Known as ambergris, you may be forgiven for thinking it is a rare flower or natural element that smells beautiful – especially when you learn it is sought out heavily by perfumeries. In fact, reading any bottle of perfume you may see ambergris listed on the ingredients. It is used as a binding agent in numerous popular perfumes. When you learn exactly what ambergris is, however, you may jump up in surprise.
No, it is not an exotic flower, a rare wood or a citrus fruit. It is nothing luxurious at all, it is, in fact, whale puke! Months before the ambergris reaches hundreds of bottles of Chanel No. 5, you will find it in its natural form, attached to the intestinal walls of a sperm whale. Ambergris is rare as it only forms in sperm whales and does not appear in any other species. Though scientists still have no idea why that is, the theory is that the substance will cover objects that are harder to digest such as squid beaks.
However, more commonly it is just seen as whale vomit, and it is estimated that only one percent of sperm whales actually produce the ambergris that perfumeries chase down. Once expelled the ambergris is a dullish grey or black color which floats to the surface of the ocean. Often it is found years after it comes out of a sperm whale and in its pure form it often simply smells like the sea.
But the magic happens when you take it out of the sea and it starts to harden. Here over time, it starts to harden and then it takes on a sweeter and earthier smell. Of course, ambergris tends to be very rare and is notoriously hard to find, looking like rocks on the shore and impossible to find floating. In fact, due to its rarity, the price for ambergris can reach in the thousands of dollars for a single ounce.
Even before modern times it has been reported to be used as a fragrance, ancient Egyptians were noted to use it as an incense and medieval Europeans reportedly used it to cover the smell of death.