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Aroma Science

Substitutes & Alternatives

After the price for sandalwood oil skyrocketed and the natural resources of many species of sandalwood, especially Indian S. album sandalwood, diminished, demand for cheaper alternatives arose.  East African sandalwood, as well as Amyris sandalwood from Haiti and Muhuhu sandalwood from Africa, is similar to sandalwood from the Santalacae family.  However, these alternatives are, though still evergreen trees, of a different botanical genus.  East African and other sandalwood alternatives also do possess the same depth and complex character as the Santalum species of sandalwood, though they are often a good substitute when a cheaper alternative to traditional sandalwood is required.

Osyris lanceolata (East African sandalwood)

Sometimes known as “Bastard Sandalwood” or its synonym Osyris tenuifolia, Osyris lanceolata is native to Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, and several other regions of Africa.  This species is included in CITES Appendix II, listed as not necessarily threatened with extinction, but still a species for which trade must be controlled in order to aid its survival.  According to CITES:

Kenya and Tanzania have Decrees controlling trade in wild harvested specimens of the species. O. lanceolata is protected in Kenya and Tanzania under Presidential decrees. In Kenya, Legal Notice No 3176 of 2007 under the Forests Act (2005) placed East African Sandalwood under Presidential Protection to allow for development of mechanisms for sustainable harvesting of the species.

Osyris lanceolata is widely harvested in East Africa for the extraction of its essential oil, which is used in the fragrance and perfumery industry. Female plants of this species often comprise the majority of the trees that are harvested, due to the unsubstantiated claim that female plants yield more and better quality oil compared to males (Mwang’ingo, Kibodya & Mng’ong’o, source, 2010).

  • Origin: Burundi, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda, and the United Republic of Tanzania
  • Color: Pale yellow to greenish yellow
  • Appearance: Clear liquid
  • Odor: Strong, sweet, woody, reminiscent of sandalwood and cedarwood

Amyris balsamifera (Amyris sandalwood)

Amyris balsamifera, often known as torchwood, candlewood, or balsam torchwood, is a tropical evergreen tree found throughout the world (Germplasm Resources Information Network [GRIN], source, 2014). It is often referred to as West Indian Sandalwood, though this essential oil does not possess the same complexities and depth as true sandalwood essential oil. However, Amyris essential oil still offers a sweet-woody, balsamic aroma and is an excellent, less expensive substitute for sandalwood essential oil.

  • Origin: Haiti, southeastern United States—Florida, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica; Honduras, Nicaragua, Venezuela – Anzoategui, Colombia, Ecuador
  • Color: Transparent to pale yellow
  • Appearance: Clear, viscous liquid
  • Odor: Woody, with slight vanilla-like undertones