What is it?
Bergamot orange, sweet lemons, citrus bergamia… the fruit from which we get bergamot oil goes by all manner of names! It’s also got nothing to do with the bergamot herb, although they do boast the same fragrant aroma. Little appears certain about this elusive citrus fruit, but we can comfortably describe it as tasting somewhere between a sour orange and a sweet lemon.
On its own the flavour is balmy and slightly overpowering, but it works well when added to marmalades, vinaigrettes and, of course, earl grey tea. This paradigm of British tea culture contains a blend of Indian and Sri Lankan black teas flavoured with bergamot essential oil (extracted from the skin of the fruit, as with other citrus oils).
Why is it meant to aide relaxation?
Bergamot oil is sometimes used in aromatherapy, associated with reducing stress. The flavonoids (aromatic antioxidant compounds) found in bergamot are considered to ease nervous tension and anxiety, while also having the potential to stimulate serotonin and dopamine activity (relaxation and sedation hormones).
In fact, bergamot oil is supposedly so relaxing that it could actually decrease mental alertness. Guess we ought to save that earl grey for after work, then! We don’t need much persuading to go for afternoon tea, but if our fragrant brew is this miraculous we’ll be making it a daily ritual.
How can you cook with it?
At olive we love the fragrant undertone bergamot adds to our bakes and cocktails. The most straightforward way to incorporate it into baking and cocktail making is by adding or infusing earl grey tea leaves; easier to source than bergamot oil in its pure form, and with a more rounded flavour.
Try tea-soaking dried fruit to make earl grey teacakes; add a bag to stewed plums for plum and earl grey pound cake; or grind up the leaves with icing sugar to sprinkle over our cream tea waffles with cherry-berry compote.
We’ll take any excuse for a breakfast cocktail and adding in tea gives us the perfect reason. Mix cold earl grey to gin, crème de peche and lemon juice for a Hollingsworth iced tea cocktail; or steep it in gin and combine with lemon and sugar syrup for an earl grey martini.
Savoury recipes can also benefit from a bit of citrus fragrance. Impress dinner party guests by using the dry tea leaves to smoke your own salmon for our tea-smoked salmon with cucumber and lemon.
Written by Pippa Cole, November 2016