AskDefine | Define musk

Dictionary Definition



1 an odorous glandular secretion from the male musk deer; used as a perfume fixative
2 the scent of musk

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. A greasy secretion with a powerful odour, produced in a glandular sac of the male musk deer and used in the manufacture of perfumes.
  2. A similar secretion produced by the otter and the civet.
  3. A synthetic organic compound used as a substitute for the above.
  4. The odour of musk.
  5. The musk deer.


greasy secretion with powerful odour

Extensive Definition

Musk is the name originally given to a substance with a penetrating odor obtained from a gland of the male musk deer, which is situated between its stomach and genitals. The substance has been used as a popular perfume fixative since ancient times and is one of the most expensive animal products in the world. The name, originated from Sanskrit meaning "testicle" (as in a 'single' testicle), has come to encompass a wide variety of substances with somewhat similar odors although many of them are quite different in their chemical structures. They include glandular secretions from animals other than the musk deer, numerous plants emitting similar fragrances, and artificial substances with similar odors. The organic compound primarily responsible for the characteristic odor of musk is muscone.
Modern used of natural musk pods is limited to Traditional Chinese medicine.

Natural sources

Musk deer

Musk was unknown in classical antiquity and reference to it does not appear until the 6th century, when the Greek explorer Cosmas Indicopleustes mentioned it as a product obtained from India. Soon afterwards Arab and Byzantine perfume makers began to use it, and it acquired a reputation as an aphrodisiac. hints at its trade route.
The musk deer belongs to the family Moschidae and lives in Pakistan, India, Tibet, China, Siberia and Mongolia. To obtain the musk, the deer is killed and its gland, also called "musk pod", is removed. It is dried either in the sun, on a hot stone, or by immersion in hot oil. Upon drying, the reddish-brown paste turns into a black granular material called "musk grain", which is used for alcoholic solutions. The aroma of the tincture becomes more intense during storage and gives a pleasant odor only after it is considerably diluted. No other natural substance has such a complex aroma associated with so many contradictory descriptions; however, it is usually described abstractly as animalic, earthy and woody An illegal shipment of of Chinese musk from the musk deer was seized in Japan in 1987, an amount corresponding to approximately 100,000 deer killed.

Other animals

Muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus), a rodent native to North America, has been known since the 17th century to secrete a glandular substance with a musky odor. Musk glands are also found in snakes.


Some plants such as Angelica archangelica or Abelmoschus moschatus produce musky smelling macrocyclic lactone compounds. These compounds are widely used in perfumery as substitutes for natural musk or to alter the smell of a mixture of other musks.
The plant sources include musk flower (Mimulus moschatus), the muskwood (Olearia argophylla) of the Guianas and West Indies, and the seeds of Abelmoschus moschatus (musk seeds).

Artificial compounds

Since obtaining the deer musk requires killing the endangered animal, nearly all musk fragrance used in perfumery today is synthesis, or called "white musk". They can be divided into three major classes — aromatic nitro musks, polycyclic musk compounds, and macrocyclic musk compounds.
About half the human population are anosmics (unable to smell) to macrocyclic musks, possibly due to its high molecular weight. Common macrocyclic musks include:
  • Ethylene Brassilate
  • Globalide (Habanolide)
  • Ambrettolide
  • Muscone
  • Thibetolide (Exaltolide)
  • Velvione

Alicyclic musks

Alicyclic musks, otherwise known as cycloakyl ester or linear musks, are relatively novel class of musk compounds. The first compound of this class was introduced 1975 with Cyclomusk, though similar structure were noted earlier in citronellyl oxalate and Rosamusk. Alicyclic musks are dramatically different in structure than previous musks (aromatic, polycyclic, macrocyclic) in that they are modified akyl esters. Although they were discovered more than 10 years before, it was only in 1990 with the discovery and introduction of Helvetolide at Firmenich that a compound of this class was produced at a commercial scale. Romandolide, a more ambrette and less fruity alicyclic musk compared to Helvetolide was introduced ten years later. Common musks of this class include:
  • Cyclomusk
  • Helvetolide
  • Romandolide

See also


musk in Arabic: المسك
musk in Danish: Zibet
musk in German: Moschus
musk in Spanish: Almizcle
musk in Esperanto: Mosko
musk in French: Musc
musk in Italian: Muschio (endocrinologia)
musk in Lithuanian: Muskusas
musk in Dutch: Muskus
musk in Japanese: 麝香
musk in Polish: Piżmo
musk in Portuguese: Almíscar
musk in Finnish: Myski
musk in Turkish: Misk (koku)
musk in Russian: Мускус

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

ambergris, ambrosia, aromatic, aromatic gum, aromatic water, attar, attar of roses, balm, balm of Gilead, balsam, bay oil, bergamot oil, champaca oil, civet, essence, essential oil, extract, fixative, heliotrope, jasmine oil, lavender oil, myrcia oil, myrrh, parfum, perfume, perfumery, rose oil, scent, volatile oil
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