Italy Makes World’s Most Expensive Chocolate Using Whale Ambergris Also Known As Whale ‘Vomit’
words by Carol King
A Sicilian chocolate maker is set to create the most expensive chocolate in the world using a rare substance secreted by sperm whales.
The newspaper ‘Corriere Del Mezzogiorno’ reports that the chocolate will be made according to an old recipe, which uses the highly-prized ambergris, a substance produced in the digestive system of sperm whales sometimes referred to as ‘whale vomit’, and another expensive ingredient, deer musk. Nicknamed ‘floating gold’, ambergris is an expensive aromatic chemical used in food flavourings, medicines and perfumes.
Usually, ambergris is passed in sperm whales’ fecal matter. Scientists believe that when a mass of ambergris is too large to pass through a whale’s intestines, it is expelled via the mouth, leading to the reputation of ambergris as coming from whale vomit. Scientists suggest that the whale’s gastrointestinal tract produces the substance to ease the passage of hard, sharp objects such as the indigestible horny beaks of squids and cuttlefish.
Ambergris is gathered on beaches and from remains found at sea, and comes in lumps of various shapes and sizes. When expelled by the whale it is a pale, white colour sometimes streaked with black. The fatty substance hardens to become black or dark grey in colour with a crusty and waxy texture, and sweet, musky smell.
A team of researchers found a recipe from 1746 used by the Grimaldi family of chocolate makers from Modica in Ragusa, Sicily to make a chocolate using ambergris and deer musk. The research is being promoted by the Consorzio di Tutela del Cioccolato di Modica (Consortium for the Protection of Modica Chocolate).
With the aid of the University of Catania, the consortium aims to make what will be the dearest chocolate produced in modern times. The consortium hopes that the chocolate will help gain Indicazione Geografica Protetta (Protected Geographical Indication, IGP) status for Modica’s unique type chocolate. IGP status identifies a product originating from a region or a country whose quality, reputation, recipe and characteristics can be traced back to its geographical origin.
Ambergris has been a sought-after substance for centuries and features in Herman Melville’s 1851 novel ‘Moby Dick’ when Pequod’s crew capture a whale corpse for its ambergris. The author commented: “Who would think, then, that such fine ladies and gentlemen should regale themselves with an essence found in the inglorious bowels of a sick whale! Yet so it is.”
Today, ambergris is extremely expensive: in January 2013, a Briton found a 3kg (7lb) lump on a beach in Morecambe, north-west England. The BBC reported that a French dealer offered him €50,000 (US$65,090/£43,344) to buy it.