Khalid al Amri grew up with frankincense — a regular fixture in his home when he was growing up. He is familiar with its distinctive smell and has always loved how the resins form tiny bubbles whenever they hit the hot embrace of the burning coal.
When the white smoke rises out of that fiery ember and the smell is dispersed into the room, Khalid feels like he is transported back to a time long past, from the darkened hallways of great men to the cramped but homey tents of people traversing the desert, moving from one place to another to trade and make a living, into wooden vessels crossing grumpy seas, and into the halls of kings, queens, and sultans who ruled the land so differently than how it is today.
As the first-ever frankincense sommelier, Khalid has been tasked with curating millennia-worth of knowledge. Banking on his heritage, he has done his research and met up and worked with frankincense farmers who showed him how the valuable resins, locally called Luban, are made and harvested.
“You have to make a frankincense tree cry to get its treasure,” he said while describing the methodical way of cutting the tree where the golden sap flows.
Khalid knows that while frankincense is produced by some key countries in the region, Oman is well-known worldwide for having some of the best quality frankincense thanks to the perfect condition of Dhofar and farms that are located in rough valleys shielded by towering mountains but yet enjoying the salt-rich wind that flows towards the farm.
Frankincense is renowned for its Biblical references and religious symbolism and embodies a pervasive presence across Omani society. It transcends mere fragrance, touching every facet of life – from health and wellness practices to integral roles in hospitality and rituals surrounding childbirth.
At the Shangri-La Al Husn in Muscat, Khalid al Amri assumes the role of a Culture and Heritage Ambassador, where his tasks include sharing information about Omani arts, architecture, and notably, the legacy of frankincense.
To become a frankincense sommelier, his meticulous training, spanning two years was shaped under the guidance of esteemed scholar Dr Patricia Groves who helped him delve deeper into Oman’s rich tapestry of history, art, and the nuanced world of frankincense.
Reflecting on his journey, Khalid humorously recalls his presumption of knowing all about Omani culture before his comprehensive training. His initiation wasn’t a mere memorisation of facts but a transformative experience, demanding a mastery of English expression and an embodiment of narratives that echo Omani history’s richness.
The extensive curriculum, meticulously crafted by experts like Stephanie Rachid and Fahad al Hasni, is aimed at nurturing Khalid’s unique voice in imparting cultural wisdom rather than robotic recitation. His training spanned topics encompassing Omani architecture, historical nuances, and the profound significance of the region’s terroir, essential in understanding the distinctiveness of premium frankincense.
Khalid mesmerises with tales of the resin’s historical stature — once esteemed as a prestigious trade commodity in the pre-petroleum Arab world. He intricately narrates the harvesting process, describing how the resin, derived from Boswellia trees through meticulous incisions, holds medicinal properties akin to the revered status of “sweat of the Gods” in ancient Egypt.
Beyond its historical value, Khalid emphasises frankincense’s integral role in Omani hospitality. The evocative aroma permeates the atmosphere, welcoming guests not only at the property where he works but also in Omani households, symbolising a heritage intertwined with generosity and warmth.
Khalid’s passion for frankincense extends beyond cultural ambassadorship; it’s a lifelong pursuit. He artfully utilises the resin in various forms to curate a unique experience for guests, from private gardens with 21 frankincense trees to incorporating it into spa treatments and even advising on its use in culinary delights and cocktails.
As Khalid shares stories of Luban, recounting childhood memories and its healing properties, he emphasises its significance in ceremonial practices and celebratory occasions like weddings and prayers. His reverence for the resin mirrors Oman’s historical legacy, a land once revered for its vibrant trade routes and finest quality frankincense, particularly from the revered Wadi Hajar.
In Khalid’s narration, Luban is more than a resin; it’s a gateway to a treasure trove of stories that unravel the interconnectedness of cultures and the healing prowess of nature. It’s an invitation to embrace the enchanting fragrance that carries within it the rich tapestry of Omani heritage, a testament to the wonders of the natural world awaiting discovery.