What is a Bergamot?

bergamots

During citrus season in France, if you’re lucky, you’ll run across something called a bergamot. They’re not brilliant yellow like regular lemons, but a sort of orangey color, and when split open, they’re quite juicy and the flavor is much sweeter than regular lemons. In fact, they often call them citrons doux, which translates to “sweet lemons.”

Last year when I was making bergamot marmalade from them, which has become everyone’s new favorite marmalade around me, I was reading a little more about bergamots and some people who don’t live in France said that they tried using bergamots in various things and the flavor was so balmy and overwhelming they were hard to enjoy.

Rachel Saunders, in The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook, said that although bergamot marmalade was one of their most popular flavors, called the flavor on its own “completely overpowering and unpalatable.”

bergamots

Scratching my head, when I was at the natural foods store last week, where I like to prowl for unusual citrus, just next to the regular bergamots I saw something I’ve never seen in France before: a box of yellow round fruits labeled bergamotto, from Italy. Much rounder and firmer, when split open (on the right), the pulp and juice were greenish and yes – tasted a bit challenging.

Determined to figure out what was going on, I did a bit of sleuthing around and found out that a true bergamot (citrus bergamia risso) is likely a derivation of a sour orange, thus the intense acidity. The fruit is valued in the perfume industry because the rind contains intensely flavored oils that have an elusive, yet slightly mesmerizing quality. And if you’re wondered what that unusual ingredient in your cup of Earl Grey tea was, that’s bergamot essential oil. They’re one of those fruits that you take a sniff of and are something you perhaps never smelled anything like it, but aren’t sure how you would use it. I made a vinaigrette with mine as a base, in place of the vinegar, and it was pretty delicious and I wonder if any readers have any other thoughts for using them?

bergamots

In France what are called bergamots, shown above, are also called citron beldi or limonette de Marrakech or Moroccan limetta elsewhere, and shipped from Tunisia or Morocco. Citrus limetta is a species of citrus often referred to as sweet lemons or sweet limes. According to the University of California horticultural website, Citrus limetta Risso (or what are called bergamots in France) “are sometimes incorrectly referred to as bergamots.” Mystery solved!


Related Links and Recipes

Citrus Limetta Risso (University of California, Riverside)

Earl Grey Tea (BBC)

Bergamot orange (Wikipedia)

What gives Earl Grey tea its taste? (Boston Globe)

Bergamot orange versus Bergamot herb (The Epicentre)

Bergamot Marmalade

Citron Limetta (Wikipedia)

Candied Citron

Seville Orange Marmalade

Tarte au Citron

Beguiling bergamot (San Francisco magazine)

Citrus Oils

Lemon Curd

Bergamot Orange Custard Cups (Hungry Cravings)

Whole Lemon Bars

Citrus

Bergamot Madeleines (Chez Pim)

Glazed Candied Citron

The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook (Amazon)

107 comments

  • Sweet post. I just did a post on bergamot as well a couple of weeks ago, http://bangbangbroccoli.com/2011/02/25/bergamot/
    We do a couple of different things with bergamot, candy the zest, “confit” the supremes, make a whole fruit puree by blanching it in simple syrup three or four times, made a vinaigrette to dress sardines with.

  • I’m ashamed to admit I knew there is a citrus fruit called bergamot (well, it’s in Earl Grey tea, isn’t it), but never really thought about the specifics of that particular fruit. They look cute with their ‘nipple’, and I’ll definitely keep my eyes open for one when travelling to France next time..

  • I absolutely love bergamot scent/flavor and use the essential oil in all kinds of things, but I have never seen the actual fruit. Which is silly because I live in Italy. So thanks for posting this! I love your blog, I have been following you for a bit now, vicariously eating around Paris with you. I added a link to your blog on my own so I can send some more people your way!

    Congrats on your new paperback release!

  • I drank bergamot tea in a Korean restaurant in Berlin once and loved it. Prior to reading your post I had no clue about bergamot and the fruit being called bergamot but being something else, therefore I’m not sure what was in that tea. But it was great…

  • Our favorite use for bergamot is in cocktails! This is a recipe we came up with for a cocktail named the Risso:

    1.5 oz gin (Back River)
    .5 oz Pelinkovac
    .5 oz bergamot orange juice
    .75 oz Apricot Brandy.
    .25 oz. Simple syrup
    Bergamot orange oils

    Shake all ingredients with ice. Double-strain into chilled cocktail glass. Express oils from zest over cocktail. Discard zest.

    We have also been steeping some of the zest in grain alcohol to make some bergamot orange bitters. Has anyone else used bergamot in cocktails?

  • I’ve been wondering about bergamots forever! Thanks for clearing it all up.

  • OOOH Greg, your Risso cocktail recipe sounds sublime. I shall have to search out neighbours with bergamot trees and hope they have some fruit left so I can make a whole bottle of your cocktail then that will see me through the long hot Cyprus summer by the pool……whew!

    Inspired by David’s Mum and her intuitive jams I melted down a kilo of fresh, early-produced strawberries, added sugar, lemon juice and stirred in several scoops of my homemade bergamot jam. A nice combination. The bergamot perks up the rather bland strawberry, which really isn’t so good being forced in hot-houses Does the god Pergamos have a connection with this fruit, or is my greek mythology a bit skewed? Love from the island of Aphrodite.