Ambergris comes from the Sperm
whale. Sperm whales are the largest toothed whales,
and perhaps the most abundant of the great whales, but
we rarely get to study them because they spend 90% of
their lives down deep where they can't be seen. Squid
is a staple part of the Sperm whale diet.
It is thought that Ambergris is formed as a result of
squid beaks irritating the lining of the whales stomach.
As a reaction to the irritation of the squid beaks,
the whale produces in its intestines a cholesterol derivative
which has come to be called Ambergris. First discovered
in ancient times as a substance of unknown origin which
would wash ashore, it wasn't until the whaling era that
the true source of the material was found.
These days Ambergris is used in perfumes as a fixative,
for medicinal purposes, as an aphrodisiac and to enhance
the flavours of food and wine. It is also used in incense. It comes in many shapes
and colours, but is most often white, grey, black or
brown in colour or a mixture of these. When black, the
texture may be soft and sticky but most often it is
hard, and sometimes has a powdery white coating.