What is bergamot and how did it find its way into tea?

If you ever watched Star Trek: The Next Generation, you probably heard the following phrase many times: “Tea, Earl Grey, hot.” Captain Jean Luc Picard is far from the only fan of bergamot-flavored tea. But what, exactly, is bergamot? The Farmer’s Almanac has the answer.

You might be surprised to learn that the bergamot that flavors Earl Grey isn’t an herb but rather a citrus fruit that is the size of an orange but is green like a lime. It has a highly aromatic signature scent that has a number of culinary uses. It’s easy to confuse bergamot with monarda, aka bee balm, a fragrant flowering plant which is often called bergamot because its aroma resembles that of the citrus fruit.

The big unanswered questions are: how did bergamot get into tea and why is it named after a former Prime Minister of England? Naturally, there are many competing stories. One says that the combination was a happy accident in shipping the two items in close proximity, while another says the Earl himself requested the blend. Another account says bergamot was added to tea at the Grey estate to mask the unpleasant flavor of the local water. The truth is likely lost to the mists of time.

Tea is far from the only food to be flavored by bergamot. The zest and and flesh of the fruit are also used in cookies, custards, marmalades, syrups, cocktails, and more. If you happen to score some fresh bergamot you can try one of the many bergamot recipes in the EYB Library, including the Bergamot marmalade from David Lebovitz, pictured above.

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  • averythingcooks  on  October 26, 2019

    I grew up drinking Earl Grey tea and so to me, that means that tea isn’t tea if it ISN’T Earl Grey.

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