Saturday, October 18, 2008

Of petrified feces and ancient jellied urine


I'm sure that for more than a few of you my title conjures some interesting sensations, visually and olfactorily. What I am referring to there is a natural aromatic material known as Africa Stone or Hyraceum.

It is, quite frankly, crystallized and petrified fecal and urine pellets (and it smells like it) from the Hyrax, or Dassie - a very interesting small mammal that resides in Africa and apparently happens to be the closest living relative to elephants, even though they are only the size of overgrown guinea pigs.

It takes centuries for a colony of Hyrax using the same "community outhouse" per se to produce a large mound of hyraceum. It is recorded that some hyraceum dates back well over 10,000 yrs, but that it can also be produced in a shorter time (centuries rather than millennium) due to the very dry climate of that region.

This petrified and even fossilized material is used in perfumery as a substitute for other musky animal notes such as civet or deer musk, which are obtained in manners that are ethically questionable and/or unacceptable to many modern perfumers and consumers.

"Why would anyone want to use this kind of material in perfumery?" one may ask. First off let me say that this is the type of aromatic that is used highly diluted to begin with and then only in small amounts in the total blend.

Secondly, as with cooking, there are times that an ingredient may not be something you want to eat concentrated, in quantity, or stand alone (i.e. anchovies) but in a small amount adds wonderful flavor and depth to the dish (i.e. Ceasar salad dressing, which contains anchovies).

Then we can sum it up in more "primal" terms - including words like pheromones and instinctual biological olfactory affinities hardwired into our brains from the beginning of time to promote sexual attraction and species reproduction.

A little dab'll do ya (but not straight up .. then you'll just smell like a NYC subway restroom ;)

1 comment:

Annie said...

Yeah, like Thai fish sauce or aseofetida...I was very skeptical at first but they do add amazing depth.