The 'musk' smell of cologne used to come from a pretty bizarre, unexpected place

Musk DeerFlickr/Marie HaleA musk deer, grazing.

When you see “musk” as a noted smell in your cologne, you probably think of lumberjacks chopping wood in Maine.

But you’ll never guess where that “manly” smell actually used to come from: an animal you’ve probably never heard of, according to the Huffington Post.

Musk is a heavy base note scent that is usually compared with woodsy and earthy smells. It was originally the name of the odor coming from a male musk deer, from which it was harvested.

Though perfumes are made through synthetic chemical engineering processes now, back in the day, a glandular sack about the size of a golf ball would be taken from the musk deer. That sack holds a liquid that is sprayed by the deer and used to attract a mate.

When the deer died, the sack would be taken and dried to produce something called a “musk pod.” Once that was broken open, you’d find the fragrant musk grain, which would then be soaked in alcohol, producing the scent we would refer to as “musk.”

Musk PodWikipedia/乌拉跨氪A musk pod harvested from a musk deer.

The scent has also been found by perfume makers in other animals, including the vomit from a sperm whale and most other “musk” animals, like the muskox, musk shrew, and the musk beetle.

Fortunately, perfumers no longer use animal-derived ingredients, instead moving to more sustainable (and cheaper) synthetic chemicals. The one used to mimic musk is appropriately called muscone.

So don’t worry — you’re not actually wearing whale vomit (phew).

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