Genetic research into the ancestral origins of extant citrus cultivars found bergamot orange to be a probable hybrid of Citrus limon and Citrus aurantium. Extracts have been used to scent food, perfumes, and cosmetics. Use on the skin can increase photosensitivity, resulting in greater damage from sun exposure.
The active ingredients in bergamot juice are neoeriocitrin, naringin, neohesperidin, ponceritin, melitidin, and mitrocin and 0.69% miriflin with 0% moisture brutieridin. Melitidin and brutieridin, only recently discovered, exist only in citrus bergamot and exhibit statin-like properties. Synephrine is not present in citrus bergamot.
Citrus bergamia is sometimes confused with (but is not the same as):
- Citrus medica – citron, the yellow fruit of which is also known as etrog; or
- Citrus limetta, the "sweet lemon" or "sweet lime".
Production is mostly limited to the Ionian Sea coastal areas of the province of Reggio di Calabria in Italy, to such an extent that it is a symbol of the entire city. Most of the bergamot comes from a short stretch of land there, where the temperature is favourable. It is also cultivated in Côte d'Ivoire.
Citrus bergamot is commercially grown in southern Calabria (province of Reggio), southern Italy. It is also grown in southern France and in Côte d'Ivoire for the essential oil and in Antalya in southern Turkey for its marmalade. The fruit is not generally grown for juice consumption. However, in Mauritius where it is grown on a small-scale basis, it is largely consumed as juice by the locals.
One hundred bergamot oranges yield about three ounces (85g) of bergamot oil.
Adulteration with cheaper products such as oil of rosewood and bergamot mint has been a problem for consumers. To protect the reputation of their produce, the Italian government introduced tight controls, including testing and certificates of purity. The Stazione Sperimentale per le Industrie delle Essenze e dei Derivati dagli Agrumi (Experimental Station for Essential Oil and Citrus By-Products) located in Reggio di Calabria, was the quality control body for the essential oil Bergamotto di Reggio Calabria DOP. During World War II, Italy was unable to export to countries such as the Allied powers. Rival products from Brazil and Mexico came on to the market as a substitute, but these were produced from other citrus fruits such as sweet lime.
Food and drink
The fruit of the bergamot orange is edible.
An essence extracted from the aromatic skin of this sour fruit is used to flavour Earl Grey and Lady Grey teas, as well as confectionery (including Turkish delight ). It is often used to make marmalade, particularly in Italy. In Sweden and Norway, bergamot is a very common flavourant in snus, a smokeless tobacco product. Likewise, in dry nasal snuff, it is also a common aroma in traditional blends. Carpentierbe, a company based in San Giorgio Morgeto, makes a digestiv liqueur derived from bergamot marketed under the name Liquore al Bergamotto.
Bergamot peel is used in perfumery for its ability to combine with an array of scents to form a bouquet of aromas which complement each other. About one-third of all men's and about half of women’s perfumes contain bergamot essential oil. Bergamot is a major component of the original Eau de Cologne composed by Farina at the beginning of the 18th century in Germany. The first record of bergamot oil as a fragrance ingredient was in 1714, to be found in the Farina Archive in Cologne.
In several patch test studies, application of some sources of bergamot oil directly to the skin of guinea pigs was shown to have a concentration-dependent phototoxic effect of increasing redness after exposure to ultraviolet light (due to the chemical bergapten, and possibly also citropten, bergamottin, geranial, and neral). This is a property shared by many other citrus fruits. Bergapten has also been implicated as a potassium channel blocker; in one case study, a patient who consumed four litres of Earl Grey tea per day (which contains bergamot essential oil as a flavouring) suffered muscle cramps.
Bergamot is also a source of bergamottin which, along with the chemically related compound 6',7'-dihydroxybergamottin, is believed to be responsible for grapefruit–drug interactions in which the consumption of the juice affects the metabolism of a variety of pharmaceutical drugs.
Bergamot is used in many skin care creams.
In the past, psoralen extracted from bergamot oil has been used in tanning accelerators and sunscreens. These substances were known to be photocarcinogenic since 1959, but they were only banned from sunscreens in 1995. These photocarcinogenic substances were banned years after they had caused many cases of malignant melanoma and deaths.
A highly concentrated extract of Bergamot has been shown to be a 'natural statin' that is beneficial in patients with dyslipidemia (an abnormal amount of lipids, such as triglycerides and cholesterol) in the blood. In a group of 107 patients with confirmed non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, the extract significantly improved all measured biochemical and ultrasonographic characteristics of the disease in 120 days without reported side effects.
Other studies have shown that Bergamot juice reduces serum levels of lipids, attributable to its high content of neoeriocitrin, neohesperidin and naringin. A study of 80 subjects with moderate hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol) found that a daily dose of a Bergamot extract significantly reduced plasma lipids and improved the lipoprotein profile. Subclinical atherosclerosis, which was assessed by carotid intima-media thickness, was also reduced significantly over a relatively short time frame of six months. Total cholesterol, triglycerides, and LDL-cholesterol were reduced, while HDL-cholesterol increased.
Evidence is insufficient to indicate that bergamot oil is of medical benefit for some of its claimed uses. Use on the skin can be unsafe, particularly for children and pregnant women. Potential side effects of drinking large amounts of bergamot oil can include convulsions and death in children.
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