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Uncovering a key ingredient in perfume: whale poop

Oct 1, 2014

Ambergris
Credit User: aquagreenmarine.blogspot.com

Ambergris is an animal by-product that's been used for centuries in, as flavoring for food, and as an aphrodisiac. It's one of the world's most expensive substances.

Pretty glamorous, especially when you consider that ambergris is: whale poop.

Christopher Kemp is a molecular biologist at Michigan State University. He's written a book about ambergris called Floating Gold: A Natural (& Unnatural) History of Ambergris.

Kemp says ambergris is used in perfumes because of its musky scent that can hold together the other lighter tones. Besides, its fatty, cholesterol-rich texture can stabilize the fragrance and make it last longer on the wearer's skin. 

Ambergris has mostly been replaced with a synthetic alternative made in a lab nowadays, but Kemp says some established companies like Chanel still use it in their perfumes. 

"It's like the difference between watching the Beatles and watching a cover band of the Beatles... the lab can get close to it, but it can't quite get anywhere near the authentic thing," says Kemp.

*Listen to our conversation with Christopher Kemp above.