Spermaceti (from Greek "sperma", seed, and "cetus", whale) is a wax present in the head cavities of the sperm whale ("Physeter macrocephalus"). Spermaceti is extracted from whale oil by crystallisation at 6 °C, when treated by pressure and a chemical solution of caustic alkali. Spermaceti forms brilliant white crystals that are hard but oily to the touch, and are devoid of taste or smell, making it very useful as an ingredient in cosmetics, leatherworking and lubricants. The substance was also used in making candles of a standard photometric value, in the dressing of fabrics, and as a pharmaceutical excipient, especially in cerates and ointments.


Spermaceti is insoluble in water, very slightly soluble in cold alcohol, but easily dissolved in ether, chloroform, carbon disulfide, and boiling alcohol. Spermaceti consists principally of cetyl palmitate (ester of cetyl alcohol and palmitic acid), C15H31COO-C16H33.

A botanical alternative to spermaceti is a derivative of jojoba oil, jojoba esters, C19H41COO-C20H41, a solid wax which is chemically and physically very similar to spermaceti and may be used in many of the same applications. Esters of cetyl alcohol and jojoba oil are used as a substitute for spermaceti.

Spermaceti processing

Spermaceti was gathered during whaling and was considered a valuable resource by whalers due to the high price that could be fetched for it. The sperm whale's head was either brought on deck or lashed to the side of the ship where the whalemen would cut a hole in the case. The spermaceti could then be drawn out by bucket or a whaleman would enter the hole and manually remove the fluid. Once gathered the spermaceti would be placed in barrels for the voyage home. A large whale would have as much as three tons of spermaceti.


* David R. Carrier, Stephen M. Deban and Jason Otterstrom, [http://autodax.net/Carrieretal2002.pdf The face that sank the Essex: potential function of the spermaceti organ in aggression] , "Journal of Experimental Biology '205:"'1755–1763, 2002.

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  • Spermaceti — Général No CAS …   Wikipédia en Français

  • spermaceti — [ spɛrmaseti ] n. m. • 1509; lat. sc. spermaceti; bas lat. sperma, mot gr. « semence », et cetus « baleine » ♦ Didact. Blanc de baleine. ● spermaceti nom masculin (latin médiéval spermaceti, du latin classique sperma, semence, et cetus, baleine)… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Spermaceti — Sper ma*ce ti, n. [L. sperma sperm + cetus,gen. ceti, any large sea animal, a whale, Gr. ???. See {Sperm}, {Cetaceous}.] A white waxy substance obtained from cavities in the head of the sperm whale, and used making candles, oilments, cosmetics,… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • spermaceti — SPERMACÉTI s.n. Ceară obţinută din craniul de balenă, de delfin şi din craniul şi grăsimea de caşalot, folosită în industria cosmetică şi la fabricarea lumânărilor; cetaceum; (pop.) spermanţet. [< fr. spermaceti, cf. gr. sperma – sămânţă, lat …   Dicționar Român

  • Spermaceti — Spermaceti, s.v.w. Walrat (s.d.) …   Lexikon der gesamten Technik

  • Spermaceti — Spermaceti, siehe Wallrath …   Damen Conversations Lexikon

  • spermaceti — [spʉr΄mə sēt′ī΄, spʉr΄məsēt′ē; spʉr΄məset′ī, spʉr′məset′ē] n. [ML sperma ceti, lit., whale sperm < LL sperma,SPERM1 + L ceti, gen. of cetus, whale < Gr kētos] a white, waxlike substance taken from the oil in the head of a sperm whale or… …   English World dictionary

  • spermaceti — spermacetilike, adj. /sperr meuh set ee, see tee/, n. Chem., Pharm. a pearly white, waxy, translucent solid, obtained from the oil in the head of the sperm whale: used chiefly in cosmetics and candles, and as an emollient. Also called cetaceum.… …   Universalium

  • Spermaceti — Dieser Artikel wurde aufgrund von formalen und/oder inhaltlichen Mängeln in der Qualitätssicherung Biologie zur Verbesserung eingetragen. Dies geschieht, um die Qualität der Biologie Artikel auf ein akzeptables Niveau zu bringen. Bitte hilf mit,… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • spermaceti — cachalot cach a*lot, n. [F. cachalot.] (Zo[ o]l.) The sperm whale ({Physeter macrocephalus}). It has in the top of its head a large cavity, containing an oily fluid, which, after death, concretes into a whitish crystalline substance called… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

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