Incense has a very long and rich history dating back to before written record. It was used by the Hebrews in their rituals and Tabernacle as an offering to Elohim, and by the Ancient Egyptians to hide the stench of tombs.
In many ancient cultures, such as the Egyptians and Babylonians, it was also used in mystical rites. When the first Christians fled to the catacombs of Rome to worship, they also used incense to ward off the smell of rot, a practice that has become Catholic ritual.
Of course, today, incense has far more practical uses, such as aromatherapy, and a wide range of organic materials are used to create often unique smells. As the word incense literally means “to burn” (coming from the Latin word incindere), there are actually quite a few different kinds of incense.
From stick and non-stick varieties, there are also two overarching types: direct and indirect. So without further ado, here are 19 different types of incense.
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Types of Incense
A traditional incense from India, the word is actually a compound of agar (as in the wood) and batti (meaning stick). These cored incense sticks are also sometimes made of aloeswood instead of agar and remain one of the most popular types of incense in their homeland.
2. Bakhoor Incense
Available as either scented chips or incense blocks, bakhoor is a somewhat sacred form of incense in Arabian culture.
When placed in a special censor called a mabkhara, the incense is used as a welcoming aroma to congregations as well as at weddings and other important events.
3. Bamboo Core Sticks
Chances are, this is what you’ll end up with when buying from a store selling incense. A thin stick of bamboo is wrapped in a paste made of incense material and dried. In most cases, what you’ll end up smelling is the bamboo itself.
Due to how easily it’s made, bamboo core sticks are traditionally found just about anywhere bamboo grows.
4. Champa Incense
These fragrant sticks include Halmaddi, which is found only in India, as well as several materials both common and uncommon in other forms of incense.
Fragrant flowers such as magnolia and plumeria are mixed with sandalwood to round out this wonderful incense.
5. Coil Incense
While popular, stick incense can only be made to certain lengths before they’re at risk of breaking under their own weight. This problem is solved by creating a cylinder incense that’s then formed into a spiral shape.
The result is an incense which can burn for up to a day, depending on its length and diameter.
It’s not uncommon to see coil incense suspended from the ceiling during religious ceremonies, although they can also be burned in censors made for their larger size. A popular repellent known as mosquito coils are made and used in the same manner as coil incense.
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6. Cone Incense
Cone incense is usually somewhat pungent and is made using a mix of powders and essential oils. After being placed in a censor, usually on a bed of sand, the cone is lit and extinguished much like stick incense.
This form of incense is commonly used to enhance meditation and similar activities.
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7. Cylinder Incense Sticks
This form of incense lacks a core. Instead, the incense paste is dried into cylinders. As such they are more likely to burn longer than cored incense. Depending on the region, there are specific types of cylinder incense.
Originating in Tibet and India, dhoop has become increasingly popular in the west. These are soft cylinder sticks that can prove quite fragile.
9. Direct-Burning Incense
One of the two major categories of incense, direct burning incense burns under its own heat, meaning you can simply light it and blow out the flame to get the process started. Coil, cone, and stick incense are all direct burning.
10. Durbar Sticks
Rarely found in the west, these bamboo core incense sticks use a blend of solid and liquid ingredients to produce a sweet, spicy aroma and soft texture.
Because of this, they rarely dry completely and produce an experience quite unlike similar stick incense types.
11. Fluxo Incense
This form of stick incense is often too pungent for western tastes but remains popular in its native home of India. The scent is a complex blend of ingredients, which may vary to produce different scents.
12. Hand-Dipped Incense Sticks
Simply put, these are cored incense sticks which are dipped by hand into various oils to produce custom smells.
13. Indirect-Burning Incense
Indirect burning incense lacks a means to maintain its own combustion and thus require an external source of heat. These most often come in a powdered, shaped, or unprocessed form.
Shapes may include balls, pastille, or soaked chips and are formed by binding the incense with a generally nonflammable material such as honey or resin.
When placed in a heated censor or on hot coals, they release their fragrance, as long as the heat or incense lasts.
14. Joss Sticks
The term “joss” originally referred to the religious nature of the object being described, although the term has since spread from China to describe a wide range of stick incense uses and types.
In Japan, joss sticks are cylinder sticks, while in India they have a bamboo core.
15. Masala Sticks
This is a South Indian incense made of various resins, gums, and organic materials blended into a paste around a bamboo core. Because of the possible ingredients, masala sticks have a nearly limitless potential for scent options.
16. Manaka (真那伽)
Of all the types of incense on this list, this one is perhaps the oddest. One of the six categories in the Japanese incense classification system rikkoku gomi, the name is derived from its origin in Malacca, a Malaysian state.
What sets this incense apart from all others is that it has no scent when burned.
17. Powder Incense
Powder incense is somewhat unique in that it can be either a direct burning or indirect burning incense. As the name implies, it’s a powdered form of incense material which is added to hot coals or ignited to produce its scent.
18. Senkō (線香)
Prior to the Edo Period, senkō was hard to obtain and rather expensive. However, this new period saw the industrialized production of senkō (sen meaning line, kō meaning incense).
As the name implies, the term traditionally refers to stick incense, although the term is now often applied to incense in general.
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19. Simpoi Incense Sticks
Hailing from Tibet, these hand-rolled incense sticks are the thickest of all sticks. They usually include Deodar cedar and re coreless.