The Frankincense of Salalah, Oman

Salalah, Oman is well known as paradise to the people of the Persian Gulf, yet most of the world has never heard of this charming town of 180,000 lying quietly on the Arabian Sea. Tourists by the thousands flock to its shores from neighboring towns and countries during its annual monsoon season, which brings cooling rain to the scalding atmosphere and turns the arid desert lush green. I’ve twice visited post-monsoon Salalah and was amazed at its green desert, turquoise ocean waters and one more Salalah specialty – its frankincense. Found in very few parts of the world, frankincense trees are abundant throughout Dhofar, the region where Salalah lies. Short and scrubby, they’re not much to look at, but the frankincense they produce should be experienced by everyone.

A frankincense tree in Salalah, Oman

Frankincense is a resin found inside the tree and can be seen by slicing back a portion of its white bark.

Frankincense resin oozing out of a treet

Frankincense is harvested by draining the trees of this resin, letting it dry over a period of time, then chopping it into tiny bits.

A large piece of frankincense in my hand

This is actually quite a large piece of frankincnese, but it gives you an idea of how it looks.

These pieces of frankincense are then bagged and sold.

Dozens of bags of frankincense for sale in Salalah, Oman

Not all frankincense is alike. Lighter pieces typically mean higher quality and are used for health purposes. Omanis believe that this resin can help with arthritis, asthma, swelling and other medical conditions. They chew it or steep it in tea to let their bodies benefit from it. Putting it in your tea adds an extra bit of spice to your drink, but chewing it is a different matter. It is so gooey it gets very, very stuck in your teeth. If you do decide you want to try to chew it, bite off just a very tiny piece so you won’t be trying to get rid of it for days.

Both light and dark pieces are used in a most appealing way – filling the air of Oman with a heady, spicy scent when burned. Wherever in the country you travel, you’re likely to smell frankincense burning away. Its omnipresence has caused me to long say that frankincense is Oman’s signature scent.

Frankincense burning in a shop in Salalah, Oman

Bags of frankincense are popular items for sale in the souqs of Salalah and they, along with burners in which several bits of the scented resin are placed and burned, are everywhere in the souqs. They come in such a multitude of colors, that it’s hard to choose which one to buy.

Frankincense burners on a shelf of a shop in Salalah

Four frankincense burners on a shop shelf in Oman

Frankincense burners on a shop shelf in a souq in Salalah

If you travel to Salalah, I highly recommend buying a bag of frankincense and, if your luggage can handle it, a burner. The flavor and scent of frankinense will always take you back to Oman, no matter where you are.

If you want to learn more about Salalah, Oman read my earlier post on its beaches, greenery and mysterious anti-gravity spot as well as my post highlighting its wildlife and markets. When booking your holiday flights to Dubai, think about traveling to Oman too. It is more than worth a visit.

6 Comments Post a Comment
  1. Not only did I have no clue of all the natural treasures that exist in Salalah, but I had never heard of this place before you started writing about it. I would so love to see the green desert. As for the frankincense, I think I rather have it in my tea than to spend days trying to get it out of my mouth ;)

  2. Sabina says:

    Ayelet, I’m happy to be the one to introduce Salalah, Oman to you :) Yes, you’re right – drinking frankincense is a better way to enjoy it than chewing on it.

  3. Steve says:

    This is a very interesting look into the world of Frankincense. It’s definitely something I’d pick up while in Oman. I have to admit that I’m intrigued as to what Frankincense tea would be like. I’ve tried a fairly wide array of teas so I think I’d have to give that kind a go. Although I’m not sure I’d chew on it. If I did, I’d probably just do a little to get the feel and taste of it. I’m not sure I’d like the idea of it being all over my teeth and hard to get out.
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  4. Sachin says:

    Hi there,
    I work in salalah and it’s cool indeed. Much better than rest of the heat.
    But I am first time out of my home country and this has inspired me to plan for more destinations….step by step. How about small tips about your globe trotting, difficulties etc if u don’t mind i.e. starting from middle east…where would u recommend next? Small trips…a weeks mostly due to work n family commitments..please do reply.

  5. Sabina says:

    Steve, yes, if and when you go to Salalah, you must buy frankincense. It gives tea a very mild spicy flavor, and if you chew even a tiny bit of it, it’s still going to get majorly stuck in your teeth. You should do it, though, just to see what it’s like.

  6. Sabina says:

    Hi Sachin, thanks for writing. There’s so many interesting Persian Gulf destinations, all accessible for a reasonable cost on Air Arabia. Have you been to Qatar or Bahrain? I’m assuming you must have been to the UAE already. These are all interesting and so close to Oman you really should go. The only potential difficulties I can think of is that Persian Gulf destinations are quite expensive and you need to make sure to dress modestly. Since you live in Salalah, though, I think you must already be accustomed to the cost and of course the dress.

    Alternatively, if you want to go to a less expensive Middle Eastern country, Egypt is the place to head. It’s the cheapest country in the Mid East, it’s safe, the people are very friendly, it’s got tons of historical sites.

    If you need more advice, please let me know.

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