You’d be forgiven for thinking that the trend for frankincense was short-lived – forgotten about after the three wise men famously gifted it.
Far from it.
Trade in frankincense flourished for centuries, up until around 700AD in parts of the Middle East and Africa – and today is commonly burnt in households in Oman, a country that remains one of the key producers of the substance.
The aromatic resin also features in the hotels there run by Shangri-La, which even employs a ‘frankincense sommelier’ – Khalid Al Amri. Who’s no gimmick.
Khalid Al Amri is a ‘frankincense sommelier’ for Shangri-La’s hotels in Oman. He’s pictured here in the lobby of Shangri-La Al Husn, Muscat
He studied frankincense under the guidance of Canadian scholar Dr Patricia Groves – who has spent over 20 years researching and writing books about Oman’s heritage, arts and culture – and with Muscat’s National Museum of Oman and Bait Al Zubair Museum, a programme that also earned him the title of Culture and Heritage Ambassador for Shangri-La in Oman.
So, what does his role involve?
Khalid – who works at both of Shangri-La’s Omani resorts, Al Husn and Barr Al Jissah – said: ‘All my life I have been searching for my calling and I have finally found it.
‘My role involves bringing our guests moments of joy by sharing stories and my knowledge of frankincense with others.
Khalid is pictured above in the frankincense garden at Shangri-La Al Husn resort
HOW SHANGRI-LA USES FRANKINCENSE IN DISHES AND COCKTAILS IN OMAN
Shangri-La Al Husn’s Sultanah restaurant
COCKTAILS: The mixologist burns the frankincense over charcoal behind the bar and then captures the smoke in a closh and serves the cocktail in a closh to the guest (the smoke is in the closh).
CHICKEN DISH: Shangri-La Al Husn resort serves a dish at its ‘Sultanah’ restaurant (above) called ‘Sultanah’s Frankincense Free-Range Chicken’, using free-range grilled chicken, broccoli, sweet potato and a date chutney. The chicken is cooked over frankincense smoke on a charcoal grill at the table.
‘It also brings me much happiness, as I’m passionate about what I do.
‘I am responsible for overseeing the traditional Omani welcome in our resorts, and I also lead guided tours on frankincense and the incredible architecture of our resorts in Oman.
‘As part of this unique guest experience, Shangri-La Al Husn has its very own private frankincense garden with 21 frankincense trees that were planted back in 2019.
‘The garden is a place where our guests can touch, smell and see frankincense in its natural form while staying with us.
‘We also have a Luban Spa [luban is Arabic for frankincense) where guests can indulge in Arabian oriental treatments and massages infused with frankincense oil.
‘Our restaurants and bars also feature cocktails and dishes featuring frankincense, such as our Phoenix from the Flames cocktail, made with limoncello, pastis, bourbon, frankincense and orange.’
Khalid reveals that he advises the restaurants and bars on how to use frankincense in dishes and drinks – and the type/grade that’s most suitable.
The hotel plans ultimately to use the frankincense it grows in its spas, restaurants and bars, but the trees aren’t quite ready yet – ‘like a vineyard, they need time to mature’.
Khalid also advises guests about the best types of frankincense to buy in the markets in capital city, Muscat – frankincense hunting is a popular activity with locals and visitors alike.
Frankincense, explained Khalid, is an aromatic resin that originates from two main species of trees – the Boswellia sacra and the Boswellia papyrifera – with Oman ‘home to the finest frankincense globally’.
Shangri-La runs multiple luxury hotels in Oman, grouped together along the coast near Muscat (above)
Shangri-La’s Oman hotels (above) waft frankincense around the lobbies, and offer dishes and cocktails infused with the aromatic resin
Khalid continued: ‘Frankincense is an integral part of Oman’s heritage. In the ancient world, frankincense was more valuable than gold, and southern Oman just happened to be rich in frankincense.
‘Today, it’s commonly burnt at sunrise and sunset and it is a key part of the welcome experience in an Omani household.
‘When you welcome a guest into your home in Oman, you first burn frankincense to create a wonderful scent and then we offer our guests Arabic coffee and Arabic dates.
‘Growing up, my mother would burn half a kilogram of frankincense daily to create a warm and welcoming atmosphere in our house. And if I was not feeling well, my mother would boil Al Hojari frankincense in warm water, which is a high grade of frankincense that can be ingested for medicinal purposes.
‘Frankincense is also used as a room scent, to dissipate kitchen smells and ward off any negative energy.
Khalid said: ‘When you visit Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah or Shangri-La Al Husn (above), we have created an authentic Omani welcome experience’
‘It is well known for its healing and restorative properties too, as well as a perfume and as an aphrodisiac. The aromatic resin is also used for ceremonial and celebratory occasions such as during prayer and at weddings, and to ensure good health for a mother and child during childbirth.’
At Shangri-La’s Oman hotels, it doesn’t take guests long to familiarise themselves with the allure of frankincense.
Khalid said: ‘When you visit Shangri-La Barr Al Jissah or Shangri-La Al Husn, we have created an authentic Omani welcome experience for our guests. As soon as you enter one of our two resorts, which are side by side on Oman’s beautiful coast, you will smell the sacred scent of frankincense, which we waft and disperse through the grand lobbies. You will also be greeted by either myself or one of my colleagues offering Arabic coffee and dates.’
HOW IS FRANKINCENSE HARVESTED?
Khalid explained: ‘There is a special technique used to harvest the frankincense from frankincense trees with a knife called a manqaf. The manqaf is used to make a cut in the tree’s trunk and the sap slowly oozes from the cut and drips out in tear-shaped droplets. The aromatic resin then hardens and is cut from the tree bark.’