What The Heck Is Bergamot?

What The Heck Is Bergamot?image preview

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.

Deborah Tukua is a natural living, healthy lifestyle writer and author of 7 non-fiction books, including Naturally Sweet Blender Treats. She has been a writer for the Farmers' Almanac since 2004. Her article on salt-based home remedies appears in the 2020 Farmers' Almanac.

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maria teresa
maria teresa
10 hours ago

I like it as i am a fan of the citrus fruit.

Kev
Kev
6 days ago

Excellent article I had always wondered at the citrus flavour. Did Twinings change the recipe back? I hope so!

Annie Mayfield
Annie Mayfield
25 days ago

I haven’t tried Earl Grey tea yet but I’m about to! I got my mom this tea based on Pride and Prejudice from this small business called The Literary Tea Company! They have teas based on all sorts of books and it’s super cute! This tea is a blend of black tea and bergamot and I didn’t know what bergamot was so I looked it up! Fingers crossed!

Larry Young
Larry Young
1 month ago

Earl Grey tea has been my favorite tea ever since I started drinking tea 60 years ago. I didn’t know of all its properties & health benefits until I read this article. Thank you for sharing.

Susan Higgins
Susan Higgins
1 month ago
Reply to  Larry Young

Thank you for your comment, Larry! Glad you found it helpful.

Norma
Norma
1 month ago

I find it is soothing to sip always feel much better after a cuppa Earl
Grey always

Joe
Joe
1 month ago

Studies have shown that not only grapefruit but bergamot has an effect on cholesterol medications and persons taking these meds should check with their doctor about the side effects.

Susan Higgins
Susan Higgins
1 month ago
Reply to  Joe

Hi Joe, because we are not a medical site, we hope that people taking medications talk with their doctor about any restrictions to their diet.

Mikki
Mikki
1 month ago

Enjoy Earl Grey, Lady Jane Grey, Darjeeling, too

Susan Arlene Tschantz
Susan Arlene Tschantz
1 month ago

this was a really informative article. well written and easy to read and understand, Thank you.

Karen Van Buskirk
Karen Van Buskirk
1 month ago

My favorite tea. Great for relaxing, easing discomfort of most kinds. Drink it often.

Susan Higgins
Susan Higgins
1 month ago

Isn’t it so wonderful? Interesting that I will only drink it hot. Have you ever tried it iced?

Craig Laird
1 month ago

We love our Earl Grey loose leaf teas at The Vine and Leaf! Earl Grey, Earl Grey Green, Earl Grey Lavender and Earl Grey Moonlight (with Vanilla). All natural!

Susan Higgins
Susan Higgins
1 month ago
Reply to  Craig Laird

Wonderful!

AJ Wellner
AJ Wellner
1 month ago

I’m an avid tea drinker and Earl Gray is one of my top choices. I have a question – within the last 8 years or so I’ve noticed I haven’t been able to drink a bedtime cup of non organic tea without having an immensely dry mouth through out the night. This is so extreme that it can’t be quenched by drinking water. It isn’t as drastic with an organic variety. Can you tell me is it a chemical they are now using in the drying process or is it some type of medical condition I’ve acquired. I’d be interested in seeing an article on your conclusion. Thank you.

Susan Higgins
Susan Higgins
1 month ago
Reply to  AJ Wellner

Hmmm, AJ, I would suggest getting it checked out with a Dr. Excessive thirst is a symptom of other conditions that may not be related to the tannins in the tea. Are you drinking the tea black or with other additions?

Susie
Susie
3 months ago

My son in law and I absolutely love Earl gray tea with bergamot.

Mikki
Mikki
4 months ago

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
Mary Beth Kopec
6 months ago

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
Paul
7 months ago

Brew DR tea company, creme da la earl gray.

Best I’ve had!

Peace

Eric
Eric
8 months ago

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
Sonia
9 months ago

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
Susan Higgins
9 months ago
Reply to  Sonia

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
Annice Glarrow
4 months ago
Reply to  Sonia

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
Stewart
11 months ago

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
Cath
1 year ago

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
Jennifer Carlson
1 year ago

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…

Susan Higgins
Susan Higgins
1 year ago

Thank you, Jennifer. We have fixed the story.

Paco Lesile
Paco Lesile
9 months ago

Ewww. Jennifer, Jenny Jen, real icky comment. Debbie’s article is great.

Sarah
Sarah
1 year ago

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
Tim
1 year ago

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

Susan Higgins
Susan Higgins
1 year ago
Reply to  Tim

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

Madelyn Kinemond
Madelyn Kinemond
10 months ago
Reply to  Tim

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.

Gary
Gary
2 months ago
Reply to  Tim

Statins tend to lower cholesterol near target level. Bergamot get you all the way there….it depends..

Paula
Paula
1 year ago

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
Jay Conner
1 year ago

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
Charlie M
1 year ago

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
Barbara Tibbetts
1 year ago

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
Ross Bernhardt
1 year ago

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
Elizabeth Wittmershaus
1 year ago

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
Robert Terrace
1 year ago

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
Phil
1 year ago

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
Lynn
1 year ago

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
Alghzawi Adnan
1 year ago

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
Ethel
2 years ago

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

Dar
Dar
2 years ago

What ever happened to the Earl Gray Liquer??

Krystyna Jablonska
Krystyna Jablonska
2 years ago

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
Elmarie
2 years ago

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
Susan Higgins
2 years ago
Reply to  Elmarie

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
Andrea
2 years ago

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
Dx
2 years ago

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
joyce
2 years ago

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
Deborah
2 years ago

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
Barbara
2 years ago

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
Lainey
2 years ago

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

Christine (Planutis)Santee
Christine (Planutis)Santee
2 years ago

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
Amelia M. Cabral
2 years ago

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
Laura
2 years ago

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
Brenda
2 years ago

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.

Gary
Gary
2 months ago
Reply to  Brenda

Earl Grey always reminded me of Captain Picard!

Aliye
Aliye
2 years ago

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

Diane
Diane
2 years ago

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
Susan Higgins
2 years ago
Reply to  Diane

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.

Norma
Norma
1 month ago
Reply to  Diane

Bee Balm is a great addition and very healthy drink onas it is packed with vitamins as well.

Cindy
Cindy
2 years ago

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.