10 Best Incense Brands For Beginners (and how to choose)


In my mind, finding the best incense brands translates into understanding why you need or want to use incense, the ways in which incense is made, knowing or learning which incense format you like best, finding scents you like, and then finding a brand that checks all or most of those boxes for you. 

You may find one, three, or five brands to be the best for you, and my hope is that this post will help you discover which brand(s) will be a near perfect match. 

I am always open to learning more about incense and the many ways that I can use it within the home, so let’s dive in.

Best Incense Brands

Best Incense Brands on Amazon

With this list I’ve tried to include a variety since we all have different preferences, while at the same time keeping in mind the points I’ve already mentioned.

What I’m considering a “best” brand is one that creates incense using the least amount of synthetic ingredients possible. They offer at least two incense formats, and their product burns consistently without producing an overwhelming amount of smoke.

This list is grouped by country in order to communicate the distinctions in the way each culture approaches the process of making incense. 

It’s hard to compare incense across cultures because they’re created for different uses and often with local ingredients so the result is unique to that ethnic group and it’s like comparing apples to oranges because they each have unique qualities.

For example, Indian incense is usually more pungent than Japanese incense. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with either one, they simply approach the process differently and use different ingredients.

Country of Origin: Taiwan

Some key points that describe incense that originates in China:

  • Also called joss sticks in Chinese tradition – used as part of prayer rituals.
  • Use of incense often overlaps with traditional Chinese medicine. 
  • A lot of the ingredients typically used to make Chinese incense are similar to those used for medicinal purposes – lots of barks and spices. 
  • You won’t find additives or even a lot of floral ingredients, just the natural smell of the raw material.
  • The dominant fragrances you will smell with burning Chinese incense are: woody, earthy, and spicy. 

Taiwan Incense House 

This company produces a lot of incense that makes its way to the states. Joss sticks tend to be thinner than the masala sticks made in India. These Chinese incense sticks produce less smoke and burn consistently for forty minutes to an hour.

Only three ingredients are used to make the joss sticks:

  1. Bamboo stick core
  2. Tree bark powder
  3. Tree sap as a binder

This combination creates a natural, subtle woody fragrance when burned. Chemical-free, dye-free, toxin-free, you can safely burn these even around children.

Here is an example of their Sandalwood Joss Sticks. This company also makes Sandalwood Incense Sticks without a bamboo core, with all other ingredients being the same.

Sheng BaoHua

This is another Taiwan-based factory that makes joss sticks with a bamboo core. This set of sticks was made using Taiwanese cedarwood, phoebe bark, and Chinese herbs. Each stick burns for thirty minutes.

Country of Origin: Japan

Some key points that describe incense that originates in Japan:

  • Japanese incense also gives off a subtle scent and low-smoke burn.
  • Still used for religious and ceremonial purposes, both indirect and direct-burning incense are commonly used in Japan. 
  • Called koh in Japanese, their incense sticks are almost always made without a wooden core so when burned you will only smell the raw materials used to make the incense paste.
  • Traditionally burning Japanese incense is a more holistic experience for you to enjoy with all of your senses. You can move with it as the smoke unfurls, guess its ingredients, and listen to it from within. 
  • Japanese sticks are often shorter, like four to six inches. But there are exceptions.
  • Sandalwood and/or agarwood are often the base of their incense pastes.
  • Dominating scents seem to be: earthy, woody, floral

It is not easy to access traditional incense. The top three export companies are: Shoyeido, Baieido, and Nippon Kodo. This is what makes the specialty retailer, Japanese Incense, a valuable resource, because you can find rarer brands there.

Shoyeido Incense

Based in Japan with a United States presence, Shoyeido is one of the most well known Japanese natural incense brands; it has been in business for twelve generations.

Often described as elegant, Shoyeido incense is known for its delicate fragrances that result from use of natural ingredients. Their scents are complex without being too overwhelming.

Sandalwood or agarwood is used in all or most of their fragrances; they also use a lot of spices like the Chinese. While the majority of their ingredients are natural raw elements, some of their collections also have added fragrances.

Aromatic wood chips, incense coils and cones are part of their expansive product offerings. You can find a wide variety of scent collections to try through this brand. Some of their popular scents include Five Hills, Plum Blossom, and Avenue of the Villa.

While Shoyeido is largely traditional, they incorporate commercial elements in order to reach a broader audience, like with stick length, for instance. Some of theirs are close to nine inches, instead of the under six-inch traditional length.

Baieido Incense

Founded in 1657, this is another well established Japanese incense company. Following a skilled handcrafted process, Baieido incense powder is made using roots, bark, wood, plants, herbs, flowers, and spices – but either sandalwood or agarwood is the foundation of each incense recipe. For some collections, essential oils are used for added fragrance.

Baieido also sells incense coils and fragrant wood chips, and you won’t find any of their incense sticks with a wooden core, unlike Shoyeido which offers both types. Their Kobunboku incense sticks are made with sandalwood, agarwood, camphor, and cinnamon, as an expression of the plum tree.

I would say that Baieido maintains more traditional aspects of incense making than Shoyeido. 

Nippon Kodo Incense

Using recipes that’ve been protected for hundreds of years, Nippon Kodo incense continues to be skillfully made mostly by hand using raw natural materials. 

Their base ingredient is the bark of machilus thunbergii, a Japanese bay tree. And then sandalwood or agarwood is added along with spices and other elements. Woods, resins, gums, and flowers are combined with other organic matter to create incense sticks, cones, and coils.

Similar to Shoyeido, Nippon Kodo offers a wider range of fragrance families: herbal, floral, earthy, woody, and sweet. Stick lengths are also varied and some incense sticks are offered with a bamboo core. 

Morningstar is their “daily use” incense collection. While the Kayuragi Collection in sticks or cones places emphasis on scent and the beauty of wafting smoke. If you prefer joss sticks, you may want to try their Herb & Earth collection.

Japanese brands are the perfect choice for subtle, yet complex incense fragrances.

Country of Origin: India

Some key points that describe incense that originates in India:

  • Their traditional masala incense sticks are hand-rolled around a bamboo core and are at least nine inches long.
  • Also called agarbathi, Indian incense is known for its punchier fragrance.
  • Indians also make coreless incense sticks, called dhoop, a word also used to describe incense cones.
  • Similar to the Chinese, incense is part of Indian Ayurvedic medicine practice.
  • While incense burning is a religious practice, Hinduism is also a way of life, thus incense burning is a part of daily living.
  • Base ingredients include woods, resins, sometimes charcoal, gums and natural scents like vanilla. Once dried, well made masala sticks might be dipped in essential oils. Lower quality ones might be dipped in chemical-based fragrance oils.
  • The dominant fragrances you will smell when burning Indian incense are: woody, spicy, and sweet

More traditional brands like Patanjali and N. Ranga Rao & Sons are difficult to get a hold of at a decent price outside of India. So these brands below are the most authentic that I was able to locate. 

Kasa Style Incense

This is a fair-trade brand worth keeping an eye on. Their incense is hand rolled and is not dipped in fragrance oils. All ingredients are natural and free from chemicals and toxins. 

Kasa Style artisans actually roll the bamboo core in natural oils and use that as an adhesive to mold the powdered woods and other ingredients like honey, herbs, and spices onto the bamboo stick. Their 8-inch sticks burn slowly for about an hour.

Brahmas Incense

Currently this company only makes incense sticks, but it has other distinctions that can’t be ignored. What stands out about their incense is it’s:

The last point is the most intriguing to me. In order to reduce river pollution they collect flowers that have been discarded after being used in religious ceremonies, take them through a cleaning and drying process before crushing them into powder form to be added to their incense dough. Other ingredients include Ayurvedic herbs, resins, wood, and water.

Each stick of incense is fragranced with essential oils, hand-rolled, and then sun-dried before packaging. This process helps to preserve marine life and clean a primary water source for 400 million people.

A couple scents include eucalyptus, and rose.

Being that their formula is different from most other Indian incense, Brahmas incense has a softer scent. If you are looking for stronger fragrances, then try the Kasa Style brand. 

Country of Origin: Indonesia

Some key points that describe incense that originates in Indonesia:

  • Used for both religious prayers and personal aromatherapy
  • Natural incense is made with flowers, herbs, and essential oils
  • Fragrance from the natural incense sticks lasts for hours beyond burn time. Synthetic ones do not last long at all.
  • The dominant scents of Indonesian incense are floral and spicy.

Bali Soap Company: Jembrana Incense

Although Bali Soap is a natural body care brand, they’ve begun to sell incense sticks and cones as well. Around a bamboo core they add powdered wood, charcoal, barks, spices, tropical flowers, and natural fragrances. Just like their soaps, Jembrana incense is made by hand. Sticks burn for at least 45 minutes.

You won’t smell much wood with these. If you are looking for complex floral incense, then try this Indonesian brand.

Best Handmade Incense Brands on Etsy

Here are a couple brands on Etsy that sell handmade incense with a few points about why I think they might be worth a try.

Lunar Witch Baths

  • Handmade incense cones created with Japanese makko powder, basil, and water. The shop owner also notes that the fragrances are pure herbal blends, not synthetic oils.

Deep Green Light 

How Can You Know Which Incense Brand Is Best?

The only way to know which incense brand is best for you is to consider what’s most important to you when searching for an incense brand.  

The following points are some ideas that stand out to me when I am deciding whether or not to purchase incense made by a particular company. It might also help you to narrow down your choices. 

Reasons to Use Incense

A person’s reasons for burning incense can be as varied as all the different types and fragrances of incense that exist. But there are a few reasons that are more common than others: religious and/or spiritual practice, air freshener, or aromatherapy. 

More and more people are incorporating incense into daily life to:

  • Practice religious traditions
  • Engage in more focused meditation
  • Mask pet odors
  • Engage in cleansing rituals
  • Help combat insomnia
  • Simply freshen the space
  • Mental stimulation
  • Reduce stress
  • Create a more calming atmosphere

Your reason for using incense will influence the kind of incense you will need, the fragrance you will choose, and how you will burn it. 

The Different Ways Incense Is Made

https://youtu.be/D7CtQorMKU0
Masala Incense Sticks Demonstration

When selecting an incense brand, it is best to steer away from ones that contain harsh chemicals. Investigate the brand as much as you can to learn about the kinds of ingredients they use to create their products. 

In the most basic sense of the word, incense is a fragranced paste that you can burn to release its aroma. But what goes into the paste and how it is fragranced can vary widely from company to company.

You want to look for brands that use natural ingredients. This means that their paste is made from botanical elements, barks, herbs, resins and other nature-derived ingredients that are ground into powder form. Those powders are combined with a binder, which is usually made of wood, and sometimes water is also added to form a paste.

At this point, traditional Japanese incense and Indian dhoop sticks are then molded and dried before being packaged. With masala and joss sticks, the paste is molded around a bamboo wood core before drying. These are also called hand-rolled incense sticks.

In other cases, a combination of skilled workers and machines mold the paste around bamboo sticks prior to drying them. With some brands, once the sticks are dry, they’re hand-dipped into fragrance oils, dried again, and then prepared for packaging. 

The fragrances used can be essential oils, fragrance oils made from natural and chemical elements, or perfume oils that are completely chemical-based. 

Chemical-based scents can be more difficult to tolerate. Often they have an overwhelming scent and sometimes their smoke content is higher. Usually, the more natural ingredients used to create the incense, the more pleasant the aroma and less overwhelming the smoke. 

Various Incense Formats

Incense comes in various shapes, sizes, and even colors but there are some primary formats that are most common:

  • Incense sticks 
  • Incense cones
  • Backflow incense cones
  • Coils
  • Resins
  • Incense powders

And within these formats, there is another division – those that are burned directly versus those that are burned indirectly.

Direct burning incense includes incense sticks, both kinds of cones, and incense coils. All of these formats contain flammable ingredients that allow them to burn on their own. This is not an exhaustive list. Natural herbs (like sage) and wood sticks (like palo santo) are also forms of direct burning incense. Incense papers are another option.

On the other hand, incense that burns indirectly requires an outside heat source, like a charcoal disc or an oil warmer, in order to release their fragrance. Resins and incense powders are examples of indirect burning incense.

Various Ways To Burn Incense

It would be really annoying to buy an entire box of incense coils only to discover that you have no idea how you will burn them. Can you simply place them on a table? Lay one on top of your stick incense burner?

Understanding how to burn your incense can save you lots of headaches and can keep you safe. 

Incense stick holders are typically made of wood or ceramic. Most common ones have a small hole in which you place the bamboo stick end of your incense. But traditional Japanese incense and dhoop sticks require larger holes because they are not molded around the narrow core wood.

In these cases, you have to look for incense burners with wider holes made especially for these types of incense. Some of these holders do double-duty and have spaces for you to burn cones and coils as well. 

If that’s the case, great, if not, you’ll want to find the appropriate burners for the kind of incense you are going to light.

When indirectly burning resins and powders, the charcoal should be placed inside the appropriate tray, burner, or censer.

And let’s not forget backflow incense holders. These are designed to allow smoke to thicken and trickle down like a waterfall or mist. Regular holders do not create the same effect.

Best Incense Brands & Fragrance

The best incense brands have clean fragrances that are not drowned out by smoke. Scents from the best brands are also not so strong that you begin to feel sick to your stomach. 

All other things considered, selecting a fragrance might be the least complicated portion of this process.

Where Can You Find The Best Incense Brands?

While there are many different places where you can buy incense online, I tend to lean towards Amazon for the deals, free shipping, and return guarantees. Not to mention they almost always have what I need in stock. 

Online Marketplace

Shopping for incense on Walmart, Ebay, or other online marketplaces is hit or miss; many of the brands they carry are inexpensive and of low quality so the fragrance oils used are mostly or completely synthetic. When they burn, you smell perfume chemicals, not clean fragrances. Another point is that the reputable brands that I’ve found on Walmart’s website are sold by third party merchants who charge more for the same boxes of incense you can find on Amazon or the Brand’s website.

Many of Amazon’s merchants are also third party sellers, but their prices are either the same as the original brands or less. An exception is if it’s a rare item, then you might find that the merchant charges more than the retail price.

For better or worse, I feel safer ordering from Amazon over the other online marketplace options. And buying directly from the brand is not always possible or convenient. Some incense companies do not have an online presence and others ship from overseas, so ordering from Amazon reduces that price for me. 

If any of the companies below maintain warehouses in the United States, I’ll be sure to mention it. But depending on where you live, it may not be as expensive to have incense shipped to you from the brand directly.

Handmade Marketplace

Further down I will also list some incense cones and sticks that I’ve been eyeing on Etsy. All of the ones I’ve chosen were rolled by hand. But you have to be observant because even on Etsy you might find poor quality incense options.

International Grocers

If you are fortunate enough to live in an area where there are international grocery stores or at least an international section of the main grocery store, you might luck up on incense there. 

It is possible for a few high quality brands to sell their products through the international grocer.

Just be sure to read the labels. I would look for an ingredients list. If there are scientific words that you can hardly pronounce, move on to the next box until you find a handful of simple ingredients. The fewer the ingredients, the less synthetic the incense.

Online Specialty Marketplace

I recently learned about the Internet retailer, Japan Incense, based in California, USA. 

They carry wood chips, sachets, coils – pretty much every incense format. But in addition to Japanese incense brands that can be found on Amazon, they sell fine Japanese incense that is less accessible in the United States.

Incense Ocean is a comprehensive online incense retailer based in Lithuania. They source high end incense and accessories. 

Conclusion

So what do you think? Are any of these incense brands new to you? Have you discovered one or a few that you think might be a good fit?

When searching for the best incense brand, unless you simply want to try out random brands, which is fine, it can help to have an idea of why you are using incense, the format you like, what ingredients are most important to you, and which fragrances you prefer. For instance, if you want to use your incense as a timer for 30-minute meditation, then you might want a shorter stick or medium-sized cone that will burn for that time period in a scent that helps pull you deeper into meditation.

Based on these considerations, I hope that you have enough information to make your selection process less complicated.

Did you find this list helpful? If so, share it with others who might also benefit from reading it!

Grace Young

I love candles! I have personally tried over 100 brands of candles. The total burn time of these candles is over 5000 hours. I also talk about essential oil diffusers and reed diffusers. Essential oil diffusers and diffusers are also an important part of the scent in my home.

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