The only photo of Ambergris on the internet
image courtesy Peter Kaminski

Ambergris is a weird thing

Posted by A69143a5 tiny Jen Messier on feb 22, 2012 under Blog Post

The other day, we polled you good folks on Twitter for ideas for blog posts. Someone suggested whales, and while that's a pretty wide (though awesome) topic, it reminded me of my favorite whale product: ambergris!

Perhaps you've heard of ambergris in relation to perfume. Historically, it's been added to stabilize perfumes, helping the notes within evaporate less quickly, so that the scent on your wrist lasts more than 20 minutes.

It's a useful thing, but ambergris these days is mighty expensive, and like lots of things, can be easily replicated in a lab, so you're unlikely to find the real stuff in your Chanel No. 5 any longer. 

That's interesting, but we'll save the perfume angle for another day. Right now,we're here to talk about what the stuff is: a regurgitated lump generated in the inestines of a sperm whale.

Basically, when the whale eats something that has a hard beak (like a squid), the beak scrapes up their intestines. The whale then secretes something to protect itself from this unpleasant occurence, and that lump is eventually released into the ocean. 

At first, it apparently smells just horrible, overwhelmingly fecal, but then it floats around for years and years until it mellows out. Eventually, it gets a bit more salty, a bit more sweet, and a bit more earthy. People like it; and the ancient Egyptians even burned it as incense

But by far the most fascinating thing about ambergris is its possible role in a culinary murder! 

Poor old Charles II, King of England, is said to have enjoyed eggs and ambergris as his very favorite meal. In 1685, he died unexpectedly, and it's been suggested that the scent and flavor of the ambergris in his scrambled eggs would have concealed whatever poison was used to knock him off.

I'll leave you with this Gourmet article if you're interested in cooking eggs and ambergris and have way too much money laying around. 

(Note: This is the worst photo in the world. There is nothing good on the whole internet.)

Sources + further reading!

Scientific American
Perfume Shrine on Ambergris


Tagged with perfume ambergris whales charles II

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