Bergamot - The Invaluable Fragrance Blender

What does our dazzling and invigorating Santorini Wander Bubble, our mysterious and spicy Marrakech Wander Bubble, and our uplifting and joyful Celebrate Harmony Bubble have in common? Besides being some of The Bubble Collection’s top sellers, these fragrances all have bergamot perfume oil as a top note in their compositions. What is this amazing accord and why is it so popular?

In fact, it’s used in different proportions in almost all modern perfumes – particularly within chypre and fougere fragrance families. Initially, bergamot gives a fresh, airy, uplifting quality, so it is not surprising that in aromatherapy bergamot is actually used to treat depression,  For perfumers, it’s invaluable for helping to blend notes into a single bouquet.


What is Bergamot?

Bergamot is a bitter, inedible citrus fruit – often called a bergamot orange. The scent of bergamot is fruity and citrusy, with floral hints and spicy notes. The fruit has a bitter, tart flavor and is the size of an orange, with a yellow-green color similar to a lemon.  The juice tastes less sour than lemon, but more bitter than grapefruit – which explains why bergamot has become known for its aromatic essential oil, rather than as something we eat for breakfast, although it is enjoyed in Greece as a candied preserve.

Bergamot is the fragrant citrus fruit of the Citrus bergamia, a small, spiny, evergreen tree which blossoms during the winter. The tree originated in the tropical climes of South East Asia and is now grown commercially in the province of Calabria in Southern Italy. This delightful little tree is pruned to grow no taller than twelve to sixteen feet and blooms from April to May, producing delicate white flowers with five petals. From November to December, and sometimes extending into March, you will find bergamot trees bulging with fruit ready to harvest. During the winter harvest the skin of the fruit is cultivated and is cold pressed for its oils, flavors and scents.

The History of Bergamot and Perfume

Since the beginning of the sixteenth century, the bergamot gained prominence as an ornamental plant that decked the gardens of the aristocratic Italian families. After gaining popularity in the Italian peninsula, it was Italian emigrants that introduced it to the rest of Europe. In 1686, Francis Procopius, a gentleman from Sicily, introduced “bergamot water,” a very fine essence obtained from the peel of bergamot fruit, to France. Almost at the same time, in the German city of Cologne, another Italian emigrant, Paolo Feminis, developed eau de cologne, perhaps the most widely used toilet water that was ever commercialized, with bergamot as its base note. For centuries, the essential oil of bergamot has had a close link to perfumery and scent, even used to scent small papier-mâché boxes for keeping small precious mementos – like locks of hair and love letters.

The European demand for bergamot oil grew quickly. So, in 1750, the Giunchi Feudal Estate near the town of Reggio Calabria, became the first known bergamot orchard, when it was planted by the owner Nicola Parisi. Later, the cultivation of bergamot increased and expanded rapidly in Calabria, along the Straits of Messina, in a narrow strip of land about a hundred kilometers long. Today this area provides 80% of the world bergamot production. 


Perché Calabria?

Why is the best bergamot oil produced in Calabria? The peculiar microclimate with its sunny summers and mild winters, the beginning of Spring and Autumn with abundant rains, the local geography that offers protection from wind, combined with its calcareous and alluvial soil, allows this plant to flourish. It is common to hear the people of Calabria speak of bergamot as "green gold.”

There are currently three distinct varieties of bergamot: “Femminello”, “Castagnaro” and “Fantastico”. The “Femminello” variety is a fast-growing plant with lanceolate leaves, spherical fruit and a thin outer layer rich in essential oils; it is the more aromatic, and it is therefore, preferred to the other varieties. It is also the earliest because its harvest begins in early October. The “Castagnaro” variety is a rustic plant, resistant to strong winds and long-lived, with large and lanceolate leaves and globular fruit with an outer layer of medium thickness. Its harvest begins in November. The “Fantastico” variety is a rustic and highly-productive plant with very large leaves, globular, pear-shaped fruit and an aromatic oil. Although it has been introduced more recently, it constitutes the largest percentage of fruit production. The harvest-time of “Fantastico” is between November and December.

Bergamot Trivia

The word bergamot derives from bergomotta in Italian and from Bergamum, a town in Italy.  But references also exist, indicating the name comes from the Turkish word beg-armudi – which translates as ‘prince’s pear’ - a fitting title as it is bergamot that gives Earl Grey tea its distinct flavor. 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.

The cultivation of bergamot continues to be of prime importance to the economy of Calabria. The European Union has recognized the bergamot essence of Reggio Calabria, as a product of DOP (Protected Denomination of Origin). The Calabrian Regional Board has delegated the “Bergamot Consortium” to guarantee both the purity of the essence and its continuous availability.

With its uplifting quality and its prime importance in the history of perfume, it is no wonder that bergamot is such a prominent note in our Santorini Wander Bubble, Marrackech Wander Bubble and Celebrate Harmony Bubble fragrances. Those genderless scents, as well as the rest of The Bubble Collection, are now available in our online E-Shop.

The Fascinating History of Bergamot (Citrus Bergamia Risso & Poiteau), 27 the Exclusive Essence of Calabria: A Review
What The Heck Is Bergamot? by Deborah Tukua
Bergamot, The Perfume Society
Citrus Bergamia: Bergamot and its Derivatives, Giovanni Dugo and Ivana Bonaccorsi
Il Bergamotto (The Bergamot), by Michele De Luca, Laruffa Editore