used in reference to either incense, incense sticks, or any type of blended incense. It’s typically the case that Senko sticks won’t have a bamboo or wooden core. Also referred to as sen-koh, senkoo, or senkou.
Simpoi sticks originate from Tibet. These incense sticks are most often hand-crafted and are thicker then most other sticks.
Incense coils are an ancient form of incense which was used primarily in China and it’s surrounding areas. Usually hung from the ceiling, such coils were sometimes used to track time and were often able to burn for extended periods of time, from hours, to days. These are less commonly used nowadays but are still available for those who are curious about their place in history.
Popular Types of Incense Scents
There are many types of incense scents available and we could not possibly cover them all, but we are going to describe some popular incense scents below:
Nag Champa was originally made in India and has since then become one of the most popular fragrances in the world. It is usually a blend of sandalwood and either plumeria or mangolia depending on the manufacturer. It is a slightly sweet floral scent, balanced with a calming sandalwood based.
Patchouli is often associated with hippies and the counter-culture but it actually has a long history of being used in various cultures around the world. It holds a pungent citrus scent which easily masked everyday odors. It’s a love or hate it sort of smell, but even if you don’t enjoy it, it’s hard to deny it had it’s place in history.
Rose is the traditional flower of love in western cultures. It is often associated with venus, attraction, and relationships. Despite it’s innate beauty, it also holds a unique floral scent which most people tend to enjoy.
Sandalwood, also known as Chandan in India is an aromatic wood with distinct properties. Sandalwood’s flora is often considered smooth to the senses with a sweetness not to dissimilar to vanilla.