Stick incenses burning in a ceramic bowl

You may have often experienced a mystic aroma in high-end stores and restaurants that adds to their ambiance. This aroma is something that you just can’t seem to achieve at home with air fresheners. So, what exactly do these retail stores and restaurants use? Well, it is nothing to hide. They use incense.

What Is Incense?

Incense is a biological material that produces pleasantly fragrant smoke when burned. Essential oils and plant materials are used in the making of incense. It is used to create an ambiance, produces a pleasant aroma, and is also used in meditation, aromatherapy, and has several other uses as well.

The word incense comes from the Latin word incendere, which means ‘burn.’ The use of incense dates back to ancient Egypt, where priests used it for the fumigation of tombs and funeral ceremonies. Egyptians also used incense to keep demons away and as an offering to their gods during different rituals.

We will be discussing the different types of incenses in the article ahead. Keep reading!

Types of Incenses

Incense is normally of two main types, which are:

  • Indirect burning incense
  • Direct burning incense

Indirect burning Incense

Indirect burning incense includes loose resin that requires a separate source of heat constantly to keep the biological material burning. You will find that indirect burning incenses are most commonly used in contemporary settings.

Direct Burning Incense

Direct burning incense is lit once and fanned out after a while. It creates a glowing ember that burns the material slowly and releases the fragrant smoke. Direct burning incenses are pressed into a cone, block, or any other shape and are formed around a stick that supports it.

Incenses come in many forms which are:

  • Sticks
  • Cones
  • Coils
  • Powders

The burning duration is greatly affected by the form of incense used.

Stick IncensesSmoke produced from a burning stick incense

Incense sticks are a part of the traditions of many countries like China, Japan, Tibet, and India. Each region has its own recipe and crafting method. Stick incenses usually burn for a short time. Longer stick incenses are also available which may burn for longer. The types of incense sticks that you are most likely to encounter are:

1. Stick Incense with Bamboo Core

A stick incense with a bamboo core is the most common type of incense that you will find in any tradition. It includes a central bamboo core with a paste of incense material wrapped around it. The fragrance of the smoke is considered to basically be the fragrance of the core, i.e., bamboo.

2. Cylinder Incense Stick

Cylinder incense sticks do not contain a bamboo core. They are made of one material through and through. They are made directly from the dried paste of the incense material. Some examples of this type of incense are simpoi and dhoop.

3. Joss Sticks

Joss is a term that originated in China. It describes objects that have a religious nature. However, nowadays, joss is used to refer to incense sticks. Joss sticks do not have a single definition. You will find different joss sticks used in different traditions.

For example, one tradition may call for an incense stick that has a bamboo core as a joss stick, whereas other traditions may call for a hand-rolled incense stick without a bamboo core as a joss stick. Indian joss sticks contain bamboo in the core, whereas Japanese joss sticks do not have any supporting material in the center.

4. Hand-Dipped Incense Sticks

Hand-dipped incense sticks, as the name indicates, are made using the hand-dipping method. These sticks can be made by dipping either a bamboo incense stick or a masala stick into fragrant oils, which could be synthetic or natural.

5. Dhoop

Dhoop incense sticks are common in India and Tibet. These are solid incense sticks that are available in many sizes. They are malleable and soft and can be broken easily.

6. Agarbatti

The word agarbatti has been derived from two words; agar, which comes from agarwood or aloeswood, and batti, which means stick. Thus, agarbatti is an incense stick that is made with a wooden core. It is one of the most common types of incense that is used in Indian culture.

7. Masala Sticks

Masala sticks come from South India, where many kinds of wood, herbs, flowers, resins, gums, oils, and other ingredients are blended together to form a paste. This paste is then spread onto the surface of a bamboo core and dried.

8. Durbar Sticks

Durbar sticks are quite similar to Masala sticks. However, the blend of materials that are used to make them is fairly different and unknown in the west. Solid and liquid ingredients are used to make the paste, as a result of which, these sticks rarely dry out.

The liquid ingredients are mainly perfumes. The aroma of Durbar sticks is sweet and spicy, and they are soft to touch.

9. Champa Incense

Champa incense contains sandalwood and frangipani (plumeria). Champa incense sticks are similar to masala sticks and durbar sticks. However, some unique flowers, like nagkeshar and magnolia are used in their preparation. They also consist of a natural ingredient, Halmaddi, which is only found in India.

Champa sticks are so named because their fragrance is similar to that of the Champa flower. Halmaddi is hygroscopic. Because of this characteristic, it can absorb moisture from the atmosphere and can feel wet to the touch.

10. Simpoi Sticks

Simpoi sticks are thicker than other incense sticks. They are a hand-rolled, Tibetan variety of incense sticks.

11. Senko Sticks

Senko can be used to describe any type of incense, either stick or incense blend in Japan. Senko incense sticks do not contain a wooden or a bamboo core. Other names by which Senko sticks are known to include Senkou, Senkoo, and sen-koh.

12. Fluxo Incense

Fluxo incense may not suit well to the western palette, but it is quite popular in India. It contains a complex and rich blend of scent along with a number of additional ingredients. The scent varies with the ingredients used, but typically, the fragrance of Fluxo incense is pungent.

Cone IncensesA cone incense burning

Cone incenses are made from a mixture of essential oils and powders. They release a pungent aromatic aroma that enhances the scent of the entire room, which is required during meditation and yoga practice.

However, burning an incense cone is not as simple as lighting a candle and letting it burn. There are certain steps that need to be followed when using cone incense.

Cone incense should be kept in a suitable incense burner that can hold the ash when the incense burns.

To make sure that the incense sits evenly on the top of the burner, fill the bottom of the burner with uncooked rice or sand. This will help in improving the airflow and will also help in conducting less heat throughout the base of the burner. The burner should be kept on a non-flammable surface and away from any materials that can catch fire.

Burn the tip of the cone and either blow the flame out or fan it out. You will see a spiral of smoke rising from the tip of the cone, which will indicate that your incense is now burning.

Coil IncensesA small coil incense for household use

As you can assume from the name, coil incenses are coils made from incense material. They are also known as incense spirals. They are considered to be a modified version of stick incenses.

Coil incenses are made solely from the incense material. They do not contain a wooden or bamboo core in the center. Instead of shaping the incense material into a stick, the material is shaped to form a spiral.

An incense stick cannot be made too long as it raises the risk of stick-breaking. The major advantage of shaping the incense material into a coil is that it can be made much longer, which can greatly increase the burning time.

They are much like mosquito coils – you burn incense coils so that fragrant smoke is produced. The coil incense is burnt, and the flame is extinguished after a few seconds, similar to how cone incense is burnt. Coil incenses are available in many sizes and shapes. They come with holders to hold the coil and its ash while it is burning.

Because of the extended burn time of incense coils, the compact design, and the capacity to be hanged from the ceiling, they are often a popular choice for worshippers. They can be seen hanging from the ceiling in many religious ceremonies and spiritual sites.

An incense coil having a diameter of 3 to 4 inches can burn for up to 3 to 24 hours. With an increase of only an inch in diameter, the length is increased so much that the burning duration increases from 3 hours to 24 hours approximately.

Incense coils are a perfect choice if you want to keep the interior smelling fresh and mystic for extended durations.

Powder IncensesPowder incenses and spices in a market

Powder incenses refer to the powdered incense material. They contain incense material only, without any core for support. Powder incense is added to an ignited charcoal disc in a bowl. The powder burns with the ignited charcoal and gives off an aroma that is characteristic of the material being used.

Incense Materials

Now that we have discussed the basic types of incenses, let’s look at the different materials that are used in incenses.


Amber corresponds to Fire and Air. It is used for truth-seeking and wisdom. The blend of florals, musk, and resins is an excellent incense that is quite common in temples.


Sandalwood is said to heal and consecrate. It helps in removing negative energy and brings about peace. It helps in the creation of ritual space.


Frankincense is one of the most popular incense fragrances. They help in setting up a sacred space. The attributes of Frankincense include riches, power, and purification. It also helps in balancing solar energy with healing Myrrh.


Patchouli has an earthy aroma that makes it exceptional as an incense material. Its attributes are attraction, money, and sex.


Cinnamon incenses are used to bring feelings of personal protection and power. It can inflame passion and counter the effects of spells of love.


Lemon incense is used to bring brightness. It produces a burst of good luck and confidence. It is the perfect incense for you when you need extra energy.


It is used as a lunar incense. It is associated with the practice of chastity.

Dragon’s Blood

Dragon’s blood is a rare and extremely expensive resin. It is a perfect balance between earthy, sweet, and spicy. It is used to bring about power to almost any working space.


Evergreen incense smells like the Irish Spring. It is used for cleansing, wisdom, and protection.

Other popular incense materials include the following:

  • Honey
  • Jasmine
  • Lavender
  • Musk
  • Nag Champa
  • Opium
  • Rain
  • Rose
  • Sugar and Spice
  • Vanilla
  • Wild Berry

Every incense material has a unique and characteristic fragrance. Different types of incenses promote different effects. With so many types of incenses, you can experiment all you want and settle on the one that delivers the effects that you are looking for.

Burning incense is a great way to keep your rooms smelling mystic and warm. If you are a religious person who prefers keeping the ambiance of their worship room temple-like, incenses are what will help you achieve the feel and smell of a temple.