Culture

Musk Comes From Where?!?!

Don’t worry, you’re not really wearing something that was secreted from a gland situated right in front of a musk deer’s penis. Right??

Actually, that’s where musk, a key ingredient in almost all perfumes, originally came from. Bet you didn’t know that! We’ve all heard of musk. It’s that smell that conjures up the earthy aroma of the woods. Yet musk, in its native form, smells putrid. From Huffington Post:

Male musk deers, cute little guys with fangs instead of antlers who live in northern Asia and Europe (think Russia and Mongolia), mark their territory and mate by spraying from their musk gland, which is about the size of a golf ball and situated right in front of their penis.

To render it you’ll have to soak it in alcohol (vodka) for months or years. It’s a lengthy process, and because only mature musk deers produce the gland, it’s rare and expensive — even more so these days as the deer have been protected by CITES since 1973 — and perfumers have for many decades tried to perfect its synthetic replacement.

In 1880 Albert Baur “synthesized a molecule that ended up smelling a lot like musk” while trying to make dynamite more powerful. And while scientists haven’t been able to perfect the molecule that smells like the musk deer’s native funk, they’ve gotten close. Read the whole thing to learn about other foul-smelling origins of the aromas we have come to love. Tread lightly, my friends.