Ambergris

From Academic Kids

Ambergris (Ambra grisea, Ambre gris, or grey amber), a solid, fatty, flammable substance of a dull grey or blackish colour, the shades being variegated like marble, possessing a peculiar sweet, earthy odour.

Ambergris occurs as a biliary concretion in the intestines of the Sperm Whale, and can be found floating upon the sea, on the sea-coast, or in the sand near the sea-coast. Because lumps of ambergris with embedded beaks of giant squid have been found, scientists have theorized that the whale's intestine produces the substance as a means of facilitating the passage of hard, sharp objects that the whale might have inadvertently eaten. It is met with in the Atlantic Ocean; on the coasts of Brazil and Madagascar; also on the coast of Africa, of the East Indies, China, Japan and the Molucca islands; but most commercially collected ambergris came from the Bahama Islands, Providence, etc. It is also sometimes found in the abdomen of whales, always in lumps of various shapes and sizes, weighing from 1/2 oz (14g) to 100 or more pounds (45+ kg).

When initially expelled by whale or removed from it, the fatty precursor of ambergris is pale white in colour, soft in consistency, with a disagreeable fecal smell. Following months and years of photo-degradation and oxidation in the ocean, this precursor gradually hardens, developing a dark grey or black colour and develops a peculiar odour that can be described as sweet, marine, animalic, and earthy. In this condition its specific gravity ranges from 0.780 to 0.926. It melts at about 62 °C to a fatty, yellow resinous-like liquid; and at 100 °C it is volatilized into a white vapour. It is soluble in ether, and in volatile and fixed oils; it is only feebly acted on by acids. By digesting in hot alcohol, a substance termed ambrein, closely resembling cholesterin, is obtained, which separates in brilliant white crystals as the solution cools.

Historically, the primary commercial use of ambergris has been in fragrance chemistry, although it has also been used for medicinal and flavorant purposes. It was the most important of the amber type odorants and highly sought after; however, with the decline of whaling, the primary source of natural ambergris, replacement compounds have been synthesized. The most important of these is Ambrox®, which has taken its place as the most widely used amber odorant in perfume manufacture. The oldest and most commercially significant synthesis of Ambrox is from sclareol (primarily extracted from Clary sage), although syntheses have been devised from a variety of other natural products, including cis-abienol and thujone, and procedures for the microbial production of Ambrox have been devised.

With the development of synthetic products with similar properties, the widely varying price of ambergris has stabilized at about US$9 per pint. However, in the United States, possession of any part of an endangered species — including ambergris that has washed ashore — is a violation of the Endangered Species Act of 1973.

External links

da:Ambra de:Ambra nl:Amber (potvis) pl:Ambra pt:Āmbar cinza

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