What Is Musk Anyway?

By  | October 9, 2018 | Filed under: Interesting Facts, News

downloadPrized since ancient times for its alluring fragrance, today musk can mean any of a number of substances used to scent perfumes. However, while in our modern era most musk is synthetically produced, when it first came on the scene, musk was only found in a scrotum-like sac on the bellies of male musk deer.

Today, musk is still harvested from musk deer, and while the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) regulates their harvest, poaching remains a problem. Other animal sources of that musky smell include civet cats, sperm whales and beavers.

For instance, secretions from beavers’ castor sacks located next to their anal glands have a musky/vanilla scent. This substance, called castoreum, is commonly used in various perfumes, in some cases used to create the “new car smell,” and used in many foods as “natural flavoring,” in substitute for vanilla. Certain non-dairy creamers are just one of many foods that sometimes contain castoreum. Yum!

Another common musky additive to high end perfumes is Ambergris. This begins as a large, compacted mass of the indigestible parts of a squid and other gross stuff in the intestines of a sperm whale. No one knows for sure how it emerges from that dark, stinky interior, although the most obvious explanation, poop, is the most popular. Floating on the ocean until it washes up on shore, the best ambergris spends years oxidizing from a combination of salt, air and sun. Prized for its unique scent, ambergris is in high demand by perfume manufacturers and the amorous alike. In fact, high quality ambergris can sell for $20 per gram (about $9,000 per pound). As you can imagine, there is a thriving industry in ambergris hunting, and the competition can be fierce.

Luckily, there are other sources of musk available, including plants like the Abelmoschus moschatus and Amgelica archangelica, as well as several chemical compounds including aromatic nitro musks, polycyclic musks and macrocyclic musk.

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