IV. Prevailing of A.A.R. Substitutes and Fake A.A.R.

In the past, only Aquilaria agallocha Roxb. (A.A.R) has been regarded as "agarwood". Later, because of limited avialability of A.A.R., people in Japan, India, and Middle East, began to use other fragrant woods to substitute A.A.R. and called those substitute as agarwoods. The most famous among those substitutes is Aquilaria malaccensis Lamk. In Korea, people even developed a method to "make" agarwood by putting some kind of fragrant wood (not AAR wood) under the seashore for hundreds of years.

In terms of fragrance, those A.A.R. substitutes can hardly compared with A.A.R. In addition, most of them could not be used as medicine. Therefore, in most countries, A.A.R. is still regarded as "he" kind of agarwood.

Because it takes so long to form high quality agarwoods, the demand for agarwood is greater than the supply. In reality most A.A.R. and A.A.R. related products sold in the market are either fake or A.A.R. substitutes. There are mainly three kinds of fake-A.A.R.:

    1. Adulterated A.A.R.- injecting color and fragrance into woods.
    2. Injecting fragrance into sinking wood.
    3. Fragrant wood- such as A.A.R. substitutes and other fragrant woods.
The most obvious characteristics of fake A.A.R. is that unlike A.A.R., most of them have apparent fragrance before burning. Of course, the fragrance generated while it's burning is very different from the natural fragrance generated by real A.A.R.

In addition, since most consumers know that sinking into water is the important criteria to judgement the grade of A.A.R., many merchants choose woods that sink into water and inject color and fragrance to make fake A.A.R. There are more than 20 kinds of wood can sink into water even those that do not contain oleoresin

As far as A.A.R. substitutes are concerned, as mentioned above, Aquilaria malaccensis Lamk (AML) has been regarded as the best among those substitutes. In Japanese 6-grades grading system, there is one saying that A.A.R. and A.M.L. occupies first four grades.1

The origins of A.M.L. are the same as that of A.A.R., spreading across Southeast Asia and India. Although the supply of A.M.L. is not as rare as that of A.A.R., A.M.L. was filed as CITES item by Washington Convention for Endangered Species.2 Therefore, in most countries in the world, the trading of A.M.L. and products including A.M.L. is illegal and the law is strictly implemented. A.A.R. has not been filed as CITES item even its rarer availability.

Nevertheless, in the major markets for A.A.R. and A.M.L., such as China, Hong Kong, India, Japan, and Middle Eastern countries, very large quantities of those two items and related products are sold and traded. A.M.L. is listed as CITES item and the trading is illegal so its supply must be very limited; A.A.R. is even much rarer than A.M.L.

In reality, more than 99% of A.A.R. and most A.M.L. sold in market are fake or adulterated. As a result, most agarwoods by-products, such as incense, perfumes, and essential oils does not contain any agarwoods in them.

Unfortunately, A.A.R. was extinct in many of is origins. Before Ming Dynasty, A.A.R. was available in the Hai-nang island of southern China. Right now, Vietnam is the only country still capable of providing qualified A.A.R. with oleoresin. However, A.A.R. has been declared as the national treasure and exporting of any real A.A.R. is strictly controlled.

Foot Note:
1. Treatment of Kodoh, pp.43.

2. CITES Appendix I

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