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Holy Smoke! Evidence that the controversial fourth ingredient in sacred incense comes from a sea snailRead more Since biblical times incense has been used in religious ceremonies and purification rituals, with its fragrant smoke evoking reverence and reflection. For much of that time this holy incense has also been shrouded in secrecy and controversy because of uncertainty over the identity of its major ingredients, onycha. Scientific evidence now supports the identification of onycha as the opercula, or trapdoor, from the sea snail Muricidae (murex whelks). In biblical times these sea snails were also used to produce purple and blue dyes of religious significance.