I have been collecting
Ambergris samples and Ambergris information for years and here
is an update. We use it in the Natural Botanical
Ambergris gets it's name from the French ambre gris?
(grey amber) to distinguish it from the fossilized resin, brown
amber. The raw material results from a pathological condition of
the sperm whale Physeter macrocephalus L.syn P. catodon L.
In the normal course of events,calculus (sand and
stones) or cachalot, is regularly ejected from the digestive
tracts from adult sperm whales. There is some evidence, however,
that certain materials, like the indigestible beaks of squid or
cuttlefish (Elodone moschata) irritate the whales' digestive
system, and in so doing, the offending substances develop a
pasty pathological growth. It is possible that the cuttlefish
itself contains ambrein, or that ambrein is formed by the
digestive processes of the whale‚s gut acting on odorous
substances within the cuttlefish. That upset stomach creates
ambergris, a rare substance that has been highly valued for
thousands of years as an ingredient in perfume and
Ambergris originates in the intestines of male sperm
whales after they dine on squid, whose hard, pointy beaks abrade
the whales' innards. Scientists believe
that the whales protect themselves by secreting a fatty
substance in their intestines to surround the beaks. Eventually
the animals eject a huge lump, up
to hundreds of pounds at a time.
Ambergris contains 46% of cholestanol type sterols
(Sell 1990) including (+)-epi-coprosterine and the triterpene
alcohol (-)-ambrein (25-45%), which is odorless, but this
material is the precursor to other fragrant compounds formed by
auto-oxidation, sunlight, and seawater such as (-)-gamma-cyclogeranyl
chloride and (-)-gamma-bicyclohomofarnesal. The material is said
to be able to retain its odor for centuries, and generally stays
as an amorphous mass, with no tendency to crystallize.
Mookherjee and Patel (1977) identified nearly 100 volatile
substances in ambergris; they described some of the key
components and their associated odors as follows:
g-homocyclogeranyl chloride: ozony-seawater (can be
a-ambrinol: moldy-animal-fecal g-dihydroionone: weak
Ambroxan: moist, soft, creamy, persistent amber with
Ambergris cannot be compared to Castoreum or musk, but
the physiological properties seem to be similar. Ambergris was
traded in N.W. Africa before the 9th Century. Louis XV is said
to have used ambergris to flavor his favorite dishes, and Queen
Elizabeth I used it to perfume her gloves (le Galliene 1928).
Valued as a restorative, & dissolved in wine as an aphrodisiac (Comon
1955, Bovill 1973) and as a perfumery fixative, ambergris is the
slowest of all perfume materials to evaporate.
But don't refer to it as "whale vomit"; scientists
postulate that whales do not expel ambergris through their
mouths. No one has ever seen a sperm whale excrete ambergris,
although sperm whale expert Hal Whitehead of Dalhousie
University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, admits that it is assumed
the voiding takes place as fecal excretion, because when first
cast out, he says, "Well, it smells more like the back
end than the front."
Viscous, black, stinky blocks of freshly expelled
ambergris float on the ocean's surface. Sun, air and salt water
oxidize the mass, and water continually evaporates. It hardens,
breaks into smaller chunks and eventually becomes grey and waxy,
embedded with small black squid beaks. The weathered chunks
exude a sweet, earthy aroma likened to tobacco, pine or mulch.
The quality and value of any given chunk depend on how much time
it had spent floating or otherwise aging, says expert ambergris
broker Bernard Perrin, because "it ages like fine wine."
of Ambergris - Courtesy of Jeanne Rose
Ambergris was known to the Arabs as 'anbar and was
originally called amber in the West It was used by the Arabs as
medicine for the heart and brain. The Arabs believed that raw
ambergris emanated from springs near the sea. In the Thousand
and One Nights, Sinbad is shipwrecked on a desert island and
discovers a spring of stinking crude ambergris which flows like
wax into the sea where it is swallowed by giant fishes and
excreted again as fragrant lumps to be cast up on the shore.
The Greeks also believed that ambergris came from
springs in or near the sea. They believed that it enhances the
effects of alcohol when smelled before drinking wine or when it
is added to wine. Many a bacchanal profited from a pinch of
ambergris, no doubt.
In 1783 the great botanist Joseph Banks presented a
paper by Dr. Franz Xavier Schwediawer, a German physician living
in London at the time, before the Royal Society, which ended,
forever, Western confusion over ambergris and its origins. It
correctly identified ambergris as a production of the often
morbidly distended gut of sick sperm whales and associated its
production with the beaks of the whale's principal foods, squid
In 1820 two French chemists, Joseph-Bienaim?Carentou
and Pierre-Joseph Pelletier first isolated, characterized and
named ambrein, the principal active fragrant ingredient of
ambergris. Since then a great deal has been published on the
chemistry of compounds with an ambergris-like scent, especially
the more fragrant oxidative derivatives of ambrein like ambrox.
They are all labdanoid terpenes, which occur in a remarkable
variety of plants, animals and microorganisms. At the right is
an image of a pressed specimen of Monarda didyma L., bee balm,
one source of labdanum extract, and a natural substitute for
ambergris. These, and other, items are the base for fixatives
and woody, sweet animal fragrances in the modern perfumery
industry which, for the mostpart, uses synthetics in place of
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The article above is from the Jeanne Rose Newsletter (used with
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