The History Dish: I Made Ambergris Ice Cream!


Ice cream made from whale puke.

I’ve done it! Below you’ll find a reprint of some information from my original post, but then read on for the results!

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.

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 lets you choose which oil base you want. I picked the “True Ambergris (Sperm Whale)” with grapeseed oil, the most neutral of oils!

When I opened the bottle, I would describe the first whiff of scent as “Old Man Body and Breath.” Ambergris is a used in perfumes today not necessarily for its own smell, but because it deepens and intensifies other scents, and makes them last longer. I added 1/2 teaspoon to a quart of homemade custard ice cream base, and let my ice cream maker do its thing.

Once frozen, I tasted it: the first thing I noticed was the unbelievable texture. Custard (egg based) ice cream already have a very rich texture, but this ice cream was the smoothest, creamiest ice cream I have ever tasted.  I attribute it to the extra 1/2 teaspoon of grapeseed oil. Ice cream texture has a lot to do with fat content, and apparently, adding a little extra oil at the end is a technique worth playing around with.

The flavor itself began floral, and finished armpit, with a taste that even now still lingers my tongue.  It wasn’t truly repulsive, but after awhile, it did make my stomach start to turn. But I considered that I might be biased; sometimes, I find, that when I’ve prepared a strong-smelling food, I tend not to like the end result because I can still perceive the original foul smell, even if its barely noticeable. This has happened to me once before, while preparing moose face.

So I took it to a test group. 3/6 people genuinely appreciated its floral and musky qualities; they ate it with pleasure. 2/6 liked it until I explained what ambergris was. 1 said he could understand if someone handed this flavor to him and said it was the next big thing, but didn’t like it himself.

In an era when sweets were packed full of orange flower water and rose water, it makes sense that the complex floral flavors of ambergris would have been appreciated.  However, this is what life was like without vanilla, folks. Support you local vanilla farmer.

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