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Musk Sugar appears in a recipe from the mid 1550s by Sir Hugh Plat where he tells you how to make a scented sugar for cooking. This recipe comes from his book Delights for Ladies, published in the late 16th/early 17th century.  

Musk Sugar History

The fragrance musk is the same scent you think of as being a mainstay in cologne or perfume, was a very popular fragrance and even spice for Shakespeare’s lifetime. 

You can find musk in the musk pod, a foreskin gland in a pouch, or sac, under the skin of the abdomen of the male musk deer. (It’s his pheromone producing gland used for mating).

“Musk-cat”, woodcut from Hortus Sanitatis, 1491 | This is actually a musk deer | I mispeak in the episode and say this is from 1616, but it’s dated 1491. The author is Jacob Meydenbach | Source | Public Domain

Fresh musk is semiliquid but dries to a grainy powder, that’s why you see musk draining from the deer in the image.

Originally derived from the musk deer, the term “musk” applies to any animal that emitted a similar odor including the musk cat, the musk ox, and the musk rat. The fragrance derives from the musk beetle, the African civet cat, and even the North American crocodile which has not one, but two, glands from which is produces musk.

There are also several plants like the musk wood and the musk flower that produce this scent, and of course today there are many artificial synthetic versions.

This specific fragrance attracts the person or animal smelling it, which is what makes it so popular in cologne. Now, if you’ve ever smelled one of these particularly odorous animals like the musk ox or a civet cat, (we have one at our local zoo), you know their scent is quite nasty, even gross. 

So why is this smell popular in alluring fragrances? The good smell distills down from the original secretion to extract the attractive fragrance.

Musk In Shakespeare’s Plays

Shakespeare talks specifically about the civet perfume in his plays. 

The courtier’s hands are perfum’d with civet”

As You Like It III.2

It must have been really pungent smell for Shakespeare’s lifetime, too, because Don Pedro in Much Ado About Nothing says the fragrance was quite pervasive;

Nay, a’ rubs himself with civet: can you smell him out by that?

Much Ado About Nothing III.2
Woodcut of a civet cat. From ‘Caroli Clvsii…’, 1611. Woodcut of a civet cat (civetta). From Carolus Clusius, ‘Caroli Clvsii Atrebatis Cvrae posteriors…’ (Leyden, 1611). (17th century). Work ID: t6w5dyb5. | Wellcome Library Collection | Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY 4.0) | Source

The musk secretions of the Civet cat, specifically, are 17th century homeopathic treatments. Musk treats fatigue, stomach sickness, colic, and pregnant women to protect unborn babies. Musk is a 17th century aphrodisiac.

The smell of musk appears in Shakespeare’s plays. In Alls Well That Ends Well, the Clown mentions the musk cat

Here is a purr of fortune’s, sir, or of fortune’s cat,—but not a musk-cat,

Alls Well That Ends Well, V.2

The musk deer from 1491 names the image “musk cat” so The Clown may actually be talking about a deer here, but that requires more research to determine. 

Hostess Quickly talks about musk being a sweet smell when she says , “smelling so sweetly, all musk…” (Merry Wives of Windsor, II.2)

The Musk Rose. Pierre-Joseph Redouté  (1759–1840) | Public Domain | Source

The sweet smelling “musk-rose” appears three times in Midsummer Night’s Dream. There must have been plant based options for getting that musk fragrance in addition to animal sources. 

Screen capture, taken by me, Cassidy Cash on August 10, 2022. It is from the digital collections at the University of Michigan where you can see digital versions of archival documents, like Hugh Plat’s book Delights for Ladies. Source

The recipe itself is very simple, provided you can get a hold of granular musk. 

The “sarcinet” is a piece of silk cloth. Wrap it up and place it in the bottom of the container then cover the musk with sugar. 

Musk Sugar Online

Turns out, Musk can be illegal, so I decided to recreate this recipe using cinnamon sticks.

Musk Sugar Recipe

Take about 1-2 cup of plain sugar and place it in a bowl that has a lid. Add 1-2 sticks of cinnamon into the sugar and let it sit for 3 days. 

Next, Then when you go to cook with it, you now have cinnamon infused sugar. 

Also works with whole cloves. To make the sugar easier to dispense, wrap cinnamon or cloves in a cheesecloth before submerging in sugar.

After that’s been sitting, it smells really fragrant. Like cinnamon! I can only imagine the musk smell that would be in the sugar from those civet cats. 

Well that’s it for this week! Thank you for watching. If you try out your own 16th century infused sugar, let me know about it in the comments! I’ll see you next week!

Musk Sugar Resources to Learn More