Animal essences have been prized throughout history. Exotic, complex, and fabulously expensive, these scents are still very much in use in perfumes, incense and flavorings. They range from the mysterious indigestibles of the massive sperm whale to the hardened poop of the tiny hyrax — and they’re fiercely sought after.
At full strength the scents are nauseating to most people, but upon dilution they reveal an incredible beauty and delicacy. Although they have been used in medicine as long as in perfume, it is in scent composition that their true sorcery becomes apparent. They have a remarkable effect on the other ingredients in a perfume, a little like how a pinch of salt can make a dish sing.
The use of some of these ingredients in perfumery is also controversial, because in some cases the scent ingredients cannot be obtained without killing the animal. In other cases harvesting the aromatics has historically involved cruel treatment of animals, although some progress is being made in developing sustainable and humane methods.
Here, five of the most widely used animal essences, and where they come from.