Is That With or Without The Stick?
Stick incense comes to us from many different traditions (e.g. Indian, Japanese, Chinese, Tibetan, etc.). Their unique recipes, forms, and names grew out of their diverse social, medicinal and religious practices. So, it stands to reason that this one very general term could never adequately describe them all.
To help clear the air about this term and how it’s used let’s take a look at the two basic types of sticks and some of their common synonyms:
Cored Stick Incense
A thin bamboo reed is either dipped into paste or a dough is rolled around the reed. The thicker the core, the longer the incense will burn. The fragrant smoke will include the smell of the burning core, which is typically bamboo. Most commonly used in Indian and Chinese varieties.
Solid Cylinders or Spaghetti Stick Incense
These sticks are solid throughout (i.e. do not have a bamboo core). They’re either smooth thin extruded spaghetti-like sticks (see senko) or thicker hand-formed cyclinders (see dhoop and simpoi) depending on the tradition they are from.
Common Synonyms For “Stick Incense”
Traditionally the term joss was used by the by the Chinese to describe their religious idols. A joss house is a Chinese temple and joss sticks are offerings of incense burned in their temples.
Today, joss is commonly used as a synonym for the word incense (i.e. joss sticks, joss cones, joss coils). The term “joss stick” is used to describe many different types of stick incense.
The tradition of burning incense in the east has been around for a very long time. Over the years, the term joss stick has been used in different ways by different traditions. There’s no hard and fast rule and things are constantly changing.
You may occasionally run across uses of the term joss stick that seemingly contradict each other. For instance, a joss stick can be described as an extruded or hand-formed incense stick which does not have a bamboo core. It can also be used to refer to a hand-rolled incense stick with a bamboo core. And both are correct.
For instance, Indian joss sticks are traditionally made with a bamboo stick in the center, Japanese joss sticks are traditionally made without a bamboo core. And Chinese joss sticks can be made either way. Chinese temple and festival joss sticks can even be very large “cylinders” some as large as building columns. But remember these are just guidelines, not hard and fast rules.
Hand Dipped Stick Incense
Bamboo cored incense sticks (masala sticks or unscented blanks) that are are dipped in natural or synthetic aromatic oils.
Agarbatti Stick Incense
Agarbatti means incense stick, from “agar” (aloeswood, or incense) and “batti” (stick). Agarbatti incense sticks are traditionally made with a bamboo core. This is what most people think of as Indian incense. (Also: agarbathi, agarbathys, batti, batties, bathis bathies)
Dhoop Sticks & Logs
Dhoops are solid sticks of incense and come in many different sizes. They are typically two types: dry inflexible incense sticks or soft gummy cylinders or logs. Both types do not have a bamboo core. Most commonly used in Indian and Tibetan traditions.
A South Indian tradition of blending a complex combination of ingredients (e.g. scented flowers, herbs, wood powders, oils, resins, gums, etc.) into an incense paste which is then hand-rolled onto bamboo cores.
Senko Stick Incense
Translated from Japanese as incense, incense sticks or blended incense. Senko sticks do not have a bamboo core. They are usually thin smooth spaghetti type sticks. Also called sen-koh, senkoo, senkou. Known as “chinese matches” in Japan.
A Tibetan style incense stick, primarily based on Deodar Cedar, that does not have a bamboo core. Tibetan stick incense is typically hand-formed and thicker than Japanese Senko.
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