What is Attar?
Attars are typically highly concentrated perfumes (perfume oils), free from alcohol and synthetic chemicals. These natural perfumes are offered for sale in very small quantities, poured in small decanters or glass bottles.
Attars are made by blending essential oils or absolutes derived from natural sources. These essential oils are customarily extracted through methods such as steam or hydro distillation, cold press, maceration or enfleurage. Process used is subject to the natural material being used.
In an attar, essential oils are normally distilled into or mixed with a wooden base (carrier oil), like sandalwood, and left to age. The aging can range from one year to ten years depending on the \natural sources used and the desired outcome.
The video below from Feel Oud given a brief demonstration of the distillation process used for producing essential oils, in this case oud oil.
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The word “attar”, “itra”, or “ittar” is commonly assumed to have been derived from “itir”, a Persian word meaning perfume, which in turn came from the Arabic word “itr”.
Studies showed that the earliest methods and techniques used for producing essential oils were developed by Ibn al Baitar (1188 CE – 1248 CE), an eminent chemist and physician in Muslim ruled Spain within the Emirate of Granada.
The Egyptians were reputed for making perfumes across the ancient world, formulated from flowers and plants before they could be mixed with other oils. Later, a renowned physician of the Islamic Golden Age Abu Ali al Sina (980 CE – 1037 CE), also known as Ibn Sina (Avicenna), refined and developed the methods and made distinctive and diverse types of attars. He is believed to be the pioneer who used distillation techniques for rose and other plants.
The Yemini Queen Arwa al Sulayhi (1048 CE – 1138 CE) introduced a special variety of attars derived from mountainous flowers. She used to gift these attars to the monarchs of Arabia.
In the Mughal Empire, Abul Fazal Faizee, the grand vizier of Emperor Akbar, introduced the Mabkhara incense burner. Diverse types of herbs such as Aloe wood (Oud), Cinnamon, and Sandalwood and substances such as Amber, Musk and Myrrh were used for producing attars in the Mughal reign.
Attars can be classified into several types:
Floral attars: these attars are derived from the extracts of single species of flower. Some examples of floral attars include
- Jasmine Sambac (in India called Mogra)
Herbal attars: these attars are made by blending and combining several extract oils derived from botanical sources such as flowers, leaves, spices, fruits, roots, or stems.
Animal scents – derived from animal substances and hence falling in the non-vegan category. For example, musk and ambergris are animal scents.
- Musk – musk is derived from the glandular secretions of a rare species of male deer especially found in the Himalayan regions.
- Ambergris – Ambergris is derived from an aromatic substance released by sperm whales.
In past days, attars were used by only the elite people, especially kings, queens, and high authority political members. But in modern days attars can be used by almost every person as a special wear.
Some common uses of attars are as follows.
- Most commonly, attars are used as a perfume especially in Muslim communities due to the absence of alcohol.
- Attars are used in the pharmaceutical industry for making medicines, especially for cardiac and aphrodisiacal purposes.
- Attars can be used in several supplementary therapies such as aromatherapy, spa therapy for improving pain, cardiac, migraine, and respiratory health. It also helps in improving emotional health conditions like stress and depression.
- Attars are used for making luxurious dishes and sweets for imparting delicious flavors in the Middle East and South Asian countries.
- Attars are widely used in chewing tobaccos such as pan masala and gutka to suppress tobacco notes.
- Attars are used in the perfumery industry for making exotic varieties of perfumes.
- Due to its alluring and natural smells, attars are used in the preparation of various types of scented products such as cosmetics, candles, room fresheners, and incense sticks.
Attars can be used in various ways depending on the purposes. Different reasons tend to apply attars differently.
Here are some common methods for using attars –
- As a perfume, you can dab attar on your wrists, ear holes, or any other parts of your body. Attar may stain on your clothes, hence, it’s recommended to take attar on fingertips and then rub into your palm, and then run your hands on clothes instead of direct application.
- In aromatherapy, attars can be used in diffusers to inhale the smells. Or it can be added into massage oils.
- A very little amount of attar can be added in the preparing of delicious and luxurious dishes.
Attars have an extremely long shelf-life and don’t need any preservatives. Some pure attars become stronger with the span of time and obviously become more costly. Therefore, antique attars are sold at premium prices.
Attar is a part of various human cultures. It improves mood and confidence and sometimes helps to enhance our healing process. But when you wish to use an attar, make sure you choose a natural and non-toxic attar so that you can get the maximum benefits without any harmful effects.