Perfume for Your Cocktail? Whale Ambergris Gets Trendy

Perfume for Your Cocktail? Whale Ambergris Gets Trendy

Emma Christensen
May 24, 2011

It's hard to make ambergris sound really appealing. It is, after all, a congealed and hardened secretion of the sperm whale's digestive system.

Nonetheless, this substance has long been cherished by perfume makers for adding a musky note to their finest liquid aromas. And now it's getting some new attention as an ingredient in another liquid: the cocktail.

Have you ever tried it?

Biologist believe that whales produce this waxy substance to ease the digestion of hard and sharp objects like squid beaks. After rolling around in the digestive tract for some time, the ambergris is eventually either regurgitated or excreted into the ocean. The salty ocean water gradually transforms ambergris from something very unappetizing to something that many might consider only slightly less unappetizing: it lightens in color, loses its freshly-excreted aroma (yum!), and picks up its signature musky scent.

Applying ambergris to cocktails and other foods isn't historically new - ambergris was thought to be good protection from the Black Plague back in the day. But it's certainly new to us.

Like truffles, ambergris is usually shaved very thinly and added to warm cocktails. It melts and infuses the cocktail with a rich, palate-expanding, and somewhat briny-ocean flavor. As Karen of Globetrotter Diaries says, "Ambergris to liquids is much like 3D to movies; it gives new meaning to the otherwise familiar."

Also like truffles, ambergris is spendy stuff. A pound of it will sell for nearly $10,000!

There are still some serious issues to consider beyond the wow-factor of ambergris. The New Bedford Whaling Museum warns that ambergris is a protected substance, just like whales themselves. Even if the ambergris is found floating in the ocean or washed up on the shore without harming any whales, a permit is still required to have ambergris. Even then, the ambergris still can't be used for commercial purposes.

What do you think: cool cocktail trend or just plain weird?

More on Ambergris:

A Whale of a Cocktail Ingredient by Derek Brown in the Atlantic
Odd Eats: Ambergris, A New Dimension of Flavor by Karen of Globetrotter Diaries
The Great White Cocktail, about ambergris in cocktails, on Dinner Party Download
Ambergris is Still Illegal from The New Bedford Whaling Museum blog

Related: Best Gifts for Foodies (and Some to Avoid)

(Image: Ambergris New Zealand)

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