What Is Ambergris?
Some expensive perfumes owe their long-lasting fragrance to an unusual whale product known as ‘”ambergris.” This lumpy, fatty material is formed in the intestines of sperm whales. It is thought to be produced by an intestinal irritation caused by the hard beaks of the many-squids the whale has swallowed but cannot digest.
This musky-smelling material occasionally is vomited by the whale and is most often found floating on the sea. Following months to years of photo degradation and oxidation in the ocean, this precursor gradually hardens, developing a dark grey or black color, a crusty and waxy texture, and a peculiar odor that is at once sweet, earthy, marine, and animalic.
Its smell has been generally described as a vastly richer and smoother version of isopropanol without its stinging harshness. Ambergris is used in expensive perfumes. When added to perfume, it makes the delicate fragrance of the perfume last longer.
Freshly produced ambergris has a marine, faecal odor. However, as it ages, it acquires a sweet, earthy scent commonly likened to the fragrance of rubbing alcohol without the vaporous chemical astringency. Although ambergris was formerly highly valued by perfumers as a fixative (allowing the scent to last much longer), it has now largely been replaced by synthetic ambroxan.