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Benzoin: Production, Uses and International Trade

Contact Author John JW Coppen
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Description and Sources of Benzoin Benzoin is a balsamic resin obtained from trees of the genus Styrax from Southeast Asia. There are two types of benzoin of commerce: Siam benzoin from Styrax tonkinensis (Pierre) Craib ex Hartwiss and Sumatra benzoin from S. benzoin Dryand. and S. paralleloneurum Perkins. Laos is the major producer, and may, at times, be the sole producer, of Siam benzoin. Vietnam produces much smaller, and only occasional, amounts. Indonesia, specifically north Sumatra, is the only producer of Sumatra benzoin. The scale of production of the two types of benzoin is very different, however. Annual production of Siam benzoin is around 50 tonnes while that of Sumatra benzoin is of the order of 1000 tonnes.

In the People’s Republic of China, S. tonkinensis, S. hypoglauca Perk. and S. cascarifolia are tapped, but the products, though used domestically, are not believed to enter world trade.

Apart from the distinction between Siam benzoin and Sumatra benzoin, there are two English terms used to describe the resinous product from Styrax trees: “benzoin” (sometimes erroneously called gum benzoin) and “gum benjamin”. The latter is used as the description in Singapore’s trade statistics and by Singaporean traders. Since Singapore is the major international trading center for benzoin, the term “gum benjamin” is often used elsewhere in trade. In Indonesian trade statistics, benzoin is misleadingly called frankincense, a term usually applied to the resinous exudate from Boswellia spp. of Arabia and Africa.