Sandalwood has been a part of the religious and spiritual traditions of India since prehistory and has been effectively used as a traditional medicine from ancient times. For more than 5000 years, India has been the traditional leader of sandalwood oil production for perfumery and pharmaceuticals. It has nearly fifteen names in the Indian languages, including the Sanskrit “Chandan”. An ancient Sanskrit verse mentions the purity of sandalwood:
विक्रुतिं नैव गच्छन्ति संगदोषेण साधवः ।
आवेष्टितं महासर्पेश्चन्दनं न विषायते ॥
Meaning – Bad company does not induce bad habits in a good person, as poisonous snakes on a sandal tree does not cause that tree to become poisonous.
In India, people believed that termites never attack sandalwood. For that reason, they considered it a symbol of Vitality and Endurance.
Sandalwood is the second most expensive wood in the world and about 90% of the world’s production of Sandalwood oil is from India. East Indian Sandalwood / Mysore sandalwood (Santalum album) oil is obtained by Steam Distillation.
The distribution of Sandalwood in India is around 9000 sq.km., of which 8200 sq.km. is in the states of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.
Sandalwood’s heartwood is considered sacred, and it is rich in the fragrance it contains. Heartwood formation in sandal trees generally starts around 10-13 years of age, however the tree is processed for oil production ideally at the age of 30-40.
Olfactory Description & Composition
East Indian Sandalwood is woody, spicy, balsamic, pine-like and has sweet lacteous impression.
α-santalol and β-santalol comprises of more than 75% of Sandalwood oil along with well known 1-furfuryl pyrrole.
The santalols in the sandalwood lose their strong odour of sandalwood if they are chemically modified (oxidation, esterification or hydrogenation). The sandalwood notes hence require the presence of a hydroxyl group in order to preserve sandalwood accord.
West Indian Sandalwood (Amyris Balsamifera) is sometimes used as a cheaper alternative for sandalwood notes however the olfactory description of West Indian Sandalwood is faint and mild-woody compared to East Indian Sandalwood.
Australian Sandalwood (Santalum Spicata) is more dry and spicy compared to East Indian Sandalwood. IFRA allowed limit of Australian Sandalwood is 8% and that of East Indian Sandalwood is 10% in a perfume oil, which may also infer that allergens in Australian Sandalwood are more compared to East Indian Sandalwood.
Comparative chemical composition of sandalwood oil samples
|Compounds||Fresh (%)||Old (%)|
The quantity of α -santalol and β-santalol which contribute most to the fragrance of sandalwood reduces drastically with time. The quality of sandalwood oil decreases when kept for a longer duration and hence it is necessary to utilize the oil in time or to preserve them with care.
Contribution of Indian Sandalwood to some Famous Fragrances
Calachè – Guy Robert – Hermès – 1961
“Calachè’s signature tune is a combination of Egyptian Jasmine and Bulgarian Rose. Citrus top notes, with a hint of Gardenia and Ylang-Ylang, linger until the woody, Cypress base of Haitian Vetiver, Tuscan Iris and Sandalwood from Mysore unfolds.” – Hermès
Ysatis – Dominique Ropion – Givenchy – 1984
“Ysatis surprises us with the richness of its floral bouquet, uniting Jasmine, Egyptian Rose, plants from Grasse, the Iris of Florence, Ylang-Ylang with a base of Sandalwood from India, and Patchouli from Java.”
Coco – Jacques Polge – Chanel – 1984
“Coco unfolds on floral top notes of Indian Jasmine. The full-bodied spicy tones begin with Caribbean Cascarilla, culminating in a lingering woody note of Sandalwood warmed by the exotic Vanilla notes of the Tonka Beans.”
Samsara – Jean Paul Guerlain – Guerlain – 1989
“Sandalwood and Jasmine are the perfumes of temples and Gods, the essence of South East Asia.”
– Jean Paul Guerlain
Original Santal – Olivier & Erwin Creed – Creed – 2005
“Original Santal revels in the romance & opulence of India, the home of the signature Mysore Sandalwood so loved by Olivier Creed”