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What is Bergamot?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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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.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a DelightedCooking researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By anon942885 — On Mar 29, 2014

I generally don't like to wear fragrances (I'm a guy) but I happened to get a sample of Valentino Uomo (eg for men) and actually bought a bottle! The main ingredient is Italian Bergamot. This is not an ad!

By turquoise — On Jan 21, 2013

@anamur-- I live on the Mediterranean coast in Turkey and we have Bergamot orange trees here. But no one uses them!

The fruit just sit on the trees and eventually dry out. It smells really good, especially the flowers in spring. But it's terribly sour and bitter and can't be eaten. We also have regular oranges here, so no one even bothers to make jam from the Bergamot oranges.

It's kind of sad that they go to waste, because we also produce tea in Turkey. There might be some production of Bergamot essential oil in other towns but not the one I live in.

By serenesurface — On Jan 21, 2013

Aside from Italy and France, which other countries produce Bergamot?

By ddljohn — On Jan 20, 2013

I used to think that bergamot was a quality of Earl Grey tea. But I realized this can't be when I saw Earl Grey flavored green tea on the shelves of grocery stores. This is just green tea flavored with the oil of bergamot.

By anon279578 — On Jul 13, 2012

Well, at least I now know why I hate Earl Grey tea! I just figured it was an acquired taste!

By candyquilt — On May 29, 2012

@burcidi-- I can see why bergamot was recommended for the scalp. It does have qualities that can help treat scalp infections and promote hair growth. But of course, you must use the right type of natural bergamot oil that's safe for skin. I would dilute it with another safe oil and it's always a good idea to do an allergy test with it on your arm before you apply it liberally.

Bergamot oil does have antiseptic properties, it prevents the growth of bacteria and fungi. So it could be beneficial in treating a scalp fungal infection for example. As far as I know bergamot oil is also a stimulant. So it could stimulate hair follicles into growing hair. But I can't vouch for it as I've never tried it.

By burcidi — On May 29, 2012

@burcinc-- You should! Bergamot oil is great for aromatherapy. It's especially great at fighting depression, anxiety and sadness. It's also very relaxing and helps soothe nerves.

I use bergamot aromatherapy oil in the same way I use lavender. I use it in a oil candle when I'm in a bad mood or have trouble sleeping or just to make the house smell good. Bergamot oil is more expensive than lavender, but it's definitely a very unique fragrance. It's not exactly a citrus scent, it's more of a floral scent like the article said, it's also slightly spicy.

An acquaintance recently told me that bergamot oil can be used on the scalp for scalp conditions and to help promote hair growth. I'm not sure if it's true, but I'd be scared to put any oil directly on my skin like that.

By burcinc — On May 29, 2012

I'm a huge fan of Earl Grey tea. I absolutely love the aroma of it and since I've started drinking it, I don't enjoy regular black tea at all.

I had no idea that the aroma in Earl Grey comes from bergamot oranges! For some reason, the aroma of the tea has never struck me as citrus-like. And I've never seen any dried orange skin pieces in the tea and I'm sure I would have noticed since I drink loose tea.

Has the technique of adding the bergamot flavor to black tea changed? Do manufacturers still mix dried peels to make Earl Grey tea?

Now that I know what makes this tea smell so divine, I think I will seek out bergamot aromatherapy oil for my home.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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