The word “musk” gets thrown around a lot when people talk cologne—kind of like “oaky” with wine—but surprisingly few people know where the fragrance actually comes from.

Meet the Asian musk deer, a stocky ungulate notable for its tusk-like teeth and, most importantly, musk glands.

If you bought a bottle of strong-smelling cologne in the 19th century, it’s a safe bet some of that aroma would be come from the… how to say this… sensitive male portions of said deer.

Luckily for the highly endangered musk, deer scientists (it’s a thing) developed a synthetic musk in 1937 that has largely replaced the natural stuff in cosmetics. The glands, which are worth more than their weight in gold, have been harvested for over 5,000 years throughout China, as many believe the musk to be an extraordinary aphrodisiac.

Now you know why you get all hot and bothered every time you tromp through a Tibetan forest.



  • C. Brian Smith