Nothing like a spritz of whale puke on your wrists and neck to start your day. Thanks to a misleading name, many fragrance enthusiasts might be surprised to learn that ambergris, a major perfume component, doesn't come from a rock or a tree: it's found in the intestines of sperm whales. Our massive underwater friends vomit out said substance, where it floats around on the ocean until it’s found.
Though freshly hurled ambergris is said to have a strong fecal scent (so alluring), after extended periods of time, it takes on a sweet, earthy scent. It's also commonly referred to as a fixative in fragrances: "With cheap perfumes, half an hour later all the good stuff is gone and it’s evaporated before the night gets interesting," says biologist Joerg Bohlmann. "Compounds like ambergris are able to retain fragrance on the skin in a complex form over a long period of time."
Besides the fact that ambergris is just straight-up gross sounding, what’s the big deal? First off, a measly kilogram of the pukey product can fetch up to $20,000 — and, since it’s so hard to find (the ocean’s a big place), searching for it could encourage poaching of an endangered species. To avert some of these issues, many fragrances now use a synthetic alternative to ambergris. Derived from balsam fir trees called cis-abienol, the creation of the pretend puke has been hit-or-miss in the past. However, researchers from the University of British Columbia have fixed this by digging deep into the genome of the fir tree to find the gene responsible for cis-abienol. This very cool technology can also be applied to other products that are dependent on limited natural resources, helping us save the environment and keep using the stuff we love.
Photos: Via Ecomagination, Nordstrom