Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Giveaway: Win a Real Grain of Natural Ambergris

The amount of feedback and requests with questions concerning natural ambergis I have received has been amazing. I have explained about natural ambergris as a perfumery material in the past (contrasted with synthetic woody-ambers) and posted about cooking with ambergris and the joys of actually eating it (yes, you read this right), so it was only natural that adventurous readers asked me about sources and details.
I came to realize that for some of them the whole subject sounds totally inaccessible, so in the interests of being a good sport & doing a public service (and at the same time drawing out some of our lurkers; come on, we welcome questions, there is no such thing as a stupid question) I'm offering for grabs ~out of my own personal stash~ one gram of natural ambergris, ethically harvested from the shores of New Zealand for one (ultra) lucky winner. It will be sent raw in a small glass vial by me to anywhere in the world and you can keep it as is, tincture it in perfumer's alcohol for use in your mixes or just for reference, or cook with it and see what all the fuss is about.

In order to participate in the draw you need to answer to these questions in the Comments:
1) Do you find the PerfumeShrine  aroma-materials articles useful as they are or do you have suggestions for them to get better? How?
2) Do you want more materials or terms defined for you? Which ones?

Draw is open to everyone (Anonymous users will be counted by the time-stamp of their post), wherever you are, and will remain open till  Monday 7th Nov. midnight. Good luck to all!

Edit to add: the photo shows genuine ambergris, a HUGE "Yeti" piece provided by natural perfumer AnyaMcCoy 


  1. I find your perfume material article very helpful, thank you! One term that gets thrown around a lot but confuses me as to what it is really referring to is "balsamic."

  2. I agree with above about balsamic.
    I like the way the articles are constructed with perfumes that contain the perfume material and the synthetics used to mimic the scent. maybe some like to perfume making sites that discuss how to work with perfume materials.
    Materials that I would like to see covered are costus, castoreum, civet, saffron, orris, orris butter.
    I think articles on just straight synthetics would be cool,

  3. 1) i find the articles very useful as they are---they have been ever so helpful to me in learning more about perfumes.

    2) specific materials that would be interesting to see in future've covered so many that it would be hard to think of a new one, but perhaps a different look at some very common perfumery ingredients could be informative. for example, an examination of rose in its different forms---absolute, essential oil, etc---and the different regions producing rose extractives for perfumery, their varying effects & nuances...that could be very interesting. i particularly enjoy historical and cultural information about perfume as well.

    do please enter me in the ambergris drawing---and thanks!

  4. I do find the articles useful and in fact I would like to see a lot more of them. There are certain notes -- phenolics, for example -- that I'd like to see explained, and also some purely synthetic notes, from the ones that imitate natural notes -- heliotropin -- and the ones that are purely chemical, like Iso-E Super.



  5. I found the articles on sandalwood, violets/inones and the jasmine family to be particularly interesting.

    I would like to read more about non-citrus fruits used in perfumes and how they are distilled. Also the chemicals that are now used to replace them. For example, fig and strawberry.

    I'd also like to know more about the vanillic scents that are so ubiquitous today.

  6. What a great draw! I have to say that I find your articles on aroma-materials extremely useful. In fact, they are my gold standard, and I often re-read them. I love that you explain the material, often go over the history of its use, and end with examples of perfumes that prominently feature that ingredient. And you have been fairly exhaustive in covering materials.

    The only one I can think of off the bat that you haven't covered and that I would find useful is salt. My favorite salty scent is Miller Harris' Fleur del Sel, and I've read that they get that salty note with ambrette seed, but I don't know how that's possible. And I don't really know why salt smells to begin with, or what it is I'm really smelling when I smell salt.

    Fun note: I live in Chicago, where we have many Polish immigrants. Some of them have set up a spa with a recreated salt 'cave.' You pay to go in and sit in beach chairs on salt 'sand', in a room constructed out of bricks of sea salt, and there are stalactites of salt hanging from the ceiling. The sounds of a sea-shore are pumped in the room. And the smell of salt that you get as you enter the room is an incredible wallop. They say that it's good for colds and sinus infections. I found it good for the soul.

  7. 1. Aside from your reviews, I find the posts on materials and notes to be the most helpful to me as I explore perfumes. I own a significant number of natural oils, but I've learned that perfumery terms don't always match up to the natural essences in quite the way I expect. I appreciate your well-thought-out explanations!

    2. Some of the terms that I have the hardest time with are the fairly specific, more scientific sounding ones like agrestic, phenolic, hesperidic, etc. That said, more detail about the structure of fragrance genres would also be helpful. I've loved your series on chypres, leathers, etc., but I'm itching to learn more about their structures and what makes them really work!

  8. Hello! I recently started delving into the world of perfumery and I'm very glad I ran across your blog! (I put it on my "favorites" folder!) Your articles on aroma materials are very informative and it's great studying material!

    As for a material that I wish you could cover, it would be hemp. Since it is such a versatile plant, I was curious if they could be used in perfumes as well (or if there are already perfumes that already utilize it.) Keep up the good work and THANK YOU!

  9. Sofi17:34

    Excellent review for the explores of perfumes!Please enter me in the ambergris draw!Thank you

  10. I really enjoy your articles on perfume materials, just keep them coming!
    My first thought was that an article on rose, I see now I didn't think of it first! It's such a common ingredient that it gets forgotten, I don't know much about the different kinds and varying qualities and substitutes. Another material is pepper, it seems to be everywhere these days.Also, have you covered vanilla already? Franciscense?
    Eva S Sweden

  11. Dear Elena:

    I'm sorry to inform you that the photo you used is *not* ambergris. It's some horrible fatty thing, maybe plastic, that has made the rounds on the Internet for a few years. I can supply you with a real photo, if you wish.

    I adore all of your raw materials posts, natural or synth, and download them for offline reading and research!


  12. I forgot to add, no need to add me to the draw.

  13. ElizabethC20:00

    I very much appreciate your articles on perfume materials. Ambergris fascinates me - especially when it was mentioned in the cocktail book "Punch" by David Wondrich. I am still trying to define the notes that I love and the ones that scare me (still trying to figure out what it was in Jicky that turned my face bright red). As for new articles, I'm interested in pretty much all the different ingredients.

  14. I do find your aroma-material articles very informative. I'd be interested in finding out more about some of the woods, other than sandalwood. Cedar for example, so ubiquitous, yet I'm sure there must be some unusual and innovative examples. Thanks!

  15. Holy crap, sure I'd want some ambergris so kindly enter me in the draw.
    ad 1] Yes I do find the materials articles very interesting and educational.
    ad 2] Anything you write is great but I'd welcome a series on florals - not only the most used ones like, say, rose and jasmine, but the rest of them. Naturals or synthetic, all does - I noticed that maybe back in the 1920's, there were many fragrances named or based on cyclamen and at least those in my flowerpot don't smell of more than the general smell of plant matter. Or, if there're gourmet fragrances that smell of nougat or caramel, why not bacon and eggs? Or, how one invokes the mineral smells?

  16. Anonymous21:15

    I find aroma-related articles (and all of your posts) immensely useful. What would be better would be to meet with someone like you in person and have the scents at hand as they were being described. I've been dying to know what real ambergris smells like ever since I read Moby Dick. Not sure what I would do with a gram of ambergris, however. Might you consider rubbing some on an index card, sealing it in a baggie, and mailing it to more responders? Thanks!

  17. Anya,

    thanks for confirming my doubt. I have now edited the dubious photo out. I don't know why it keeps appearing, if it's a known fact that it's a fake. You'd think the New York Times would search those things for us! It did look totally different than the NZ little lump at home. But then, there are so many variations, it's easy to wonder sometimes.

    I shot you an email about your contest photos, btw.

  18. Fabulous suggestions, everyone, keep them coming. I'm taking notes!

  19. Your posts on materials are truly excellent, the best I've seen anywhere. I second (third?) those who would like a description of the different kinds of rose notes. I would also like to see more on spices: cardamom (my favorite), cinnamon, ginger, coriander. I've noticed in cooking that different forms and varieties of a given spice produce different flavors and I imagine that variation might extend to perfumes, too.

    I'd be thrilled to win some ambergris. I've only ever smelled it once and it was an almost out of body experience. However, since not all of us will be so lucky, I wonder if you could direct us to a source of purchase for ambergris?

  20. I think your aroma-materials articles are a fantastic resource. I have so much to learn.

    I find I'm becoming more intrigued by natural perfumery.

    And the language of perfumery is something I find tricky... what the terms mean, trying to describe a scent...

    Please enter me in the draw. I'd love to smell some real ambergris!

  21. Your posts on raw materials are excellent, keep them coming! The only other thing that I can suggest is a possible source of raw materials that we can buy from, that is if you have sources to suggest.
    I see that you have already covered a lot of useful subjects, but not citrus or herbal notes, are they too easy? I need to learn more about synthetics too.

  22. Anonymous03:31

    1) Oh yes, I find myself referring to the archived notes series or "material explained" posts frequently. Every time I think of one that could be added a closer look at the list shows me that it's already there.
    2) I think the only notes I haven't seen (and I could be wrong) are cedar, immortelle and the seemingly ubiquitous pepper. I will enjoy reading whatever knowledge on materials and terms you care to impart.

    -- Lindaloo

  23. Of course I'd like to see, smell, try some real ambergris, because I find it fascinating if elusive.

    I love all your articles on materials, though I find a few good suggestions above already. One of the things that makes this site such a treasure is the brilliant organization that makes all these articles so easily available, and yes, I'll go re-read a few now.....

  24. I find your articles on natural materials most interesting as I am an aspiring perfumer myself in a place where no such official training can be found (this country's last brush with perfumery was in ancient times). It is important for anyone who wants to deal with perfumery to develop a vocabulary that would allow for accurate description of both analysis and synthesis. While it is nice to read about personal feelings it is more useful when one encounters a more objective language.
    I would like to see more articles from you in this manner and I would like more elaboration on the treatment various materials receive from perfumers. An accurate olfactive profile is always welcome but a classification system based on use (fixatives, modifiers, extenders etc) would give a more profound understanding of the material.
    I can go on for hours but I will spare you for now. Keep up the good posts.

    PS: I realy need to find a good source for raw ambergris. Could you suggest someone?

  25. Marianne09:17

    Your articles on materials are wonderful and I have much to learn reading them again and again. I would love for you to write on vanilla and sweet notes and also to explain balsamic and resinous, as it's not so clear to me what they are and when to apply.
    Thanks for entering me to the draw!

  26. Your articles are very informative, often explaining things that I did not even know enough to ask about. I would like more information about synthetics -- the names or formulas and, if they are supposed to be imitative, what they are imitating or, if they are abstract, a description of the scent.

  27. I enjoy your articles on perfume materials, especially the fact you give the names of fragrances that contain said material.
    An article about vanilla would be nice.
    Thank you!

  28. Oh my! What a fantastic draw! Useful? Absolutely! Your articles are wonderful and I have learned tons. I can't think of another website that has such a large catalog of material descriptions and history, it's perfect! I am still learning, aren't we all, but I will say for me, when you mention other perfumes that hold the materials and scents you are describing, it makes it possible for me to search out the smell to really try to "get" it. I still have a huge ways to go on identifying the components in a perfume so that is the most helpful. I can't think of any materials I need defined as I really need to reread many of the ones already on your blog. Thanks!

  29. Anonymous15:40

    Your posts are fantastic. I love reading them and wouldn't change anything.
    I would be interested in comparing synthetics versus natural notes. Synthetics are not always the evil and without some of them we wouldn't have many masterpieces.
    Also I am curious about the technical " perfume making" process and some ingredients like fixatives and extenders and how they work.

    Thank you for this draw.


  30. 1) I think they are great just the way they are, very informative and enjoyable to read.
    2) Just keep doing what your doin!
    moonstonepagan @ yahoo dot com

  31. I find the materials articles very informative. One term I have trouble figuring out is "ozonic". Thanks for the draw. When I was 10, I thought I had found some ambergris on the beach, but it turned out to be just melted plastic.

  32. Anonymous17:26

    Yes, please enter me in the draw.

    1) the aroma materials series are perfect. Very thorough.

    2) A parchouli series would be nice. I think I don't like this note but then I find it in perfumes I love. Confusing. Galbanum would be wonderful to explore in detail as well. Love it and want to know more.

    Thank you,


  33. I find your articles useful as you have posted. I have learned so much and it has been helpful in my journey into Perfumeland. I would like more posts on synthetics. Please enter me in the draw.

  34. leinti nti22:50

    hi, i d love to enter.

    1. keep them as they are.
    2. i d love to know if you have tried any experiments and also new trends about perfume, what about swallowable perfume..


  35. Hi! I forgot to ask another aspect of perfumes that I forgot earlier on. Can you PLEASE write an article on "natural" isolates? I heard people either love it or hate it (no middle ground). If you give comment on that, I would really appreciate it!

  36. Kostas,

    if I understand correctly, we come from the same country. If so, email me so I can recommend some things: there are certainly more than 4-5 companies in Athens alone that produce aromatic compositions/perfumes. And they probably have their very own training programmes.

  37. To the anon asking to rub the ambergris on cards and sending to more recipients:
    I wish I could do that, it's a clever thought, if only roughly approximating the sensation, but if I try to rub anything on the material sort of crumbles into tiny pieces.

  38. Thanks also for the many suggestions: I have noted them down and will try to cover as many as possible in the coming weeks.

  39. Eva H.21:30

    I find the aroma-materials articles really interesting, especially since I am a perfume newbie and have a lot to learn about them.
    So I am happy with every post about them! :o)

  40. jasmine122901:00

    Dear E,
    it will be a little embarrassing to leave a comment first time for a giveaway, so you don't have to enter me in the draw! Actually the perfume material series is the part that I like the most about Perfume Shrine, and I really appreciate you current approach a lot which not only deal with the materials' origins, histories and usage in perfumery, but also ventures into chemistry realm and bring down the issue to molecule levels. Such information is hard-to-find and ver insightful for non-professionals like me, so I would really like to see you carry on the chemistry part in the future!
    I am also very fond of you articles which defines perfume terms and vocabulary such as the meanings of dry, powdery and soapy in fragrances. Actually Perfume Shrine seems to be the only perfume blog which tackles problems from such angles, and I am looking forward to see more of these wonderful posts! Thank you so much!

  41. I love your series. I think it gives the right mix of technical information, description of what the thing smells like, and actual perfumes one can go and smell to get an idea of the different possibilities.

    As for descriptions of materials,I'd like to know more about the swampy, "nautical" (copyright Turin) note that makes many florals so unpleasant to my nose. I'm not even sure it is a unique note; my nose must be hypersensitive. I'm talking about the common thread between Secretions Magnifiques, the horrid drydown of Love in white, Bas de Soie, Eden, Miyake a scent, and many more.


  42. 1) Absolutely! I love to read all of the articles and always come back to re read them. Especially after I've read about a note (ie-aldehydes in Lanvin's Arpege).
    2) I'd love to learn more about the spices, Galbanum and what does "resinous" mean?

    Thank you!!

  43. I have found the articles on scent material very helpful and informative, and do hope they will continue! I also like hearing about the natural alternatives for the rare, endangered, or very costly materials.

    One aspect that might be interesting would be IFRA banned or restricted materials, some info on why and replacements, natural or otherwise.

    Thanks so much, and what an awesome giveaway!


  44. I found it very useful especially for those who never see the real aroma material in nature.

    Yes, I definitely want to know more material to be defined (any material), especially endangered material.

  45. This is a treat! :)
    As a natural perfumer (wanna be haha) I would die to have this little precious thing. :)

    I always read your posts but i am not into aroma-chemicals - only natural stuff. :) So all post in that direction are thumbs up! :)

  46. I find your blog very helpful when it comes to raw materials. I wouldn't change a thing!

    Now I really want the scent of Jasmine (not just indoles) to be defined...

  47. 1. I love the information, please keep it coming!

    2. I'd love to read more about vegetable musks like Hibiscus Abelmoschus, or roots like Angelica.

    Thanks for the giveaway, what a treasure~

  48. Gisela16:30

    Your articles about materials are really wonderful and good stuff for repeated readings. I'd love to learn more about woods, like cedar and rosewood, for example.
    Thank you!!

  49. Anonymous22:06

    1) The PerfumeShrine is my go-to source for deeper knowledge of aroma materials. I have learned so much from them and want to thank you for the knowledge and detail you bring to your writing.
    2) One term I would like explained is "balsamic".


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