Ambergris (grey amber) is a grey waxy solid which is produced in the intestines of sperm whales to help protect it from any sharp objects that it swallows, especially squid beaks.
It is commonly known as whale vomit, but as it is produced in the intestines, that means that it is excreted in the same way as faeces.
As ambergris comes from whales, it is excreted in the wild seas where the whales swim and can float on the water for many years before it is washed ashore. The more exposure to the sun and salt water that a lump of ambergris has, the better – it very slowly transforms as it ages from an almost black faecal lump into a smooth waxy grey, then finally a whitish hue with a rock like appearance. The initial marine faecal odour develops over time into a unique and incomparable scent.
Ambergris is very rare and expensive; 1 gram is around £20. For reference a standard packet of Walkers crisps weighs 32.5 grams - hence the nickname floating gold.
Natural ambergris is much sought after in the production of perfume, but most of the ambergris or amber found in perfumes today is not from a natural source because of the rarity and expense and is recreated in the laboratory of a fragrance house. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as the compounds used in the product are often nature identical and are rigorously tested for safety which allow many more people to enjoy its fragrance. This also limits the demand for natural ambergris, which may deter unscrupulous people from breaking the law in order to obtain such a valuable product and endangering already threatened whales.
Odour description: Sweet, dry, woody, musky, amber.