Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Types of Incense

The Types of Incense by Mary Caelsto

When most people think of incense, they think of stick incense with a bamboo core. But there are several different types of incense available, and exploring the wide variety of incense available can lead you on an exciting olfactory journey.

All incense is lit and left to smolder in order to release its aroma into the room. Resin and powdered incense is placed on charcoal tablets. Lighting the tablet creates the flame needed to burn this type of incense. For stick or cone incense, lighting the tip and extinguishing any flame, leaves it to burn. This latter type of incense needs to include some kind of flammable material, such as resins or pastes, to keep it burning. Otherwise it just goes out and doesn’t burn.

Stick incense usually contains a “punk stick” or bamboo core. As the core burns, it also consumes the incense around it, leaving just the remaining stick to dispose of once the incense is gone. Most homemade incenses are of the stick variety, and you’ll most often see Indian incense, such as the 8-10 stick square packs commonly sold, created in this manner. Hand-dipped incense from individual crafts people also fall under this category.

Scents sold as sticks are often created into cone incense as well. The same material that helps the stick to keep burning also makes the cones burn, and since some individuals prefer cone incense, manufacturers provide both types. Instead of putting the incense material on a stick, it’s rolled into a cone shape and dried. The tip of the cone is lit with a match, and as it burns, it consumes the entire cone.

The other type of stick incense simply are the solid sticks, or spaghetti stick incense. In these cases, the incense is rolled or shaped into long cylinders. This incense goes by several names, such as dhoop, joss sticks, senko sticks or simpoi sticks. These sticks are solid throughout, and are either made by extruding (such as the long, thin joss sticks) or are hand-rolled like the thicker dhoop-type incense.

Masala incense can either be rolled around a bamboo core, such as the Hem Flora series, or created as solid incense sticks. Masala incense is considered to be of higher quality than regular stick-cored incense.

While the word “joss” has become synonymous with incense sticks, there aren’t any hard or fast rules in what constitutes a joss stick. The word is Chinese in origin, referring back to describing temples and religious idols. Thus, a joss stick, was an incense stick burned in a temple. The wide variety of traditions in the east, meant that each temple could create incense its own way. Thus, Indian joss sticks usually have the bamboo core commonly associated with Indian incense, and Japanese joss sticks are smaller, solid sticks of incense.

Dhoop sticks and logs come in two forms: a solid stick of incense, and a soft, gummy log. Neither type of dhoop has a bamboo core, and most incense of this type is either Tibetan or Indian in origin.

Senko stick incense sticks are also known as “Chinese matches.” Senko comes from Japan. They’re thin, smooth spaghetti-like sticks of incense, and can also be sold as “joss sticks” by such companies as Morning Star. Senko has many spellings, including sen-koh, senkoo, and senkou.

Simpoi sticks are a Tibetan style of incense stick. Primarily it’s based on Deodar Cedar and lacks the bamboo core. Tibetan stick incense is typically hand-formed and thicker than Japanese Senko.

Of course each of these types of incense requires its own burner. Thankfully most of the specialty incense, such as Tibetan or Senko, comes with its own burner. Other multi-purpose burners can also be purchased, such as ones that burn both cones and sticks.

There really isn’t one type of incense that’s “better” than the others. Most people’s incense preferences come from experience and familiarity. For many years, I burned the Indian incense simply because I wasn’t aware of the other kinds. Then, slowly, my incense repertoire grew, and now I have my favorite scents and brands. Stick incense, because it’s based on the bamboo core, tends to be less expensive than the other types, and because of this, may have a “punk stick” odor to it. For pure scent, it’s widely believed that the solid type incense provides a better experience.

When it comes to choice, my advice would be to try as many different types as you can. Each individual has his or her own preferences. Plus, with such a wide variety of incense available, both in type and smell, why would you want to limit yourself to just one?

Mary Caelsto is a metaphysical writer and also runs Jupiter Gardens, LLC an online store featuring a wide variety of incense along with books, essential oils, and other metaphysical products. Jupiter Gardens Press, a division of Jupiter Gardens LLC, publishes metaphysical, science fiction, fantasy and romance novels.

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