The world’s strangest perfume ingredient

The world’s strangest perfume ingredient

sperm whales
sperm whales

What is the strangest ingredient in perfumery? You might be surprised to learn that it comes from the largest mammal in the world.

Natural ambergris comes from sperm whale vomit. No joke. This rare and valuable raw material has a sweet marine, animal aroma that is used as a fixative to help scents last longer. Understandably, due to cost and accessibility, synthetic chemicals have now replace ambergris almost entirely.

Sperm whales eat large quantities of cephalopods such as squid and cuttlefish. In most cases, the indigestible elements of their prey, such as beaks and pens, are vomited out before digestion. In rare circumstances these parts move into the whale’s intestines and bind together. They slowly become a solid mass of ambergris, growing inside the whale over many years. Scientists believe the whale regurgitates the mass and sailors would find these deposits floating on the ocean or washed up on shorelines. (It’s important to note that no whales are hurt in collecting ambergris.) Once the matter is collected, it is dried out where it develops a musk aroma. Pure white ambergris is the most valuable and expensive type.

white ambergris
white ambergris

It’s interesting to note that ambergris can float in the ocean for as many as 20 to 30 years before washing up on shore. Experts can detect the age by the white coating on the outside which is oxidation from salt water. The more the mass dries and cures, the lighter and more refined it becomes.

Here are two of our favourite fragrances containing ambergris:

Bvlgari Le Gemme Opalon

This exquisite amber-floral scent for him is a wonderful example of how to best use ambergris in perfumery. Master perfumer Jacques Cavalier mixes the highest quality white ambergris with white musk for a rich, almost musky aroma that blends beautifully with notes of lemongrass, geranium, neroli and ginger. It’s sophisticated with a rich depth and character.

Atkinsons Scilly Neroli

Described as a modern aromatic-aquatic scent for him or her, British niche perfumer Atkinsons offers a modern twist on ambergris. This beautiful fragrance perfectly balances patchouli and ambergris with heady orange blossom, lemon and sea notes. It’s refreshing and elegant.

Bvlgari Le Gemme and Atkinsons fragrances are available exclusively at Holt Renfrew in Canada.

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  • Andie ciparis
    December 19, 2021 at 1:31 pm

    Who would have even thought of this to use as part of a fragrance….love the background to explain.

  • Cynthia Sacks
    December 15, 2021 at 2:09 pm

    Eww, but interesting! @cindy_sacks

  • Elizabeth Vlug
    December 15, 2021 at 10:41 am

    I love background information like this, even if I did gag a little. Thanks for sharing these interesting facts.

  • September Dee
    December 15, 2021 at 10:33 am

    Once I got past the gag reflex I was fascinated by this. Wonder if I have ever seen this washed up on shore while on holidays? I would probably have thought it was just a rock.

  • Heather Schell
    December 15, 2021 at 9:35 am

    This is fascinating to me. I wonder who the first nose was to decide it should be worn as a fragrance?! Did they use it like a deodorant crystal? Was it in their pocket and people complimented them on their scent? So many questions!

  • daniela s
    December 15, 2021 at 8:34 am

    Ok this is just a little gross, who and why would someone try to make perfume out of vomit. its kind of weird to even test it to say hey this smells good. lots of stuff floating in the water hard to believe anyone testing them for a new fragrance scent

  • Trisha Pedros
    December 15, 2021 at 3:50 am

    That is really so incredible! Whale vomit, who knew! I wonder who found that out and smelled it the first time? And had the notion to use it in fragrance. So interesting! Learning something new everyday is a blessing! Thank you 🙏