Bergamot is an aromatic oil found in the peels of the fruit of the bergamot orange, a citrus tree from Italy. The oil is used in essential oil preparations, skin care products, and as a food flavoring, most notably in Earl Gray tea. The flavor is floral and rich, with a faintly bitter or astringent flavor. The oil smells of fresh citrus, and is pale gold in color. People should be cautious when using this oil on the skin, because it tends to increase photosensitivity, and the skin may be damaged if it is exposed to excessive light.
The bergamot orange, also known as Citrus bergamia, is native to Southern Asia, but was introduced to Italy, where it flourished. Attempts to cultivate it in other regions have not been nearly so successful, with Italian oranges producing the bulk of that which is commercially used. The peels of the oranges were dried and added to early flavored teas, and essence of bergamot was also extensively used in perfumes. The mild citrus scent and flavor are quite appealing to some consumers, leading to enduring demand for the orange.
Southern France also hosts these trees, which are small and unable to cope with extremely cold weather and frosts. The fruit itself is intensely sour, and it is often used in jams, preserves, and other sweet dishes to counterbalance the sugar. The true value lies in the peel, which has rich deposits of oil. Dried, the peels are used in some cosmetics and foods to add scent or flavor, and the peels are also pressed when fresh to extract the essential oil, which is usually sold in concentrated form. The orange peel is also sometimes sold in a candied form, along with other citrus peels.
As an essential oil, bergamot is believed to be uplifting and energizing. It is often included in essential oil mixtures which are designed to reduce stress, energize, and treat depression. It can be included in incense, used in an essential oil diffuser, or added to baths, in moderation. The oil is also included in skin care products, and like other citrus oils, it is faintly astringent and toning. Pure oil can be harsh on the skin, and it should always be diluted before being applied.
Pure bergamot oil is readily available from many natural food stores and distributors of essential oils in both cold pressed and steam distilled varieties. The dried peel can be found in food specialty stores, along with candied and jellied variants. For consumers who are concerned about sustainable farming practices, many growers offer organic alternatives to conventionally farmed bergamot.