musk, odorous substance secreted by an abdominal gland of the musk deer, used in perfume as a scent and fixative. The gland, found only in males, grows to the size of a hen's egg; the secretion is reddish-brown, with a honeylike consistency and a strong odor that may function in the animal as a sexual attractant. After the pouch is cut the secretion hardens, assumes a blackish-brown color, and when dry becomes granular. In commerce the musk pouches are called "musk pods," and the dried secretion "musk grains." Usually a tincture of alcohol is made from the grains; this is then added to expensive perfumes. The chief constituent that gives musk its odor is the organic compound muscone. Musklike substances are also obtained from the muskrat and the civet. Some plants yield oils which resemble musk; these include the seed of ambrette ( Hibiscus abelmoschos ) and the sumbul root ( Ferula sumbul ) of central Asia and Turkistan. A number of synthetic musklike products are now also used.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.