What is Ambergris?

Ambergris is a rare and valuable substance used in the manufacture of perfumes. It is formed in the intestine of the sperm whale, Physeter catodon. Sperm whales eat squid and cuttlefish, whose horny, indigestible beaks are often found in ambergris. From this it may be inferred that ambergris protects the whale's intestines against the sharp beaks. Ambergris is found floating at sea or on tropical shores, usually in small pieces; it is also taken from dead whales. When fresh from the whale, it looks like a thick black grease and has an unpleasant odor; after exposure to air and sun, however, it becomes light gray and hard, with a sweet musky fragrance.

Perfumers add ambergris to flower essences as a fixative, so that the delicate flower scent will last. Ambergris has been used since ancient times as a perfume, a spice for food and wine in the Orient, and a drug.

Ambergris consists of cholesterol (about 80 percent), fatty oil, benzoic acid, and an alcohol called ambrein. With heat it vaporizes or burns. Insoluble in water, it dissolves in hot alcohol, ether, chloroform, fats, or volatile oils.

More by this Author

  • What is Tatting?

    Tatting is a delicate handmade lace, or the process of making such lace by using a small and shuttle usually to knot and loop a single cotton thread into various circular designs. Known for centuries, tatting became...

  • The History of the Girdle

    A girdle is a a belt, cord, or sash that usually encircles the waist. The term also refers to a woman's undergarment. In many primitive societies the girdle is often the only apparel. In most civilizations it holds up...

  • The White House

    The White House as it appears from the north. Photograph by David Lat. The White House is the official residence of the President of the United States, located in Washington, D.C. It is on Pennsylvania Avenue facing...


No comments yet.

    Sign in or sign up and post using a HubPages Network account.

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment

    No HTML is allowed in comments, but URLs will be hyperlinked. Comments are not for promoting your articles or other sites.

    Click to Rate This Article