I know you have heard of amber. The word appears often in the perfume world when talking about oriental fragrances for example. Makes me envision nature caramel. Then you hear of ambergris. I am guessing many of you assume these two are, if not the same thing, that at least linked to each other. A very logic assumption and it seems even the perfume industry sometimes likes to blend the two (on purpose?). They are not the same… And the difference is significant, so my suggestion is that you keep an eye on which one it is that you are going for when looking for a new fragrance. I will definitely do a post on amber soon but tonight it is time for the nastier of the two.
I will admit, I was a bit surprised the first time I googled ambergris. This, for example, is the first sentence that you find if you look it up on Wikipedia:
Ambergris is a solid, waxy, flammable substance of a dull gray or blackish color produced in the digestive system of and regurgitated or secreted by sperm whales.
Natural ambergris was been banned from use for a period of time as the sperm whale is an endangered species. Nowadays it is legal to use it however, though distributors are instructed to use only the amount that is naturally washed to shore, that is not taken directly from the animal. Every now and then a happy tourist will find ambergris on a beach. If that happens to you this site offers guidance in identification and they will buy it from you as well. You are likely to be rewarded generously.
Ambergris gained its place in perfume history as a fixative. But it has been used in different ways for a long time. In ancient Egypt it was used as incense, and during the plague in Europe it was said that carrying ambergris in your pocket would protect you from the disease. During the Middle Ages it was used to treat headaches, colds and epilepsy. As with most slightly nasty things ambergris has also been considered to be an aphrodisiac.
But that’s not all. Ambergris has been used in cooking to add flavor to various dishes, even in recent times. In December 2009 it was added to a cucumber jelly in a British TV Show. And if you look at cooking discussions in online perfume communities you will find that it appears on dinner plates every now and then. Apparently it goes particularly well with chocolate and eggs.