Jan 27, 2006
Sperm Whale Vomit. Yes, You Read It Right The First Time. Streaky Bay, Australia.
10 Years Fresh - Ambergris. (photo: tc-sportingclub.com)
I generally believe the Biblical proclamation that there is nothing new under the sun. However, there are those times when something is so absolutely new to me that it almost renders me speechless…almost. Whale vomit is one of those things.
Ambergris is, in simple terms, whale vomit. More accurately, it is bile that aids in a sperm whale’s digestion. Occasionally the sperm whale will belch or “puke” this bile out of its system along with indigestible items like squid beaks and hubcaps. Sperm whale vomit is the only type of whale vomit that can become ambergris. This vomit is lighter than water therefore it floats on top of the ocean, and the top of the ocean is where sperm whale barf eventually transforms into ambergris. Like precious pearls, much time must pass before worthless whale waste becomes prized ambergris. After roughly ten years of being cleansed and cradled by the open sea, air and sun, ambergris is ripe. Ambergris is described as having a “musty, sweet and smooth” scent. (This is not the case when it is freshly expelled from the whale; at that moment it is especially foul, like vomit should be.) Because of this special scent, perfume makers covet ambergris. How much do they covet it? Currently good ambergris runs between $20 - $65US for one gram. Forget the pink iPod. Could whale barf be this year’s hot Valentine’s Day gift? Go on, be the first on your block!
If you’re anything like me, you point and laugh at those guys who scan the beach looking for lost pirate booty or Rolex watches with their dorky metal detectors. However, they’re most likely the kind of people who would end up finding ambergris worth millions. Who’s laughing now?
Jonathan Swift once wrote, "He was a bold man that first eat an oyster." Clearly Mr. Swift never made the acquaintance of an ambergris aficionado because in comparison an oyster eater is utterly ordinary and a culinary coward to boot. So again, if you are like me, you start to fantasize about how whale vomit might taste. I mean, if it smells so good, it might kinda taste good too. Right? Of course, others have already beat me to it. As early as 1000 B.C., Arabians and, surprise, surprise, the Chinese were using ambergris as seasoning and aphrodisiacs.
If you are ever lucky enough to get your hands on some heavenly whale barf, here is a delightful recipe you might consider using, with ambergris as the key ingredient.
“The Lord Conway his Lordships receipt (archaic word for recipe) for the making of Amber Puddings:
First take the Guts of a young hog, and wash them very clean, and then take two pound of the best hogs fat, and a pound and a halfe of the best Jordan almonds the which being blancht, take one half of them, & beat them very small, and the other halfe reserve whole unbeaten then take a pound and a halfe of fine Sugar and four white Loaves, and grate the Loaves over the former composition and mingle them well together in a bason having so done, put to it halfe an ounce of Ambergreece (ambergris) the which must be scrapt very small over the said composition take halfe a quarter of an ounce of levant musk and bruise it in a marble morter, with a quarter of a Pint of Orange Flower water then mingle these all very well together, and having so done, fill the said Guts ther-with, this Receipt was given his Lordship by an Italian for a great rariety, and has been found so to be by those Ladies of honour to whom his Lordship has imparted the said reception.”
From W.M., The Queen's Closet Opened(London: 1655). SOURCE.
I suggest a pairing of bird’s nest soup with Lord Conway’s Amber Pudding. After all, what better to wash down whale vomit than a nice bowl of bird saliva. A votre santé!
(Ambergris - Available On ebay!)