I enjoyed learning about the original recipe for incense last week when writing a story for The Catholic Weekly. Researchers from the Southern Cross University stumbled across it when they were looking for ancient medicinal uses of part of the shell of a family of sea snails found all over the world.
They found that when treated with pre-soaking in wine and vinegar as ancient Hebrew texts described, and then burnt, its smoke acts as a stabiliser and prolongs the fragrance of the other three main ingredients.
The researcher I spoke to said it was hard to imagine how people ever thought of doing that in the first place. I agree!