Appears in
Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets

By Darra Goldstein

Published 2015

  • About

ambergris is a waxy calculus that is created in the digestive tracts of sperm whales in response to irritation caused by the sharp, indigestible beaks of ingested squid. It is usually found washed up on beaches or floating in the ocean. It turns up all over the world, but it is most commonly encountered on the coasts of the Indian Ocean, Australia, and New Zealand. This enormously variable substance occurs in irregular or round lumps ranging in weight from a few grams to many kilos. A piece weighing 336 pounds was sold in London in 1913. Ambergris is a brown, black, gray, or white grainy substance and has a faint odor that ranges from mildly fecal when relatively fresh, to “musky” or “earthy” when mature. It is thought to improve from spending a good deal of time in the ocean, but the quality of its scent varies from sample to sample. That of gray ambergris is said to be the best.