Bergamot History

The bergamot has been known in the Mediterranean for several centuries, the distinctive and desirable characteristics of its oil having been recognized as early as 1750. Two kinds were described by Volckamer (1708-14, p. 155) and five by Risso and Poiteau (1818-22). Presumably it originated as a seedling in southern Italy. While there is general agreement that the sour orange has one parent, the other parent is a matter of conjecture. It has usually been assumed that it was the lemon, but Chapot (1962b) has presented rather convincing evidence in support of the conclusion that some kind of acid lime was the other parent. In this connection, it may be of interest to note that the distinctive aroma of bergamot oil occurs also in the limettas (C. limetta Risso) of the Mediterranean basin, which are sometimes incorrectly referred to as bergamots. For reasons that are not clear, the commercial culture of this fruit, which is grown primarily for the rind oil, is virtually confined to the province of Calabria in southern Italy, where the most recent statistics indicate a total planting of approximately 7,500 acres. While the tree grows and bears well in Sicily and in portions of North Africa and elsewhere, reportedly the oil is highly variable, inferior in quality, and therefore unprofitable. Bergamot oil is commercially important because it constitutes the base of cologne water (eau de cologne), perhaps the most widely used toilet water, and also has other perfumery uses. According to Chapot (1962b), this cologne water was developed in Cologne in 1676 by an Italian emigrant, Paolo Feminis, and commercialized by his son-in-law, Gian Maria Farina. Its manufacture dates back to 1709. Bergamot petit grain oil is another product, of minor importance, distilled from the leaves and young growth. An important byproduct of the highly acid juice in the oil extraction process is citrate of lime or citric acid.