Bergamot: properties, benefits, and best uses in cooking

Bergamot: a citrus fruit with an intense, very fragrant, precious flavor. Many know it for its uses in the cosmetics or aromatherapy sectors, but it finds multiple applications in the creation of gourmet dishes.

The species probably derives from a cross between bitter orange and acid lime, even if many consider it a real species called Citrus bergamia Risso (of Chinese origin).

However, not everyone knows that this precious citrus fruit has many important properties for its nutritional benefits and therefore it can be used in the kitchen in unique and balanced recipes also from the point of view of nutritional content.

A few words about its origin

Bergamot is a citrus of the genus Citrus: its name derives from the Turkish term beg armudi, which means “pear of the Lord”. The plant that produces it, Citrus bergamia, is an evergreen tree between three and four meters high: it has white flowers with a strong aroma, glossy and fleshy leaves.

The bergamot fruit, with a slightly flattened round shape, has a beautiful intense yellow color and is grown mainly in coastal areas.

Its origin is uncertain: it is probably the result of a genetic mutation of citrus species such as lemon or bitter orange.

There is also no reliable information on its origin: some stories handed down verbally indicate its presence on the Canary Islands, from which it would have been imported by Christopher Columbus; other sources, however, speak of China, Greece, or the city of Berga in Spain.

It is said that the Moor of Spain sold a branch to the Valentino family of Reggio Calabria for 18 scudi: they grafted it on a bitter orange in their possession in the Santa Caterina district, thus starting the great Calabrian production.

In any case, the first intensive plantation was started by a landowner in the mid-eighteenth century, along the Reggio coast, in the bottom of Rada dei Giunchi: an area located in the northern part of the municipality of Reggio Calabria.

The true modern homeland of this citrus fruit is Calabria: here it has found the ideal conditions to grow and thrive. Its production area, in fact, is limited to the Ionian coastal area in the province of Reggio (called Costa Viola): a flat area sheltered from the strong wind of the Strait of Messina, thanks to the surrounding hills, which extends for about 150 kilometers, about 2 kilometers from the sea.

One of the most important cultivation areas is that of Melito di Porto Salvo: these lands, every year, in the period between November and January, give the greatest contribution to production in terms of quantity.

Bergamot is grown in three main varieties:

  • femminello, which produces smaller and smoother fruits and is the most productive;
  • castagnaro, which instead produces larger and more wrinkled fruits;
  • fantastico, similar to the feminello, but with pear-shaped fruits that is more elongated in shape.

The production of bergamot in the province of Reggio covers between 70 and 80% of world production: here the citrus fruit is covered by the Controlled Designation of Origin (PGI).

Nutritional Properties

In 100 grams of bergamot there are 10.7 g of carbohydrates, 1.4 g of fiber, 0.65 g of protein, 0.25 g of fat and 42 calories. In detail:

  • is rich in vitamin C, which helps the immune system and acts as an antioxidant, stopping premature aging.
  • also contains vitamin A, which is ideal for good skin, eye and hair health.
  • Contains important mineral salts, in particular potassium (133 mg), but also sodium, calcium and iron.
  • In addition to vitamin A, it contains other antioxidants, including flavonoids, which help prevent various types of diseases.

Essential oil and nutrition

Very famous for its essential oil, bergamot has many beneficial properties also from a dietary point of view.

  • Helps prevent cardiovascular disease. A recent study by the University of Cosenza has shown it to have properties that prevent heart disease. Thanks to the many polyphenols it contains, but also to vitamin C, bergamot has an antioxidant and heart protection action. An Italian research carried out a few years ago by the University of Rome Tor Vergata proved this scientifically. In addition, bergamot fights premature aging and the action of free radicals, again thanks to antioxidants.
  • Prevents cholesterol. The flavonoids that this citrus fruit contains, for example, counteract the “bad” cholesterol (LDL) and triglycerides in the blood, instead raising the levels of “good” cholesterol (HDL). Specifically, this would be due to an antioxidant called Naringenin.
  • Helps lower blood sugar. It is always Naringenin that increases the assimilation of glucose in the muscles and liver which consequently contributes to reducing blood glucose levels and improving insulin activity. This action makes bergamot a very precious fruit for those suffering from high blood sugar and diabetes.
  • It can be useful for fighting anemia. Thanks to the high content of B vitamins and vitamin C, bergamot juice improves the absorption of iron and is useful in supporting therapies for anemia. Also thanks to vitamin C, it helps to strengthen the immune system, warding off seasonal diseases.
  • Strengthens bones and helps keep them healthy. Vitamins still exert a valid restorative action in bone disorders caused, for example by calcium deficiencies, but also in dental disorders.
  • A study by the University of Catanzaro also demonstrated the action of its essence as an anti-microbial and fungicide.

In general, bergamot and its juice can be consumed by anyone, with the exception of those who are intolerant to single components, and in any case with the same precautions with which other citrus fruits are consumed, for example in subjects with gastric diseases.

Uses of Bergamot

Bergamot is mainly used in perfumery, as it is the base, but also in the natural cosmetics sector, with the use of essential oil.

Bergamot oil is obtained from the citrus peel and is cold extracted, in order to keep all its components intact.

Let’s see what it is for:

  • has beneficial effects for the skin, thanks to its high content of antioxidants and vitamins, in particular vitamin A. This is why it is often used in anti-aging creams. In addition, it is also often used for the treatment of cellulite, exploiting its heating properties to perform massages capable of reactivating microcirculation.
  • Can also be used as a disinfectant, applying it to the skin to clean superficial wounds; but also as a healing agent and to combat nail fungus.
  • It helps against bad breath. 4-5 drops of essential oil in a glass of water and gargle twice a day are enough.
  • It is perfect for fighting dandruff and preventing hair loss.
  • If the essential oil is to be put in contact with the skin, it is important to choose the one free from bergapten. In fact, these are substances contained in bergamot that in contact with the skin can cause spots and erythema especially with sun exposure: however, there are suitably processed products that do not contain any.

The aroma of bergamot is often used in aromatherapy, in fact it is useful for combating anxiety and depression.

Bergamot in cooking

Thanks to its penetrating and intense flavor, bergamot has recently been rediscovered by many chefs and included in numerous dishes, from first courses to desserts. In the rest of the world, bergamot often finds space in Asian cuisine, where it is used to refresh spicy dishes such as curry with vegetables or meat.

Apart from tea with bergamot (the English are the first consumers in the world), a very famous drink, bergamot juice can also be used to create other dishes: to season pasta, for example, associating it with extra virgin olive oil. ‘olive, to blend fish or roasts, to flavor white risotto or give an extra sprint to salads.

It can be used to create marinades with which to “cook” raw fish or meat, to create slushes and sorbets to combine with savory dishes, but also to prepare a thirst-quenching drink for the summer. Bergamot is also often used in desserts, to flavor creams to be used in cakes or shortcrust tartlets, or in the form of candied fruit or even to pleasantly flavor grandma’s cake.

Here we suggest some recipes we have experimented with ourselves

The “art tile” that appears in some photos is kindly granted by “Estroflessoceramico” because the “right Taste” is not only a flavor, but also an artistic experimentation and it is with art that you want to connect.