The History Dish: Ambergris Ice Cream

Image from Gourmet.com, from a 2008 article that postulates ambergris might be the next big flavor.

Food historian Ivan Day has discovered what is believed to be the first recipe for ice cream, written in a manuscript by Lady Anne Fanshawe of England. Dating to c. 1665, she flavors her ice cream with mace, orangeflower water, or ambergris.

Ambergris is an “intestinal slurry,” believed to be a ball of muscus-covered, indigestible squid beaks. This mass is ejected into the oceans by sperm whales, much like a cat disgorging a hairball. A ball of ambergris floats in the sea until it washes ashore and is collected. Throughout the 18th century, it was a prized flavoring for sweets and today it is still valued today as a base for perfumes. Its smell and flavor can range from “earthy to musky to sweet.” At the current Whales: Giants of the Deep exhibit at the American Museum of Natural History, you are encourage to sniff a large ball of very valuable whale puke.

I needed to known what ambergris ice cream tasted like.  Ambergris is very, very expensive: it will run you about $25 per gram. There are more affordable, essential oils made from it, but often they are labeled “not for consumption.” I searched far and wide and finally found Dewberry’s Herbal, an Etsy shop stocked with handmade essential oils that even let you choose which oil base you want. I picked the “True Ambergris” with grapeseed oil, the most neutral of oils!

I have been psyched for this experiment for weeks! …And the end of the story is the ambergris got lost in the mail. Or, stolen from the foyer of my apartment building. It is no where to be found–and I’m crushed.

To be continued…when I can work out the insurance claim, or scrape together money to by some more, Ambergris Ice Cream will happen!

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