Ambergris: How Constipation Becomes A Luxury Product

People used to eat it, too.

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Credit: Elah Feder/Shutterstock

design of typewriter with text 'science diction'Science Diction is a bite-sized podcast about words—and the science stories behind them. Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts, and sign up for our newsletter.

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Last month, Science Diction received a letter from a listener named Ben. He wanted to know about ambergris, a strange substance that washes up on beaches from time to time.

So today, we’re talking about this thing that for centuries, rich people coveted, rubbed on their necks, and even ate, all without having any idea what it really was. If they had known, they might have put their forks right down.

Plus, Science Diction now has a phone number! If you, like Ben, want us to cover a certain word, you can call in, leave us a message, and we might play it on the show. Call 929-499-WORD or 929 499 9673. Or send us an email at

Read a transcript of this episode here. 


Christopher Kemp is the author of Floating Gold: A Natural (and Unnatural) History of Ambergris.

Special thanks to Ben Gartner for emailing us and inspiring this episode.

Footnotes & Further Reading:

To learn more about ambergris, read Christopher Kemp’s book Floating Gold.


Science Diction is produced by Johanna Mayer and senior producer Elah Feder. Daniel Peterschmidt is our composer. Robin Palmer helped fact check this episode. Nadja Oertelt is our Chief Content Officer.

Meet the Writers

About Elah Feder

Elah Feder is the former senior producer for podcasts at Science Friday. She produced the Science Diction podcast, and co-hosted and produced the Undiscovered podcast.

About Johanna Mayer

Johanna Mayer is a podcast producer and hosted Science Diction from Science Friday. When she’s not working, she’s probably baking a fruit pie. Cherry’s her specialty, but she whips up a mean rhubarb streusel as well.

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