10 Makko Powder Substitutes [Binder & Base]

My house is always saturated with the smell of burning incense. I’ve tried every form and scent stores offer, yet I still wanted more. So, to satisfy my cravings, I dove into the art of incense making.

After reading recipe after recipe, one main ingredient stood out. This ingredient goes by the name of makko powder.

However, after having paid close to $25 for just 4 ounces, I quickly knew I had to find a replacement for it.

Several ingredients can substitute makko powder in incense making. The most suitable substitute is joss powder, as it also serves as both a base and binder. Other replacements fit into one of two categories, either bases or binders. For example, you can use sandalwood powder, cedarwood, or powdered charcoal as base substitutes. For wood binder substitutes, you can use tabu no ki, laha powder, or marshmallow root. Gum tragacanth, xanthan gum, and guar gum are great gum binder substitutions.

In this article, we will dive into the different substitutions of makko powder based on what applications they will be used for.

We will also take a look at how you can make makko incense. In addition, we will address some commonly asked questions pertaining to this powder.

Makko Powder Substitutes

1. Sandalwood Powder

Sandalwood is a classic incense ingredient that has been used for at least 4000 years. It is a highly aromatic base material that can be used in place of makko powder. Sandalwood doesn’t have the binding properties that makko has, though.

Any variety of sandalwood could be used as a substitute. For example, red sandalwood has a soft scent and can be used as a base material.

Sandalwood Powder

If you choose to replace makko powder, mix two tablespoons of sandalwood with 1/8 teaspoon of gum binder for a great sandalwood incense.

2. Cedarwood

A bottle of cedar essential oil with pieces of cedar wood

Many species of cedarwood are used as bases in the making of incense. They add a powerful scent to the incense blend. In addition, some claim that cedarwood incense aid with calmness and composure.

3. Powdered Charcoal

The base material in the incense usually replaces charcoal or any other outside heat source used in non-combusting forms of incense.

But if you remove the base material, charcoal can be used to release the aromas of the incense.

Charcoal is used often because it is more combustible than most wood powders. However, pay attention to the amount of powdered charcoal you add, as it could turn your incense black.

Makko Powder As a Binder 

You need a binder if you want your incense to hold together in a specific shape or form.

Binder is used as glue to form incense cones, sticks, and pellets. It binds the ingredients and solidifies the incense as it dries.

Binders are also used in loose blends to help ingredients stick together better. There are two basic types of binders: wood binders and gum binders.

Many require the addition of water to turn into their sticky nature.

You should add a binder with caution as adding too much could lead the incense not to burn correctly.

You can choose the binder you find suitable but keep in mind that some might add a subtle scent to the mix.

Wood binders are simple to work with. They can be forgiving, so they are great for new incense makers.

The tricky thing is knowing exactly how much wood binder you need in your mix. Incense recipes that bind using a wood binder may require 30% to 40% of it.

Wood binders are not as strong as gum binders. This could be either a positive or negative thing, depending on what you aim at making.

4. Joss Powder

Makko powder is not the only powder with both base and binder properties. For example, joss powder has both these properties too. That is why it can be used as an effective substitute.

Joss powder is placed under this category because it is favored as an incense binder. In fact, it is one of the most popular wood incense binders in the world. In addition, it is more economical than makko powder.

Joss powder is made from the natural bark of the Tailing arborvitae tree. It works well in many incense blends. In most cases, joss powder can be used to substitute makko powder in a 1:1 ratio.

Closeup of arborvitae tree branches and its buds

It has excellent viscosity and adhesive properties, which help shape the incense. In addition, it is almost completely odorless, which helps maintain the incense’s primary fragrance.

5. Tabu No Ki

Contrary to popular belief, tabu no ki is not the same as makko. Many people use their names interchangeably, but they are not particularly identical.

Tabu no ki is the natural wood binder that is used in the making of makko powder. True makko powder contains tabu no ki along with other ingredients.

Tabu no ki powder is a very popular binder with almost no scent, so it’s great to use in any incense. It comes from the bark of the machine’s thunbergii tree that grows throughout Asia.

6. Laha Powder

Laha powder, or dar, is said to be a substitute for makko powder in Nepal, Tibet, and other East Asian countries.

Makko powder and laha are used interchangeably, depending on what part of the world you’re in—some substitute makko powder with laha powder in a 1:1 ratio.

Its water-soluble adhesive properties are great for making incense sticks and cones. It is also almost odorless, especially when mixed with other ingredients and burned. It burns smoothly and evenly.

7. Marshmallow Root

Marshmallow Root

Though considered more of a herb than wood, marshmallow root can be used as a binder in many homemade incense recipes.

Marshmallow root comes from the marshmallow plant. Like the others on this list, marshmallow root can be used as a binder substitute.

8. Gum Tragacanth

Gum tragacanth in incense-making can also replace makko powder since it is also a binder.

You’ll find gum tragacanth as a fine white powder in the market. It is often used in the kitchen as a thickening agent.

A little goes a long way with the gum tragacanth. You’ll only need half the amount of this gum compared to other similar gums.

A standard incense recipe uses only 1/8 teaspoon of gum binder for every two tablespoons of the other components.

Gum Tragacanth

Gum Tragacanth is odorless, which means it won’t interfere with the other aromas in the mix. It is also tasteless and viscous.

Gum tragacanth is excellent for making cones, pellets, sticks, and loose incense.

9. Xanthan Gum

Xanthan gum is probably more commonly found when compared to both makko powder and gum tragacanth.

This gum is a fine white powder widely used as a thickener and a gelling agent.

It is made through bacterial fermentation and can easily be found in the gluten-free section at some grocery stores or online.

It is similar to gum tragacanth in its properties. It is great for making cones, pellets, sticks, and loose incense.

xanthan gum

A bit of xanthan gum can also go a long way. If you want to use xanthan gum instead of makko powder, also apply the 1/8 teaspoon rule mentioned earlier.

If you’re making masala-style sticks (with a wooden rod in the center), use 1/4 teaspoon of gum binder if the mixture is not properly adhering to the wood.

10. Guar Gum

Guar gum can also be a binder substitute for makko powder. It is a fine white powder that is made through its extraction from guar beans.

This gum has very similar properties to gum tragacanth and xanthan gum. It also has no odor and is a powerful binding agent.

If you choose to use guar gum instead of makko powder, also apply 1/8 teaspoon to every two tablespoons of incense (1:48 ratio).

How To Make Makko Incense?

As mentioned earlier, to make incense, you need a base, a binder, an aromatic, and water.

Start by choosing the ingredients you’ll want to use to make the incense. Then, pulverize your blend into the most delicate powder possible.

Afterward, mix the powdery ingredients with the makko powder in a mixing bowl. Make sure to keep the makko powder a bit less than that of the dry ingredients.

For instance, for every three teaspoons of your dry material, add about two teaspoons of makko powder. This is just an estimation; consider following a specific recipe if you are still a beginner.

Add warm distilled water very slowly to your mixture, preferably a few drops at a time. Mix well with each addition.

Knead and mix the blend with your hands until a dough is formed. The final dough should be soft and moldable.

A crumbly texture indicates the dough is too dry, so consider adding more water. If your dough is sticky, it is too wet. Add some more dry components.

Now comes the fun part! Sculpt your incense dough into the way you would like it to be. For example, if you are making cones using a mold, push a small amount of incense into each form. Finally, let them dry and light them up when they’re ready.

The Unique Characteristics Of Makko Powder

Makko powder, which translates to incense powder, is a base and binder ingredient used to make incense.

This powder is a natural combustible material obtained from the bark of the Machilus thunbergia tree, aka the Japanese bay tree. It can contain tabu no ki, clove, and other ingredients.

Makko powder is not new; it has been used in Japan and other Asian countries for thousands of years.

This powder is mainly cultivated in Southeast Asia. It is usually found in a light brown powdery form.

Making makko powder so desirable in incense is its water-soluble adhesive properties and subtle aroma.

This aroma prevents it from interfering with the scent of the other ingredients in the incense mix.

Makko powder comes in four grades. The higher the grade, the less aroma it has. In addition, it has the ability to burn smoothly and evenly.

Unfortunately, all great things have a downside. The downside of makko powder is that it’s very expensive and not readily available. So, finding substitutions for makko powder is sometimes necessary to make incense.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What Does Makko Powder Smell Like?

Makko powder has a light woody scent. The minimal fragrance is one of the reasons why this ingredient is used so widely. It allows the primary components to show their true colors.

Also, because makko powder has this minimal woody fragrance, it goes well and mixes with nearly everything.

2. How Do You Make Incense Without Makko Powder?

There are many great incense recipes online, but the issue is you keep finding makko powder as one of the main ingredients.

Well, here is where this article should have come in handy. In place of the makko powder, you can use any of the substitutes mentioned earlier.

Keep in mind that you need to add both a base and binder if you choose to replace makko powder unless the substitute has those dual properties.

If you don’t add makko powder or other combustible, you can place a hot coal under the incense and let it burn. That is one way to release aromas.

3. How Will You Heat Your Incense?

There are do’s and don’ts when it comes to heating or lighting up your incense. How exactly you will do so depends on the form and type of incense you’re using.

If you have your incense in cone or stick form, burning it is simple and straightforward. Start by lighting up the end of the cone or stick with matchsticks or a lighter.

Wait till it catches fire. Then, allow it to burn for a couple of seconds before fanning out the flame. Next, place it in a safe manner, and let it burn slowly.

If you want to light a loose incense mixture or an incense pellet, charcoal, makko powder, or any other combustible will be needed to heat the mixture.

4. Is Burning Incense Bad For Your Health?

Incense isn’t seen as a significant health risk compared to smoking tobacco. Yet, there could be risks associated with burning incense.

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), certain health risks are increased with incense burning.

The risks include cancer, asthma, and contact dermatitis. However, it is important to mention that the EPA did not say how much contributes to this risk.

Using incense correctly will minimize health risks. Studies thus far are still limited.

5. Where Can You Buy Makko Powder?

Makko powder is sold in several different places. You can purchase this powder from bulk herb stores or certain health food stores.

You’ll also be able to find makko powder fairly quickly online from various sources such as amazon.

Final Thoughts

Makko powder is a common ingredient used in the making of incense. It serves as both a base and a binder.

If needed, it can be substituted with other bases and binders. However, since most ingredients only serve as either of one or the other, additional ingredients might be required.

Some base substitutes include sandalwood powder, cedarwood, powdered charcoal, and joss powder.

Joss powder is also a good binder substitute for makko powder, along with tabu no ki, gum tragacanth, xanthan gum, guar gum, laha powder, and marshmallow root. In the end, the best substitute is the one that you enjoy the most.

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