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What The Heck Is Bergamot?

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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.

Unlike 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.

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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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20 comments

1 Ethel { 03.24.18 at 10:37 pm }

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

2 Dar { 03.07.18 at 3:36 am }

What ever happened to the Earl Gray Liquer??

3 Krystyna Jablonska { 02.25.18 at 7:50 pm }

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.

4 Susan Higgins { 02.28.18 at 3:36 pm }

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!

5 Elmarie { 02.25.18 at 6:09 pm }

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.

6 Andrea { 02.25.18 at 1:44 pm }

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.

7 Dx { 02.25.18 at 9:04 am }

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.

8 joyce { 02.22.18 at 9:48 am }

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.

9 Deborah { 02.21.18 at 5:56 pm }

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.

10 Barbara { 02.21.18 at 5:04 pm }

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!

11 Lainey { 02.21.18 at 4:06 pm }

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

12 Susan Higgins { 02.21.18 at 4:20 pm }

Hi Christine, That’s a perfect English Tea if we ever heard one! Sounds delicious!

13 Christine (Planutis)Santee { 02.21.18 at 11:33 am }

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.

14 Amelia M. Cabral { 02.21.18 at 10:04 am }

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.
.

15 Laura { 02.21.18 at 8:26 am }

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.

16 Brenda { 02.21.18 at 8:04 am }

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.

17 Aliye { 02.21.18 at 7:52 am }

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

18 Susan Higgins { 02.21.18 at 9:06 am }

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.

19 Diane { 02.21.18 at 7:40 am }

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?

20 Cindy { 02.21.18 at 7:38 am }

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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