Incense Gossip -or rant- from Sue-Ryn    

 I've been purchasing my sticks from the same family-owned business for over twenty
years, or as long as I've been scenting sticks with my own blends. They have always
treated me honestly, and while I have been approached by other companies who sell sticks,
I've always been inclined to stay with the folks I know. The man who owns the company
has been selling his Sticks for over fifty years. Obviously, he knows his product, and has
a good handle on keeping his customers satisfied.

During the course of placing an order a couple years back we got into a discussion about
his trip to China with a fireworks Industry tour. He got to visit the family-owned factory where
his sticks are made by hand in the old tradition. In fact, to his delight he even got to make some.
The slim wooden center stick is dipped in water, then dragged and rolled through a mixture
of wood powder and binding agent, spread out on a large table, the excess shaken off, then
the stick is dried. This process is repeated, occasionally as many as five times to get the
desired thickness. When thoroughly dry, the sticks are sorted, counted, bundled and packed.

We also got to discussing a "myth" that is being circulating about wood based incense sticks.
Apparently a large importer and supplier of charcoal based sticks is spreading the old story
about 'punks' being made out of dung. I remember hearing that as a child, that incense was
made from camel dung. This always amazed me, because incense always smelled so good!
Currently the myth involves pigs. I know my incense sticks are not made from pig dung, and
I seriously doubt anyone else's are either, not unless you are buying the cheapest, most
horrible stuff available.

If you take some time to think about the cultures that are currently producing these sticks,
you'll realize they are primarily agrarian. East India seems to be a more vegetarian country than
China, but both rely heavily on farming to feed their vast populations. In fact it's been said the
Chinese have been farmers for forty centuries. What I am getting at is that animal dung is a
major source of fertilizer for farmers, with it's second value being fuel or a source for methane
conversion. These cultures are also very clean people, they aren't going to want to sit around
messing with animal excrement for the low wages they would receive for making the sticks.
And as far as the mythology of Chinese prison labor, they make more money producing toys
for junk food restaurants children's meals than they ever could producing incense sticks.

Another aspect to consider when listening to the mythology is that the charcoal based sticks
cost more. They are also made of substances that have been burned once (and thus put smoke
into the atmosphere once already). Webster's Dictionary defines charcoal as " the residue of
wood or other organic material reduced to carbon by imperfect combustion." The charcoal
sticks also absorb oil more slowly than wood based sticks, and so frequently less oil is used in
the application process. Some folks feel they put more soot into the air when burning in an
enclosed space as well.

I tested charcoal sticks a while back, out of curiosity. I sent samples to a bunch of my customers
to see what they thought. A few liked them better. Some sensed no difference. The majority
opinion was that they didn't smell as true, and some folks sensed an "edge" to the fragrances
that wasn't there in the wood-based sticks. Since I wasn't that impressed, and the charcoal
sticks would have cost more to produce,  and the fact that they had already been "burned
once" sort of bothered me, I let the majority decide.

I recently noticed an ad for incense that claimed their incense used no glue.  Incense sticks
all contain some form of binder to help the ingredients stay together. Usually it is a water
soluble plant mucilage from Acacia gum, a.k.a. Gum Arabic, but other plant mucilages are
used as well, and they are usually more expensive. If you read any of the articles and books
about making your own incense, you will most likely find the formulas will contain some form
of 'binding agent' to keep it all 'glued' together.

 So, there you have it. I am incensed that Incense has become the victim of political correctness,
that a certain racist slant  has been conveyed, and that once again someone is  using insinuation
about one product being vile to make theirs look good. What is politically correct about any of that?


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