Bergamot: Scent of Mediterranean Sea



A COASTAL FRUIT: Perfume of Mediterranean Sea

Ouside the region of Calabria, bergamot is known as the citrus fruit that gives Earl Grey tea, with a distinctive flavour, and as a natural essential oil that is extracted from bergamot skins.

Nowadays, bergamot groves run from the background of the coastal land to the deep seas off Calabria’s coast and, under the branches of their low-hanging tree, hide the mystery of a creature surely grown elsewhere, which only in this area  gives us the perfection of its essential oils.

Under its skin bergamot  holds up a yellow bergamot fruit and a stream of liquid that smells lemon sharp with soft notes of orange. That liquid is an oil highly recommended for aromatherapy treatments and having strong antiseptic and anti-bacterial properties. Unfortunately, apart from its healing properties, the oil does have one side-effect: put on human skin and then exposed to sunlight, it causes discolouring and burning.



In the Mediterranean Bergamot is well-known for several centuries and described as early as 1708. maybe Bergamot is a hybrid of sour orange and citron or lemon. It has usually been assumed that the real ancestor was the lemon, but Chapot has presented rather convincing evidence in support of the conclusion that some kind of acid lime was the other parent.  For sure we can only say that  the distinctive aroma of bergamot oil occurs also in the limettas (C. limetta Risso) of the Mediterranean basin (this limetta is often incorrectly referred to as bergamot).

The fruits contain few seeds and they are monoembryonic in nature. Its season of maturity is late winter. There are several named cultivars of Bergamot grown in Italy, namely, Castagnaro, Fantastico, and Femminello.

Only the Calabrian tree is small to medium at maturity, thornless, and somewhat spreading in habit, while the fruit is medium in size and variable in shape with obovoid most commonly occurring form. The flesh is pale yellow, acidic, and has a moderate juice content. The yellow rind has a slightly rough texture and a distinctive rind oil.

It has commonly been regarded as a botanical variety of C. aurantium , but the tree is moderately vigorous, the leaves are large and somewhat like the lemon in color, form, and emargination.

The flower buds and flowers are medium-large and pure white and there is but one bloom.  A distinctive characteristic of both foliage and fruits is the strongly pungent and agreeably aromatic oil, which is similar to that of the sour orange leaf, though the rind oil of the latter is different.



Nobody knows why 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. Here the most recent statistics indicate a total planting of approximately 7,500 acres. It is quite strange why the industrial adventure or Bergamot is limited to a small area of the region. In fact, it is possible say that the tree grows and bears well in Sicily and in portions of North Africa and elsewhere, but it is a mystery why the oil is inferior in quality and not profitable, when coming from these areas.

At the same time, the diffusion of Bergamot oil is commercially important, given that it constitutes the base of cologne water (eau de cologne), a globally known product and, perhaps, the most widely used toilet water in the world. Another minor use of Bergamot is the petit grain oil, another product of minor importance, distilled from the leaves and young growth.  Another is the highly acid juice derived from the oil extraction process, a citrate of lime or citric acid employed as antiseptic.

Of course, bergamot oil essence has many other perfumery uses, but the main employment of Bergamot, according to Chapot (1962) is the cologne water first developed in Cologne in 1676 by an Italian emigrant, Paolo Feminis. This obscure emigrant began the refinement of oil and the product was also commercialized by his son-in-law, Gian Maria Farina. Thus, the first manufacture dates back to 1709.


Calabrian Peppers “Cruschi” (Crisp)


It is a must of Calabrian and Mediterranean cuisine: “peperoni cruschi” (crisp and dried peppers). For peperoni cruschi, you need sun-dried sweet Calabrian peppers from the province of Cosenza.

Such Peperoni are ideal, but any dried sweet Italian pepper will work and will be perfect for various dishes throughout the winter months.

If you have bought peperoni cruschi, then they need to be eaten as soon as they are prepared, not months later out of a cellophane bag. Otherwise, you can plan to dry personally some sweet Italian peppers, next summer, or buy the whole dried peppers, then making easy dish yourself.

To make peperoni cruschi, first remove the seeds and stems from the dried peppers and cut into pieces. Place the cut peppers with some extra virgin olive oil in a pan. Garnish them with some olives and place the pan over medium heat.



December is a month of many celebrations, both religious and secular, when such peppers are eaten.

Often each celebration is accompanied by the serving of a particular food or dish. For example, December 8 is the feast of the Immaculate Conception in the Roman Catholic Church, and it marks the beginning of the Christmas holiday season and its wonderful dishes in Calabria.

Other typical occasion is Christmas. During the Christmas festivities this recipe, handed down for generations and without distortions dictated by culinary trends, is a wonderful memory of the past. During such time it is worth waiting all year for the salted cod, served with the crunchy “cruschi” peppers in Calabria and fried with extra virgin olive oil.



Peperoni cruschi are a specialty of Calabrian and, also, of Lucan cuisine.

The peppers cruschi have a good taste, are crisp and lend themselves to many recipes. They have a distinctive flavor, they remain crisp even after cooking and are so engaging that one pulls the other.

Usually, they are fried simply in olive oil, served with boiled potatoes, cooked with cod or are excellent for flavoring sautéed vegetables.

Together with the cruschi peppers you can taste eggs and sausage.



The pepper is planted between February and March, and then harvested at the beginning of August when the berries are colored with an intense purple red. Finally, they are hung on windows and balconies, intertwined together with needle and thread from the petiole are left to dry in the sun. They represent a typical preserve for the winter. In summer, a particular quality of peppers become red because when they are ripe, they are threaded with a needle and thread like a necklace. These necklaces are exposed to the sun to allow the drying of the peppers.

The peppers are divided into three morphological types: (i) “Appuntito”, (ii) Tronco “e (iii) ” Uncino “. Red-purple, with a conical shape and small size, it resembles a chilli pepper but has a sweet taste; the pulp, thin and poor in water, makes the pepper excellent for drying.

Calabrian pepper “cruschi” are recognizable by its size, smaller, and for its shape, pointed and hooked, is also called ‘zafaran’, probably because the color of dried peppers reduced to dust reminds that of saffron.

For this reason it is also said that here, the pepper and chilli have taken the place of saffron because with little flavor and color food.

The nutritive properties are the following: they are rich in Vitamin A, E, K and PP,  further the peppers contain a high percentage of vitamin C, 30% more than other types.



Some particular peppers are from Calabria, other from Basilicata (so called Lucania).

In both cases such precious fruits come from a careful cultivation; seeds are collected from year to year by farmers, and they are difficult to find in supermarkets,.

In Basilicata are used for the preparation of typical local dishes, like baccalà, polenta, tomato salads and crushed olives, but also for many preserved foods, such as meats, and for the preservation of cheeses and fish, such as salted anchovies.

“Senise Cruschi” peppers in Basilicata have obtained a local protection, called “IGP”, but in Calabria they are cultivated with the same dedication. The peppers are harvested at the end of summer, already ripe and with a typical reddish color.

In Calabria these peppers are used for the preparation of traditional sausages,  so called “sopressate” (typical salami), “capocollo” (other type of salami), and also for the preservation of cheese that is greased after aging with a mixture of vinegar, oil and ground red pepper, or bluefish.