Ambergris: The Highly Sought-After ‘Whale Vomit’

The sea washes up all kinds of strange stuff, from carcasses of whales and squids to fossils and ancient shipwrecks. But nothing is as precious as ambergris, a hard, resin-like substance with a light gray or yellow tinge and having a pleasant aroma.

For thousands of years, ambergris was staple in perfumes. The Ancient Egyptians burned the substance as incense, and modern Egyptians smoke it in cigarettes. Ambergris was also used to flavor food and drink. A serving of eggs and ambergris was reportedly King Charles II of England's favorite dish. Ambergris is also used as a flavoring agent in Turkish coffee and 18th century European drank it with hot chocolate. During the Middle Ages, ambergris was used as a medication for headaches, colds, epilepsy, and other ailments.

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Ambergris. Photo: David Liittschwager/National Geographic


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