Citrus bergamia, the Bergamot orange,is a fragrant fruit the size of an orange, with a yellow colour similar to a lemon. Genetic research into the ancestral origins of extant citrus cultivars matched the bergamot as a likely hybrid of Citrus limetta and Citrus aurantium. Citrus bergamot is a native hybrid of and commercially grown in southern Calabria (province of Reggio), southern Italy, where more than 80% are found. It is also grown in southern France. The fruit is not grown for juice consumption.
Bergamot orange description
Citrus bergamia is a small tree which blossoms during the winter. The juice tastes less sour than lemon, but more bitter than grapefruit. The distinctive aroma of the bergamot is most commonly known for its use in Earl Grey tea. The juice of the fruit has also been used in Calabrian indigenous medicine to treat malaria, and its essential oil is popular in aromatherapy applications.
The bergamot orange is unrelated to the herbs of the same name, Monarda didyma and Monarda fistulosa, which are in the mint family. The active ingredients in bergamot juice are neoeriocitrin, naringin, neohesperidin, ponceritin, melitidin, and brutieridin. Melitidin and brutieridin, only recently discovered, exist only in citrus bergamot, and exhibit statin-like properties. Synephrine is not present in citrus bergamot.
Citrus bergamia has also been classified as Citrus aurantium subsp. bergamia (i.e. a subspecies of bitter orange).
Citrus bergamia is sometimes confused with (but is not the same as) Citrus medica (citron, the yellow fruit of which is also known as etrog).
Bergamot orange uses
An essence extracted from the aromatic skin of this sour fruit is used to flavour Earl Grey and Lady Grey teas, and confectionery. It is often used to make marmalade, particularly in Italy. In Sweden and Norway, bergamot is a very common flavourant in snus, a smokeless tobacco product. Likewise in dry nasal snuff it is also a common aroma in traditional blends. Carpentierbe, a company based in San Giorgio Morgeto, near Reggio Calabria, makes a digestive liqueur derived from bergamot marketed under the name Liquore al Bergamotto.
The actual fruit of the bergamot orange itself is not known to be edible.
As a fragrance
Bergamot peel is used in perfumery for its ability to combine with an array of scents to form a bouquet of aromas which complement each other. Approximately one third of all men’s and about half of women’s perfumes contain bergamot essential oil. Bergamot is a major component of the original Eau de Cologne composed by Farina at the beginning of 18th century Germany. The first record of bergamot oil as fragrance ingredient is 1714, to be found in the Farina Archive in Cologne. One hundred bergamot oranges will yield about 85 grams of bergamot oil.
Bergamot peel is also used in aromatherapy to treat depression and as a digestive aid.
Bergamot is used in many skin care creams and lotions which harness its cooling, refreshing nature. Bergamot is ideally suited to help calm inflamed skin, and as such is contained in some creams for skin conditions such as psoriasis. It also has antiseptic properties which help ward off infection and aid recovery.
In the past, psoralen extracted from bergamot oil has been used in tanning accelerators and sunscreens. Psoralens penetrate the skin, where they increase the amount of direct DNA damage. This damage is responsible for sunburn and for an increased melanin production. It can also lead to phytophoto dermatitis, a darkening of the skin as a result of a chemical reaction that makes the skin extra sensitive to ultraviolet light.
These substances were known to be photocarcinogenic since 1959, but they were only banned from sunscreens in 1995. These photocarcinogenic substances were banned years after they had caused many cases of malignant melanoma and deaths. Psoralen is now used only in the treatment of certain skin disorders, as part of PUVA therapy.
This is a small acidic orange, used mostly for its peel. Don’t confuse it with the herb that goes by the same name.