Ambergris is a fragrant substance that has been shrouded in a veil of mystery for a very long time due to its physical characteristics and unknown origin. With the development of science, ambergris’ unknown origin was figured out and the “floating gold” finally had a meaning. Although at the beginning, it was believed that ambergris or gray amber is solidified sea foam or bird excrement, the truth is different, although not so different as we are still in the sphere of organic substance of animal origin. Ambergris is sperm whale (Physeter Macrocephalus) vomit.
With the development of biology and whale hunts of the 19th century, it was discovered that some whale species because of the squid and cuttle rich diet have a tendency to produce ambergris in their bellies. After the whale eats cephalopods, their remains are thrown out but sometimes the marrow of the squids stays inside the intestines and the whale begins to produce certain substances that coat the edges of the remains and eventually vomit them. The original substance has a very repealing smell but after floating and fermenting in the sea, ambergris gets a beautiful amber and musk-like appealing smell.
As sperm whales are to be found everywhere so can ambergris be found on any shore and make its founder rich. However, shores of Sumatra, China, Japan, Brazi, Madagascar, Africa and Sicily are the richest. Aside from sperm whale, other whales also produce ambergris such as Pygmy Sperm Whale (Kogia breviceps) and Dwarf Sperm Whale (Kogia sima) that also feed on squids.
Ambergris’ quality is judged by its color. The most quality ambergris is the one that was the longest in the sea and is usually white with a high percentage of ambrein, scent free alcohol that is added in the perfume as a fixative to make it lasting. The color can vary from white to black, black being least desirable, with various shades of gray and yellow. Although it is primarily used in the perfume industry, early Arab civilizations used is under the name anbar to treat many conditions from stimulation of sexual desire to treatments of heart and brain.
Ambergris is used in a small percentage, like a decoration on a “perfume Christmas tree.” its amberlike, musky aroma enriches the scent composition, making it fuller, juicier and more attractive especially in oriental and floral perfumes where it rounds up all the notes and brings out the best of them.
Today, ambergris is very rarely used in perfumes and is prohibited in most of the countries. Dioressence from Dior had ambergris as well as Eau de Marveilles by Hermes. When you find ambergris listed in a perfume, it’s more likely a synthetic substitute even when we’re talking about a perfume named Ambre Gris by Balmain. Fascination by this substance is present in movies as well as in reality. Famous Hannibal Lecter used a hand cream specially made for him in Florence with ambergris and lavender and Beadle Bamford from the movie Sweeney Todd used cologne with this ingredient. As a symbol of luxury and wealth, ambergris is mentioned in books like Moby Dick and was found on dinner tables of rich men and kings. King Charles II Stewart’s famous dish was an omelet with ambergris.
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