Bergamot – Prince of citrus fruits that conquered the world

bergamot tree

Have you ever tasted the fruit that has two PDOs (Protected Designation of Origin)? Do you know which fruit’s essence was used to create Eau de Cologne? And what about the famous Earl Grey Tea by Twinings? Is Twinings’ success the merit of Earl Grey’s discovery of aromatic essence in distant China or of Bergamot from Calabria? If you would like to discover more about Bergamot – Prince of citrus fruits that conquered the world, follow me…

The origins of the name “Bergamot”

Be sure that the name “Bergamot” has nothing to do with Bergamo. Bergamo is a city situated in northern Italy where climatic conditions are far from being optimal for cultivating citrus trees. So, please, don’t come up with strange and farfetched hypotheses like this or something like  “Berga” near Barcelona or Pergamon of Ancient Troy!

The most credible etymological hypothesis is that the name of the fruit derives from Turkish “Bey armudu” or “Begarmundi” which means “Prince’s pear”. Moreover, its shape is indeed very similar to that of bergamot pear!

Autochthonous or transplanted?

Hypotheses about Ancient Greece, China, the Canary Islands or the Antilles?…. Let them go! Some historical facts, the delicate nature of the bergamot tree, means of transport at that time, no doubt, confirm that it is native to Calabria!

And furthermore, 90% of bergamot trees are still grown in Calabria. Just see the yellow line on the map beneath. All the attempts to transplant them in other places like France or Ivory Coast failed because of the lack of chemical elements of the fruit and, in consequence, its scare quality. Nothing to do, bergamot needs its own microclimate, soil rich of minerals and the sirocco wind!

PDO Bergamot map
PDO Bergamot map*

The great debut at the court of Louis XIV of France

Obsessed by the desire to make a fortune, during his short stay in Calabria while traveling to France, Sicilian France Francesco Procopio de’ Coltelli, discovered the power of this fruit and its intense perfume. The idea to bring bergamot water to the court of Louis XIV had great success! Of course, you will wonder why?!!! I’ll give you an answer immediately… At that time at the court in Versailles there lived something like 15.000 people. The properties of bergamot water turned out to be an unexpected solution to medical problems. Moreover, the impossibility to use the water because of the plague and other infectious diseases generated hygienical problems and diffused horrible smells. That’s why the intense perfume of bergamot water was so essential at the court!

Riding a wave of success, in 1686 France Francesco Procopio established the still existing “Cafè Procope” right in front of the Comédie-Française where Molière’s famous company used to play. And… no doubt, just to keep Calabrian traditions, you can still taste Bergamot-flavoured sorbets and water-ices there!

The secret of success of Eau de Cologne

In 1660, while staying in Reggio Calabria, the merchant Gian Paolo Feminis learned that the oil extracted from bergamot peels, fixed other fragrances and kept their aromatic power for a long time. Once moved to Cologne, Germany in 1704, Feminis started the production of “acqua mirabilis” which some years later became the celebrated “Eau de Cologne“.

Before his death, Feminis managed to leave the precious recipe to another Italian Giovanni Antonio Farina who continued the business successfully passing it on to his family.

Twinings Earl Grey: the essence discovered by Earl Grey in distant China or Bergamot from Calabria?

No doubt, everyone has tasted Earl Grey Tea by Twinings at least once in his own life! Have you seen the inscription “Aromatic black tea blend, scented with a citrus bergamot flavor” on the packaging? Ok, let me spend a few words on the subject…

In 1830 the English company Twinings started the production of the famous Earl Grey tea. The success was so great that it made the company the absolute leader in the field.

However, the legend says that Earl Grey discovered this aromatic essence in distant China and not in Italy. On the English site of Twinings, you can find the article dedicated to bergamot. Twinings refers that “citrus bergamia originated in the tropical climes of South East Asia and is now grown commercially in the province of Calabria in Southern Italy”.  Twinings’ version, as expected, doesn’t correspond to the Italian one. Both Bergamot consortium and Pasquale Amato in his book “History of Bergamot” affirm that the fruit is most probably native to Calabria.

Bergamot oil: the passage from the manual extraction to the usage of the Calabrian machine and to the complete mechanization

The manual extraction, rarely used nowadays, consists of cutting the fruit in half, pulling out the pulp and pressing the peel against the natural sponge. The oil and the liquid are collected in a special bowl and then separated due to the decantation process.

In 1844 Nicola Barillà changed radically the industry by inventing the Calabrian machine. Certainly, it allowed to reduce the extraction time and improve the quality of essence.

Calabrian machine
Calabrian machine***

Of course, nowadays, to satisfy market demand, Bergamot producers use advanced peeling machines and centrifuges.

Protected Designation of Origin “Bergamot of Reggio Calabria – essential oil”

In 2001 the Decree of the European Union established Protected Designation of Origin “Bergamot of Reggio Calabria – essential oil”. As you can see, PDO concerns both fruit and oil that once again confirms the uniqueness of “Calabrian Green Gold”.

The Prince’s “miracles”

For sure, if you manage to drink Bergamot juice, especially a fresh one diluted with water, regularly, you will avoid cholesterol problems, reduce anemia, keep your heart healthy and improve bone and muscle conditions!

Moreover, Bergamot has antiseptic, healing and skin rebalancing qualities, that’s why it is so indispensable in cosmetics and pharmacy production.

And the last but not least property of our Prince of citrus fruits is antistress function. It’s just enough to smell the Bergamot oil essence to feel calm and optimistic!

Cakes and pastries with Bergamot

Beneath in slide gallery you can enjoy some photos… Do not overdo with desserts, otherwise, the anticholesterol effect of Bergamot juice will fade away quickly! I’m joking, of course… Bye-bye!

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The photos were taken from  *google-images; **internet site; ***the book “History of Bergamot” by Pasquale Amato



“Storia del Bergamotto di Reggio Calabria”, Pasquale Amato, Città del Sole Edizioni s.a.s. – 2012;
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