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This is the name given to the glandular secretion of a species known as the civet cat. Both male and female civet cats are responsible for generating this substance, which has become known as “civet oil”.

Several species of this mammal have been identified as producers of the civet oil. However, the largest percentage of civet oil is produced in civet farms in Africa, where each of the animals generates about three to four grams of the oil every week.

Depicted as a soft, almost liquid-like material, civet oil is pale yellow in color when it has just been produced. Nonetheless, as time goes by it not only hardens, resembling the consistency of slave, but also darkens accordingly.

At the beginning the odor is fierce, almost unpleasant. However, when it becomes diluted, civet oil seems to mutate from a putrid stench to a sweet and pleasant fragrance.

The chemical composition of the civet oil features civetone, which is responsible for this oil’s unique odor. In addition, the oil includes several other ketones, such as cyclopentadecanone and cycloheadecanone, among others. The animalic scent is enhanced by the inclusion of smaller amounts of other substances (civetones) that help to generate this unique consistency and smell.

Modern Production and commercialization

Since the importation of civet cats has been banned in the USA for some time now, in recent years there has been a growing trend to produce a synthetic alternative for civet oil –even when the oil can be imported after close inspection.

The substance needed to produce the absolute is taken directly from the animal by scraping the unctuous secretions from their anuses. This perineal secretion is later on purified by means of solvent extraction, from where either the tincture or the absolute is generated.

Even so, because of ethical reasons, natural civet oil is becoming rare these days.

Civet in Perfumery

Even when it is sometimes erroneously mistaken by musk, this civet oil scent has a distinctive odor that stands out from most other fragrances. Fortunately, nowadays the original civet oil is being replaced by a synthetic alternative, known as Ambretone, which can be more easily synthesized.

Civet-based perfumes fall under the categories of musk, amber or animalic scents and can be best depicted as being conquering, massive, strong and sensuous.

Possessing a musk-like nuance, civet has become the base scent of several commercial combinations that have gained increasing popularity in recent years.

Recent developments have discovered that a civet base is highly effective when it comes to developing floral fragrances as the former tends to add radiance and warmth to otherwise commonplace scents. The most widely sought-after combination in this category is civet plus rose, which has been proved to be highly effective.

Other satisfactory commercial blends have incorporated a certain civet overtone to traditional jasmine, amber and orange blossom fragrances. This inclusion has added both charm and appeal to these scents.

Even when at first sight the combination would appear to be redundant, there have been several product developments combining musk and civet scents, especially in certain men’s perfumes. Similarly, other combinations include chypre, tobacco and pepper, as well.