The Ingredient Series: Bergamot


Thought to be a hybrid of lemon and bitter orange, Bergamot (Citrus Bergamia) exudes the most exotic of the citrus notes. Believed to have origins in South East Asia, Bergamot has spread throughout the world via ancient land and sea trading routes. Its sweet and floral oil has been used since ancient times to heal mind, body, and soul in Egypt, China, and India. It can be found in food and beverages, most famously in Earl Grey Tea, perfumes, cosmetics, and aromatherapy.

To produce one kilogram of bergamot essence, prized for its uplifting and refreshingly bright aromas, requires the rinds of approximately two hundred kilograms of fruit. Bergamot, from the Turkish word ‘Beg- a- Mudi’ or ‘pear of the prince’, is a bitter or sour member of the citrus family. In winter, small, fragrant, star-shaped flowers begin to blossom, and the fruit, a yellow-green pear-shaped citrus, appears during the summer. It is harvested by hand between November and January and its aromatic rind is cold-pressed for making oils, flavors, and scents.

It is commonly used in aromatherapy to relieve symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression. It has therapeutic, antibacterial, and antiseptic properties, and in cosmetics is used in various forms. Often used as a deodorant, to clean pores, strengthen skin tissues, and to help achieve glowing, even-toned skin, it also blends seamlessly into almost any perfume composition and these days, it is rare to find a perfume that does not contain the fruity-floral essence.

Had you walked through the gardens of the Italian aristocrats of the 16th century, you would have been likely to find bergamot, a common ornamental plant. It wasn't until the late 17th century that a Sicilian, Francis Procopius, introduced bergamot’s fine essence pressed from the skins, to France. It didn’t take long for the precious ingredient to be the height of fashion, with members of King Louis XIVth’s court strutting around smelling of bergamot oil. It was also around that time that Paolo Feminis, an Italian immigrant living in the German town of Cologne, developed the first Eau de Cologne using bergamot oil as a primary component. Rumor has it, even Napoleon was a fan and had seventy-two bottles of bergamot-scented water delivered to him in exile. Shortly after, European demand grew exponentially and towards the end of the 18th century, the first Bergamot orchard was planted in Calabria. Today, eighty percent of the world’s bergamot hails from Italy’s Calabria region, cultivated in a narrow strip of land, about one hundred kilometers long.

Neither too feminine nor too masculine, bergamot oil has been lauded for centuries, and maintains its stature as an extremely precious ingredient.

Find out more about beauty products that contain bergamot oil.

Cover Illustration by Lihi Jacob