By Jonathan 13 Comments

The Sad Story of Made in Canada Hand-Dipped Incense

I cannot deny it: I have become somewhat of an incense fiend. I am completely addicted to the warm, sweet-smelling odour that permeates my home and greets my senses when i walk in the door. It’s a cozy, homey smell that you can’t get from nauseating glade plug-ins, or, God forbid, Febreze. It’s punchy, but not overpowering, and I love the old world spiritual significance that it has too.

I talked about my (re)discovery of incense in this article, so I won’t repeat myself here, but I will say that since that time I have a hard time resisting checking out any store that looks as though it might sell some incense…

It was sort of a happy accident that the first incense I bought was the really good quality stuff. If the inn I was working at didn’t burn the nag champa made by India’s Shrinivas Sugandhalya company, I might just as easily have bought some crappy American made stuff. Then again, if they were burning crappy American made stuff I probably wouldn’t have ever taken a liking to it…

I’m the sort of guy that likes to try new things, and when I find something new that I like, I tend to try it as many ways as possible. So naturally I wanted to try more incense, and having tried nearly everything appealing the little new age store here has to offer, I decided to head on over to Google. One of the first results on Google caught my attention. it was the online store of a vendor I remembered seeing at the local flee-market my dad used to drag me to as a kid. I won’t say her name, but it rhyme’s with banana’s incense, which is one of the scents she makes. (Oh by the way, the fact that she makes a banana scent should have been a red flag since it can only be made by artificial means, but curiosity killed the cat, right?) I hemmed and hawed about placing an order for this “hand-dipped fresh incense”, and ultimately decided not to order it because as it happened I was soon to be passing through the town where her retail store is on a road trip and decided to stop in then.

Fast forward a few weeks and I came home with a few packages of this supposedly fresh better smelling incense. One of the scents I got was called Nag Champa, but it wasn’t really a nag champa because real nag champa it made from a paste called masala and rolled onto the stick and dried. This “nag champa” was dark brown, just like all the other scents on offer… …but it still smelled quite nice in the package. I couldn’t wait to light one up, but when I did I noticed something odd, it seemed to light too fast! Good incense is usually a bit stubborn to light at first, you have to hold the match to it almost until the match is used up and your fingers are burning, this stuff lit instantly, and what’s more the flame wanted to engulf the whole stick, and would have if I hadn’t blown it out. Once it was lit I noticed it was very smokey, and I actually found the smoke smell overpowering in the scent, but I decided to give them a chance anyway.

It wasn’t until I went outside for a while and returned that I realized how bad this stuff was, hours after it finished burning, there was an unpleasant after-odour in the air, that lingered for days. In contrast to the sweet smells that lingers after burning good incense, this smelled like burnt, chemical soaked wood. And in fact as I now know, that’s exactly what it was. You see, these “hand-dipped” incense sticks are made from something called a punk stick. These punk sticks are made cheaply in china and are designed for lighting fireworks. They look something like an incense stick, and it’s very lucrative to dunk these things in smelly oils and sell them as such. In reality these are nothing more than sawdust on a stick, full of impurities and toxins. And they don’t smell very good once you light them on fire. This is the kind of stuff that causes some people to say incense hurts their eyes or gives them headaches.

So how do you identify bad incense? As a rule of thumb, if it’s advertised as “hand-dipped”, avoid it. Also incense made from punk stick it usually longer that real Indian incense. The stick is thicker and almost perfectly round and uniform, as opposed the fine, irregular and often flat bamboo sticks used in the good stuff. Indian incenses are made with a masala paste which is grey and smooth once it’s on the stick, or from very pure charcoal which is also smooth. The punk stick stuff is brown and rough-looking, like sawdust, because, well, er, it is.

Stay away from it, and instead choose only high quality Indian, Tibetan and Japanese incense varieties.

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13 Comments:

  • Kathleen says:

    Redacted is able to provide the exact ingredient list for their products, which also confirms compliance to best-health practices and the use of actual natural ingredients. I know this, because I’ve seen it requested and then provided.

    I don’t buy or burn flavours like ‘banana’, but any good cook knows that a reasonable facsimile of a flavour (or scent) can be replicated with other ingredients.

    None of their sticks, for me, have ever burned black, and of all the people I know with sensitivities that’s tried their incenses, none have reacted adversely, and all have been able to continue breathing in the vicinity of the burning incense. That, to me, is very telling as to the quality of the product.

    Their Nag Champa smells pretty much like Hem’s Nag, though maybe a touch sweeter.
    Nag Champa’s primary ingredient is frangipani (Champa), followed by sandalwood, and the recipe is tweaked according to taste. Not disputing that some recipes may have or have had masala as the base because we’re talking art-form and ‘old family recipes’, but it’s not by any means the only base.

    I have in my treasured collection some copal incense handcrafted in Mexico, by an actual person, in person, by hand, with verifiable ingredients. It’s thick and long and grainy, and each base-stick is obviously split individually… and it smells divine with no black or brown or otherwise dirty smoke – and also doesn’t choke out those lung-sensitives of my aquaintance…. and I mention this simply to indicate that your criteria aren’t quite as accurate as you’d hoped.

    Now, if you actually weren’t talking about redacted, then the points are all moot… but not naming them whilst playing the ‘rhymes with’ game is pretty lame, in my opinion – and I don’t have stock in, nor do I know any of them personally… but I do recommend their incense to people who prefer to not pollute their own environments, for all of the above reasons.

    Namaste

    • Jonathan says:

      You know what actually is really lame? All of the recent (rude) comments I have been getting on this article (which is many years old) complaining bitterly that I posted my truthful thoughts about this crappy product.

      The main problem isn’t the scents that are used, but the fact that a punk stick is used as a base. Punk sticks are for lighting fireworks, not for incense. They are smokey and they stink.

      I don’t like the product. I think it is complete garbage. You are free to disagree, but getting all bent out of shape and leaving defensive, whiny comments on my blog about it is kind of weird.

      Namaste

      • Kathleen says:

        Point; apologies for the date… I looked at the most recent dates as A didn’t see one on the original.

        If you choose to read my response as ‘whiny’ or defensive, that’s totally your call.
        i thought I was pretty clear in stating fact as I knew it, which refutes some of yours — not your opinion, which you are completely entitled to, obviously, just the bits that don’t square with fact — but how you interpret the words on the screen is your call.

        I was looking for information on bamboo charcoal (if you’re really into incense, you’ll get much better result from actual resins and plant material) and your blog post came up in a web-search… I replied because you didn’t just say “I don’t like it because it stinks” you used misinformation and misdirection to infer a toxic product.

        You say ‘punk stick’ like it’s a trash product, when it’s what goes into the punk that determines the trashiness, as ‘punk’ is the style of creation, not the descriptor of quality.
        I simply offered my ‘she said’ to your ‘he said’.

        Truly I’m sorry you had such an awful experience and I’m not quibbling with that. Even though it doesn’t jive with mine doesn’t negate it
        But everyone who has disagreed with your experience on this thread, regardless of tone or candour, has been slammed in a derogatory manner. I’m finding that quite puzzling.

  • Maria says:

    I like their stuff. Am really surprised to see your comments, but glad I found this post nonetheless.
    Personally I think that stuff from India is way too strong and way stinky for my taste.
    Kudos to this Canadian Homemade business.

    • Jonathan says:

      Indeed, Kudos to her for making a living selling this garbage. If people are dumb enough to buy it, then good for her.

      • Colleen says:

        Wow. You just called the previous poster stupid and told her she has no sense of smell, simply because she has a different opinion than yours.

        To go out of your way to do that, you obviously have problems besides your not liking this particular incense. Grow up, put your big boy pants on and stop attacking people who respond to your article.

  • GC says:

    I collect all kinds of incense from all around and I know exactly whom you’re refering to. I couldn’t agree with you more. This has to be one of the cheapest quality and most horrible sticks I’ve ever burnt. The good stuff is usually sedative, soothing, relaxing and therapeutic. This stuff is nothing more than false advertisement at its best.
    If you want to go cheap but good….stick to the good old charcoal based HEM sticks that you can get just about anywhere. Now, if you want the rolls royce of incense…get yourself some resin on a stick from Fred Soll. This stuff is pricey but so well worth it. Remember… you get what you pay for.

  • Don says:

    ya – I ordered like $100 worth of incense from that place in BC. It was all awful. If you’re going to go through the hassle of making incense, why not make it well? Then my kids bought me MORE of it for my birthday – kraaapppppppppppeeeeeeeee…

  • Carolyn says:

    Well this was a great find considering I was thinking of making a purchase on that will-remain-nameless site today. i was looking for a place to buy some incense online, but I also thought that’d be kind of risky on my part. I’ve only really gotten into incense within the last year, my first purchase of it was made at Whole Foods, and I love it. There’s something so comforting and relaxing about it.

    Anyway, glad I found your article BEFORE I made the purchase!

  • Toni Hajek says:

    question do you not feel that the exporting from the US companies that have moved into India. Has taken away from the trade and true quality of the product. You cannot even find a sight that sells true hand made products that are not made on a street cornor by a lady struggling to survive than in a warehouse by multiple people. sorry just courious

  • Jonathan says:

    You’re welcome, Rose, thanks for stopping by.

  • Rose says:

    I did not know that. Thanks for the tip.