Viewers of The Project last night may have struggled to watch one particular segment about things you find on a beach.
After a story about a man who discovered a gold nugget worth $250,000, co-host Ryan ‘Fitzy’ Fitzgerald shared his own nugget of wisdom. About whale vomit.
“A friend of the family found some whale vomit. There’s an ingredient in dried whale vomit that perfume companies use because it’s so potent and that’s what they use in perfume to have it actually last longer,” he said.
“He got paid $50,000 for whale vomit.”
The panellists’ expressions said it all.
We're with you, Pete. Image: Channel 10/The Project
We were ready to laugh along - then we asked an expert.
"They love to use the term 'whale vomit', it's great shock value. But yes, it's true. Officially called ambergris, it's expelled by the mouth but it's not vomit, more like gall stones," Fleurage master perfumer Emma Leah told Mamamia.
It's produced by whales to protect their guts from the sharp beaks of prey such as squid that they feast on in the depths of the ocean.
"There's nothing very nice about it, but the smell is beautiful. It's a very coveted ingredient," Leah says.
"It enlivens the smell of the perfume and also makes the scent last longer. It's hugely expensive, more expensive than gold at the moment I believe. People pay a lot of money for it. So if you every find any washed up on the beach, you'll get a lot for it!" (Post continues after gallery.)
While historically it was a key ingredient, you'll be pleased to know it's unlikely that it's in your favourite spritz now.
"It's not so much used these days due to ethical reasons, obviously we're much more aware and concerned about whale hunting, which can be involved. It was probably in the '80s when concerns were raised and it stopped being used," she says.
Instead, most perfumers will use a synthetic compound that mimics the smell.
"It's also a very strong smell, like musk, so when those scents are not in fashion, it's not around as much. There used to be a cachet that comes with it and was popular in French perfume," she says.
That said, some still use the real deal.
"While no longer used by the majority, it could still be being used anywhere in the world in perfumes that have that particular strong smell. However specific perfumes will always list it as an ingredient if it's included," she says.
Interestingly, it's not the only peculiar ingredient you'll find in your perfume.
"Perfume is a strange industry, and lots of unusual things are used as ingredients," she says.
She points out 'civit' as an example, a "glandular secretion produced by both sexes of the civet cat" that was used for its sweet aroma produced when diluted.
Throughout history, there have been a whole set of animal ingredients used that now have been replaced by synthetic ingredients that mimic the smell, as it's often inhumane to extract the real thing from the source," Leah explains.
Using the chemical copy allows perfumers to get the same effect without the high cost.
"Another ingredient is extracted mushroom, while smells like vegemite," says Leah.
"They're not always pleasant smelling but that's not their purpose - it works with other ingredients to enhance and enliven other scents. It's akin to making potions, we use these ingredients as a tool or as a highlight to amplify other smells."
The more you know.