Ambergris comes in many colours, shapes and textures. This makes
identification difficult and ensures frustration for beachcombers
on the hunt for this elusive substance. Ambergris is most often
white, grey, black or brown in colour or even a mixture of these
shades. In shape; ambergris can be flat or square but often rounded,
oval shapes appear on the beaches, probably due to the rolling
and smoothing action that the ocean waves would have over a period
of time, even years. If black in colour, the texture may be soft
and sticky like melting tar. Most often it is hard yet waxy and
may have a powdery like white coating. It can also be described
as having the texture of hard, dry clay.
Ambergris has an unusual odour which is difficult to explain to
anyone who has never had the pleasure of its sensual aroma. Ambergris
is often described as being musky and having a sweet earthy aroma
unlike any other, or a mossy fragrance reminiscent of the damp
forest floor. Depending on the quality of the ambergris there
can be a great variation in the fragrance. Poor quality or fresh
ambergris (which is black and sticky) is fairly offensive in fragrance.
If you can imagine scented cow dung you will be on the right track.
Many people expect ambergris to have a very strong or foul odour,
but this is not the case. In general, lighter coloured pieces
of ambergris have a subtle, pleasant smell. The base animal (manure)
odour fades as the ambergris cures. However, the white and grey
varieties, in particular, possess the subtle, sweet addictive
aroma that beachcombing dreams are made of.
Try this simple 'do it yourself' test to check any unusual items
you have found. It can not be relied on to provide a positive
ID, unless you are thoroughly familiar with the required result.
However, the test result may indicate whether it is worth pursuing
the enquiry further.
Hot needle test:
Heat a needle and touch briefly to the surface of the item
If ambergris, the surface will melt instantly; turning
to an oily, molten black residue and a small puff of musky
smelling smoke will be emitted.
If you think you may have found some ambergris but you are still
not sure; you can visit our 'sell ambergris'
page for an appraisal.
You can also check the "Look-alike" page for photos and descriptions of those materials most commonly mistaken for ambergris