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What The Heck Is Bergamot?

What The Heck Is Bergamot?

Anyone who is familiar with Earl Grey tea knows the fragrant, citrusy scent and distinct flavor of bergamot. But what the heck is it? Where does it come from?

Bergamot is a fragrant citrus fruit from the tropical, Citrus bergamia plant. Common throughout the Mediterranean, the fruit is the size of an orange, yet similar in color to a lime, or even yellowish, depending on the ripeness.

Like other citrus fruits, bergamot has a distinctive, heady fragrance and flavor. It is highly aromatic, and the essential oils are extracted from the rind. The fragrant oil is used to make perfumes, colognes, scented soaps, and of course, it gives Earl Grey tea its signature flavor and aroma. The flesh tastes the same way it smells: tart, acidic, highly fragrant, and spicy.

What Does Bergamot Taste Like?

Unlike sweet oranges, bergamot oranges are sour and not eaten fresh, despite the fact that the fruit is a good source of vitamin C, potassium, vitamins B1, B2, and A. In addition to being the star flavor of Earl Grey tea, the zest, and flesh of the bergamot fruit are used in Europe as a flavoring in cookies, custards, marmalades, syrups, and cocktails. It is also mixed with mayonnaise or pesto and served as a condiment with fish or meat entrees.

The Story Behind Earl Grey Tea

Charles, the second Earl Grey, was the Prime Minister of Great Britain in the 1830s. While we know the British enjoy their tea, it’s not entirely clear how this specific combination of black tea and citrusy bergamot become associated with Earl Grey. Stories abound about the origin of the famous tea blend.

Invented by Accident?

One story suggests it was created by accident when a container of tea and bergamot oranges were shipped together from Chinese diplomats to Earl Grey. The essence of the fruit was said to have been absorbed by the tea during transit. Another account suggests that a Chinese mandarin acquaintance created the tea blend to improve the unpleasant mineral taste of the water at the Grey estate. A London tea house claims to have released the blend at the request of Earl Grey in the 1830s. But the exact story remains a mystery. Regardless, this classic tea blend is a popular favorite and has been for almost two centuries. In fact, when Twining’s changed its Earl Grey formula back in 2011, British citizens revolted. There was even a Facebook page created about the uproar!

Fun Fact: The British use the term “cuppa” for drinking a cup of tea. For example, “let’s go grab a cuppa.”

5 Uses For Bergamot

Even though the Bergamot orange itself is not eaten, its essential oil and Earl Grey tea have many proven health benefits:

  1. Eases stress, anxiety, depression, and improves mood. When diffused, bergamot oil has powerful mood stabilizing effects. Try diffusing a few drops of the essential oil when stress and anxiety are high.
  2. Protects against diabetes, heart disease, and aids in weight loss. The UK Telegraph, Health News reported findings that drinking Earl Grey tea could help protect against heart disease, due to its bergamot content. A study by the University of Catanzaro in Italy found that bergamot could help you lose weight, and prevent diabetes by reducing blood sugar.
  3. Assists in proper digestion. Bergamot enhances the body’s digestive process. To ease discomfort and stimulate digestion, add two or three drops of Bergamot essential oil to a small amount of carrier oil, such as coconut or almond oil, in your palm. Gently rub onto the stomach area. Or sip a cup of Earl Grey tea.
  4. Reduces pain. Pour a scant amount of a carrier oil, such as coconut or almond oil, in your palm. Add two or three drops of Bergamot essential oil and gently rub directly on achy, sore muscles, or wherever a tension headache is felt. Keep oil away from the eyes.
  5. Natural deodorant and air freshener. Add a few drops of Bergamot oil to your air freshening spray, and to your deodorant, liquid soap, or beard oil. It smells great, removes bad odors, and stops the spread of germs and viruses.

Caution! Essential oils in the citrus family — lemon, orange, lemon verbena, lime, and bergamot — can cause your skin to become sensitive to ultraviolet rays of direct sunlight, sunlamps, and tanning beds. Never apply bergamot or the other noted oils to the skin prior to exposure to the Sun or these light sources. And keep away from children.

Not Your Cup of Tea?

Not everyone is a fan of Bergamot’s strong flavor and aroma. What’s your opinion—are you a fan of Earl Grey tea? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

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  • Mikki says:

    I like Earl Grey, Lady Jane Grey, Darjeeling, too but I am very fond of the 20th anniversary flavor the Republic of Tea came out with several years ago – it has a lovely aroma and a very unique flavor – they used premium Ceylon black tea leaves, white wine grapes, tea flowers, marigold petals, cornflowers and natural champagne from white wine grapes from S. Africa, and vanilla flavors – lovely with
    afternoon snack or after dinner dessert

  • Mary Beth Kopec says:

    I first discovered bergamot tea at a tea and coffee importers in Denver in the 70’s. Am so glad to read of the health benefits. Thank you for sharing! Roxborough, Colorado.

  • Paul says:

    Brew DR tea company, creme da la earl gray.

    Best I’ve had!


  • Eric says:

    I was inspired by Donald Trump’s comment regarding internally taking some sort of detergent to avoid covid19. So after his comments I thought what and when have I ever consumed that is anything remotely soapy. It reminded me of 30 odd years ago drinking Early Gray tea and how soapy it tasted. I googled “Why does Early Gray tea taste soapy” and came across Bergamot oil and also this web page How ironic you claim it may have anti viral properties. Drinking it everyday now and even bought the essential oil on eBay. Thanks for the information.

  • Sonia says:

    Have been reading the comments with much interest. I just adore real earl grey tea but trying to find a good one here in Australia is just about impossible. Nearly all of them have bergamot ‘flavour’ and no real bergamot. I have decided to make my own loose tea blend but can’t find food grade bergamot oil or bergamot rind. Was thinking of using dried rind from my kaffir lime tree. Do you think this could be a suitable alternative?

    • Susan Higgins says:

      Hi Sonia, so glad you enjoyed the article. It might be better if you could find an online seller for food-grade Bergamot for the best results.

    • Annice Glarrow says:

      Touch base with Stephanie at her shop (brick & mortar & online) The Herbal Toad. She’s a 3rd generation herbalist. I trust her & she’s so willing to share her knowledge! Tell her I recommended her!

  • Stewart says:

    Sadly we have lost Whittards tea in the Uk unless as a specialist shop but really liked their Earl grey. I now drink Wiliamsons version of Earl Grey and love it as well as the iconic Caddy tin. It certainly does relieve stomach pain, in my case saving me from taking pain meds with IBS.
    Simply love the flavour and also enjoy without milk, im told only people with no taste have milk but i like both ways making different drinks.

  • Cath says:

    Thank you for the article. Since reading that most teabags contain additives, adhesive, bleach, etc., I’ve begun drinking only loose tea. I searched for and ordered dried bergamot peel with which to make Earl Grey myself, although Vahdam makes loose Earl Grey in Black, Green, and White varieties (tried the white one and loved it). Wish me luck!

  • Jennifer Carlson says:

    I think you meant to say “Not unlike…” instead of “Unlike other citrus fruits” ? Im pretty sure that just about every citrus fruit out there is aromatic etc…

  • Sarah says:

    I’m not a fan of Earl Grey. Over the years (at least 4 decades 😉). I’ve learned people either love it or hate it. And I’ve also noticed that, at least in my circles, men tend to love it! It’s one of my husband’s favorites (not ‘only’ men though , my sister-in-law loves it too!)

  • Tim says:

    I’ve read that people taking statins to control their cholesterol should avoid grapefruit and bergamot because they can also lower cholesterol.

    • Susan Higgins says:

      That is true, Tim. Take a look at this article.

    • Madelyn Kinemond says:

      I’m not sure I understand your comment …. wouldn’t lowering cholesterol with bergamot be a good thing? I’ve read that grapefruit with statins is not good.
      It lessens effectiveness of statin..
      so are you saying bergamot lessons statin effectiveness? Thank you.

  • Paula says:

    Earl grey is my go to tea. I drink at least one cup a day. Stash brand double bergamot earl grey is my absolute favorite. Sometimes a steep one stash double bergamot tea bag with some darjeeling for a stronger tea taste. Delish!

  • Jay Conner says:

    I went looking for preserved Bergamot because it makes since a wonderful Cranberry Sauce. My usual Middle Eastern market didn’t have it, but said Cedrate Jam, which they did have was essentially the same thing. Google doesn’t verify this one way or the other.
    Any references to Cedrate and Bergamot ? The Cedrate is certainly not very aromatic.

  • Charlie M says:

    I have become hooked on this stuff by accident! About 6 years ago at a previous employer, they had different blends of tea available in the break room in single tea bag form. I was desperately craving a glass of sweet tea (typical southern US beverage) so I brewed a cup and added the sugar and Ice. Thought it tasted a little odd at first but after about 2 days of doing this I became hooked on it’s unique flavor and like it better than any other tea I have tried!

  • Barbara Tibbetts says:

    This is definitely one of my #1 “learn something new every day” moments! I was familiar with the Monarda type of bergamot but never knew there was an actual tree fruit! Thanks, Farmers’ Almanac. And, too, thanks to commenter Elmarie for the tip on distinguishing from Kaffir Lime. I seriously want to wake up my husband and friends to share this information!

  • Ross Bernhardt says:

    I’m a big black tea drinker but DESPISE Earl Grey tea. I know I’m the odd man out in that regard, but I just can’t stand the bergamot taste. It tastes like air freshener to me.

  • Elizabeth Wittmershaus says:

    Hi, yes, I love earl grey tea, but I felt the need to mention that You should NEVER apply ANY essential oil to your skin without DILUTING it first in a carrier oil, such as grapeseed, sweet almond, or coconut oil.
    Essential oils are extremely concentrated and applying it directly to the skin without diluting it first can cause serious health issues. In children and the elderly, it could be a fatal mistake.
    Essential oils are great but do your research before you start putting stuff on your skin.

  • Robert Terrace says:

    I love Earl Grey tea. I also like green tea. Maybe I should get some Bergamot oil and try it in green tea. I could create a new tea, Earl Green.

  • Phil says:

    I use a single tea bag of earl grey tea combined with a single tea bag of peppermint tea (plus about two teaspoons of honey) to get a really kicking cup of tea.
    The peppermint really helps make this cup of tea something special.
    I highly recommend it.

  • Lynn says:

    I adore Earl Grey tea, and the scent of bergamot has become a favorite.

    I was intrigued by it being one of the three essential oils used in the original scent of Poo-Pourri bathroom products, so of course had to try it! It’s a wonderful fragrance combination (and the product leaves the room smelling citrusy but not overly lemony or like traditional air fresheners!)

    And I’m thrilled to now know that it has so many health benefits! Thanks!!

  • Alghzawi Adnan says:

    I have been drinking Earl Gray tea since I was a boy and still have it. It is the coolest tea ever because of the strong bergamot flavor it contains .. It is the pragmatist that makes everything delicious and wonderful.

  • Ethel says:

    Only my favourite since I was introduced to it in 1973.

  • Dar says:

    What ever happened to the Earl Gray Liquer??

  • Krystyna Jablonska says:

    I have big tree of sour oranges.This year some of them ,left on tree at December and January become bumpy.We use them as a lemon and make ice cubes for tee ,drinks.
    I am wondering if this is Bergamot? Before they didn’t have bumps.This is first year.This tree is 10 years old.

  • Elmarie says:

    Hi I think the picture shown above is not Bergamot but actually Citrus hystrix, called the kaffir lime. The leaves are so distinctive on the kaffir lime tree. Citrus bergamia, the bergamot orange does not have this characteristic. Easy mistake to make as searching google images for bergamot pulls up a lot of Kaffir lime pics. Blessings.

    • Susan Higgins says:

      Hi Elmarie, thank you so much for your note! You are correct! Getting ahold of a true Citrus bergamia image proved to be a bit of a challenge. We swapped it out. Thanks for the heads up!

  • Andrea says:

    I’ve always enjoyed Earl Grey tea, but my mother got me hooked on Earl Grey with lavender. It’s the perfect compliment to the bergamot. I recently bought some local honey infused with lavender so that i can have it in my other teas too.

  • Dx says:

    Earl Grey is our favorite. My grown kids love it. I buy organic loose tea and brew it. I also love Earl Grey Creme. I have various containers in my cupboard and I try it everywhere I go. I do stay away from twinnings and other bags that are not organic due to all the bad stuff those companies use.

  • joyce says:

    Thanks for the info. Now I know why I quit drinking Twinings Earl Grey some years ago. I have ordered some British Earl Grey online and it is definitely better, but then again, the British really know their tea! I also like Bigelow’s version.

  • Deborah says:

    To me Bergamot is an irresistible elixir. I am quite fond of the taste and adore the aroma. Earl Grey Tea is an absolute in my house. I also enjoy candles and and other products infused with Bergamot.

  • Barbara says:

    Diane, I began planting Bee Balm (also known as Monarda) a couple of years ago. If the scent resembles anything, it’s oregano, not bergamot. In my opinion, neither flavors are what I want in my tea. Maybe bergamot is similar in appeal to cilantro where, to some who are genetically hardwired, it tastes like soap. To me, Earl Grey is like drinking perfume!

  • Lainey says:

    I’m not a fan of Earl Grey tea at all.
    However, Lady Grey tea (Twinings) is my go-to favourite.

  • Christine (Planutis)Santee says:

    Earl Grey has been my favorite for many years. My parents drank it almost daily and introduced me to it. When in England, Earl Grey was the “go to” tea of choice with butter cookies, scones and Watercress sandwiches on buttered bread! Odd? Not if you’ve tasted it! I use the tea bags simply because they are so convenient but I prefer brewed tea in a pre-warmed pot which is the proper way to have it.

  • Amelia M. Cabral says:

    Love Earl Gray! My daughter introduced me to “London Fog” Hot Earl Gray with cream and vanilla sugar. I am addicted! I make my vanilla sugar by placing a split vanilla bean in some sugar so it’s ways ready! I like to froth the tea.

  • Laura says:

    Love the aroma and flavor of Bergamot tea.Comforting and soothing after meals or if a digestive issue is at work.
    Just a nice choice for a tea break with a few shortbread biscuits or scones.
    Also in some body creams or lotions adds a nice scent and helps destress.
    My favorite tea of all.

  • Brenda says:

    I have always thought Earl Grey tea reminded me of a cleaning product! It seems to taste the way some cleaning products smell. But, due to all of it’s benefits I may need to reconsider.

  • Aliye says:

    I just love black/bergamot tea. We have tea form bergamot in Turkey ready to brew, quite strong tea but real one.

  • Diane says:

    My mother, grandmother and I grew a plant we called Bee Balm. It has different colored pink and reddish blooms. The aroma that abounds if you mash a leaf smells just like bergamot and we were told the tea was made from them. Is that wrong? Or could it simply be a second source?

    • Susan Higgins says:

      Hi Diane, a fresh leaf of bee balm infused with tea will produce a flavor of Earl Grey Tea. But it’s not actually used in the tea making.

  • Cindy says:

    I always feel better after drinking a cup of Earl Grey tea. Bergamot essential oil is a favorite for my lava stone essential oil pendant – it makes me feel mentally strong and clear all day with just a quick smell.

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