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Ambergris: Golden Nuggets from the Sea

by Maria Koropecky, Homespunspa owner

Whale and Ambergris.Have you ever heard of ambergris? Did you know this little golden nugget could be worth thousands of dollars in the global perfumery market?

A couple of nights ago, I was watching Chef Heston Blumenthal’s Heston’s Christmas Feast and he wanted to make the most epic holiday banquet of all time. He made his first course, a hot chocolate, with ambergris, an ingredient I had never heard of before. First, I loved the oxymoronic name of joining yellow and grey together in one word. And then I was intrigued by ambergris’ paradoxical status of being highly coveted on the one hand and coming from humble beginnings (ahem) on the other hand. The more I learned, the more I thought it would make a lovely, albeit over-the-top, home spa ingredient and gift, especially during the festive holiday season.

Ambergris is a rare and valuable treasure from the sea. Surprisingly, it comes from the bellies of Sperm Whales. Like many people, Chef Heston referred to ambergris as “whale vomit” but that’s not entirely accurate. Scientists think the whales produce fatty, waxy ambergris to coat sharp objects like squid beaks, to help them pass through the whale’s digestive system. Lumps and clumps of varying shapes and sizes, weighing 100 pounds or more, are the result.

At first, the lumps smell like low tide on a bad day. However, once the ambergris nuggets bob in the ocean for a few years and age and oxidize in the hot sun and salt water, they develop a sweet, earthy aroma, reminiscent of tobacco or musk.

Historical Usage

Ambergris has been prized since the days of yore for its pungent flavour and fragrance. Ancient Egyptians burned ambergris as incense and the ancient Chinese called the substance “dragon’s spittle fragrance.” In Europe, between the years 1348 and 1350, people carried ambergris with them because they believed it would keep them from catching the plague. Also during the Middle Ages, Europeans used ambergris to treat headaches and colds. People from the Middle East have historically added ambergris powder to their food for an extra kick. It is also known as an aphrodisiac.

Home Spa Activity

Have you ever thought about scavenging for ambergris on the beach? The next time you go on a beach vacation to the Bahamas, the East Indies, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, China, Japan, India or Madagascar, why not keep your eyes peeled for ambergris? It will either be sitting on the sand among the pebbles or floating on the water like a cork. You might hit the jackpot, a nugget of gold that you may have overlooked before and the value could be worth thousands of dollars depending on its age. If nothing else, you’ll get to walk along the lovely beach and relax and enjoy the fresh air and sunshine and the salty sea. But if you do score, write me and tell me about it.

The next time you stumble upon some ambergris in your travels, consider infusing it in your home spa. It melts at 62 degrees Celsius and turns into a yellow, resinous sap which is a good aroma enhancer and fixative in your perfume. Just a drop will do ya.

Makes a great Christmas gift

A lump of ambergris, although not all that visually appealing to most, would also make a lovely Christmas present. It could be worth more than a diamond ring but your sweetheart won’t know what to say. “Whale vomit? You gave me whale vomit?” “No, honey, I gave you ambergris.” “Oh, well, that’s different.”

But if you don’t have immediate access to some ambergris, try giving a bottle of the classic Chanel No. 5 perfume instead. That might work just as well.

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  1. Ambergris is one of the more mysterious substances.
    Whaling logs showed that only a very small percentage of the male sperm whales had it. One record shows ambra grisea was found in a male as a lump & not connected to any part of the body. No one knows why ambergris is. We can only theorize. Ambergris can float in the ocean for decades, the sun & salt water purifying it.
    It comes in a range of colors. Chalky white, silver gray, reddish brown & black. A kilo of old gris yields 10 gallons of ambergris tincture.

    1. Thank you so much for adding this info to my blog post, Neemo. Have you ever found any yourself?

  2. Beneficial info and excellent design you got here! I want to thank you for sharing your ideas and putting the time into the stuff you publish! Great work!

  3. Pretty nice post. I just stumbled upon your blog and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed browsing your blog posts. In any case I’ll be subscribing to your feed and I hope you write again soon!

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    1. Thanks for the compliment, Estella. I’m using a WordPress template called “Balance of Blue” but I’ve tinkered with the colours a bit. I liked the layout. Maria

  5. If you are open to having a guest blog poster please reply and let me know. I will provide you with unique content for your blog, thanks.

  6. awesome blog, do you have twitter or facebook? i will bookmark this page thanks. lina holzbauer

    1. Yes, Thanks for asking. There is a Homespunspa Facebook fanpage. Check it out!

  7. Wiggo says:

    We have a really big ambergris at the old house. Absolute nobody knows what it is, but i do now…some beleived it was som sort of garbage from the sea. Awful smell. 6-7 pounds.

    1. Good for you. What are you going to do with it?

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