Spooky Ingredients 😱

backlit flower petals in blacklight

Boo!  The Spookiest Ingredients in Perfumery


Think of Ambergris as a ‘fragrant pearl’ formed inside the intestine of a sperm whale by something irritating that cannot be digested, like a squid beak!  The whale’s intestine creates a lining around the object and eventually, discharges the whole thing into the ocean.  That lining (and the object inside) is Ambergris.

Finding natural Ambergris is an aquatic treasure hunt.  If you’re not willing to wait for some to randomly wash up on a beach (the largest specimen found was 280 pounds and worth $1.5M), there are specially trained dogs that stand on the shore and sniff out the Ambergris that is still in the water, quite a feat considering that Ambergris typically floats 5-10 feet UNDER the surface of the water (not on top).  Once the dogs locate the Ambergris a human does the rest to find and collect it.  Crazy (and gross?) but true.  But the smell of Ambergris is truly complex and evolves/mellows over time - like umami for the nose.  Once collected, Ambergris can be used to make tinctures of varying intensity (and cost).  We have a few pieces of natural Ambergris and you can even see a squid beak in one of them!  See below.

close up of ambergris


Natural Ambergris is still widely available for perfumery as there is no contact with the whale for extraction, so the material is considered cruelty-free : ) But with a price tag over $25,000/KG, natural Ambergris tends to cost-prohibitive, so we typically use a proprietary recreation called Orcanox.  Orcanox is actually upcycled waste from the Clary Sage extraction process that yields an olfactive profile similar to Ambergris.  Orcanox is also biodegradable! 

We use it in several of our fragrances - CIRRUS, SKINPRINT, HIBISCUS, QUICKSILVER, GOLDEN OAK and ALPENGLOW.


We're not sure who came up with the idea to extract/use anal secretions from any animal, but Castoreum has been banned in perfumery since the 70s along with natural indole and civet due to animal cruelty involved for extraction.  The smell is usually found in classic European fragrances (in very small amounts) and generally not used a lot in the US.  We also have a (very old) sample of the real thing from Cécile’s perfumery school days (lots of strange things in our office 😉).  See below.

 natural castoreum glands

Today, all versions are man-made to add rich, leathery, animalic element to perfume.  We don’t use a lot of this in our fragrances (tends to be a little old-fashioned for our taste).   


While it's not used in perfumery, a pretty spooky smell comes from the corpse flower, which emits the odor of rotting flesh to attract a specific type of beetle for pollination.  It takes 7-10 years for the flower to bloom, and Cécile and I were lucky enough to get to see/smell one at the NYC Botanical Garden (our kids were overjoyed 😂).  See below.  The flower is over 6’ tall and reminded us of trash day in the NYC during the summer!

blooming corpse flower at nyc botanical garden

Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.

Also in Fragrant Thoughts

blue Biological and science background with beakers and periodic table
The European Green Deal

by Nathan Motylinski 3 min read

The European Green Deal could potentially remove more than 400 materials from the perfumer's palette for 'safety' reasons.  Is this a necessary precaution or regulatory overkill? 
Read More
one hundred dollar bills
Smells Like (Dirty) Money

by Nathan Motylinski 1 min read

Four of the largest U.S. flavor and fragrance producers are facing price-fixing lawsuits in U.S. court, after antitrust authorities revealed a cartel investigation earlier this year.
Read More
shallow focus multi-colored test tubes with dropper
Are Your Fragrance Oils Ready For IFRA 51st Amendment?

by Nathan Motylinski 2 min read

IFRA 51 is here.  And we're ready for it.  We have been working to make sure our fragrance oils will be compliant with the latest IFRA 51st amendment standards, which were announced Jun 30, 2023.
Read More