5 Perfume Scents from Unexpected Places

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Wondering how to profit off your impressive collection of belly button lint? Looking to avoid big cats while exploring the Amazon? The world of perfume has the answers.

1. Beaver Butts

To mark their territory, our furry carpenter friends secrete a musky yellow substance from their behinds called castoreum. It smells a little like vanilla, and it’s been used for centuries as a drug, flavoring, and perfume. The International Journal of Toxicology reports that castoreum is perfectly safe, and it’s still used in a dwindling supply of vanilla-scented perfumes today, making up just .0001 percent of the vanilla industry’s output. Harvesting the beaver goo takes a lot of work, since you need to “milk” the critter.

2. Virgin Belly Buttons

Perfumer Christophe Laudamiel was searching through the archives at International Flavors and Fragrances when he stumbled upon a peculiar scent: The smell of two virgin women's navels. (Apparently, at some point, IFF scientists had captured the smell with a polymer needle and chemically reconstructed it.) Inspired by the 1985 novel Perfume, Laudamiel added apricots, nuts, and sea breeze to the mix, and the formula would become Thierry Mugler’s limited edition “Virgin Number One.”

3. Cow Dung

To be up-front, bovine perfume hasn’t hit the shelves yet. But it could. In 2006, Japanese scientist Mayu Yamamoto successfully extracted vanilla fragrance from cow pies. The vanillin is chemically equivalent to what you’d find in a vanilla bean, and producing it could be far cheaper than extracting it from the plant. Vanillin is found in other stranger places, too. It’s said that some people develop a preference for the flavor while they’re still in the womb--since it can be found in amniotic fluid.

4. Civet Musk

Don’t wear Calvin Klein’s Obsession for Men if you’re trekking the jungle: The cologne may attract jaguars. In fact, researchers and wildlife photographers will use the smelly stuff to attract big cats to game cameras! The perfume contains civetone, a pheromone secreted by the African civet (a mammal that looks half cat, half raccoon). The chemical, which is scraped from the animal’s perineal glands, is one of the oldest perfume ingredients in the world.

5. Blue Cheese

In 2006, England’s Stilton Cheesemakers wanted people to eat more blue cheese. So they ignored the fact that blue cheese smells like wet socks and decided to turn their famous curds into a perfume: Eau de Stilton. A company representative told the BBC that it was “very different to the very sweet perfumes you smell wafting down the street as someone walks past you.” Plans to mass produce it were nixed for the same reason.