The Perfumer’s Favorite Fruit

BY AWAKE! WRITER IN ITALY

PERFUMES have a long history. In Bible times perfumes scented homes, clothes, beds, and the bodies of any who could afford them. The ingredients for perfumes included aloes, balsamic oil, cinnamon, and other spices.​—Proverbs 7:17; Song of Solomon 4:10, 14.

Essences extracted from vegetation are still fundamental to perfumery. We have come to Calabria, the southernmost region of the Italian peninsula, to see where one such ingredient is produced. You may not know the bergamot by name, yet the aroma of this fruit is said to be found in approximately one third of women’s perfumes on the market and half of men’s colognes. Allow us to introduce the bergamot to you.

The bergamot is an evergreen citrus. Its flowers appear in spring, and smooth-skinned yellow fruits​—about the size of an orange—​ripen in late autumn or early winter. Many experts consider the bergamot to be a hybrid, and its origin is something of a mystery. Nowhere do bergamot trees grow wild, nor can they be grown from seed. To reproduce them, cultivators have to graft shoots of existing trees into plants of similar species, such as the lime or the sour orange.

For perfumers, bergamot fruits have unique qualities. One book on the subject explains that the essence extracted from them has the rare ability to “amalgamate and fix different aromas, blending them into a single bouquet, and to confer a note of special freshness on each composition that includes it.” *

Cultivation in Calabria

Historic sources indicate that bergamots grew in Calabria at least as early as the beginning of the 18th century and that locals occasionally sold the essence to passing travelers. Commercial cultivation, however, was tied to the success of cologne. In 1704, Gian Paolo Feminis, an Italian emigrant to Germany, produced a toilet water that he called Aqua admirabilis, or “admirable water.” Its main ingredient was bergamot essence. The perfume came to be known as eau de Cologne, “Cologne water,” or simply cologne, after the city in which it was produced.

The first bergamot grove was planted in Reggio in about 1750, and handsome profits from the sale of bergamot essence stimulated further cultivation. The trees need mild weather and a southern exposure sheltered from cold north winds, but they dislike high winds, abrupt changes  in temperature, and prolonged humidity. The ideal microclimate is offered by a narrow strip of land, only 3 miles [5 km] wide and 100 miles [150 km] long, that hugs the southernmost coast of mainland Italy. Though efforts are being made to grow bergamots elsewhere, a high percentage of production worldwide comes from the province of Reggio. The only other important producer is the country of Côte d’Ivoire, in Africa.

Bergamot essential oil​—a greenish-yellow liquid—​comes from the peel of the fruit. The traditional method of extracting this oil was to cut the fruit in half, scoop out the pulp, and squeeze the skins so that the essence sprayed out of the colored outer layer of the peels into sponges. Some 200 pounds of bergamots had to be processed to extract just one pound of essence. Today almost all the essence is extracted by machines, which use abrasive disks or rollers to grate the rind of whole fruits.

Little Known but Widely Used

This fruit may be little known outside Calabria, but, says one source, “among connoisseurs, bergamot is a magic word.” Its fruity scent can be found not only in perfumes but also in such products as soaps, deodorants, toothpastes, and creams. As a flavoring agent, bergamot essence finds its way into ice cream, teas, confectionaries, and beverages. Its ability to facilitate tanning has made it an ingredient in sun-care products. Its antiseptic and bactericidal properties make it valuable to the pharmaceutical industry as a disinfectant in surgery, ophthalmology, and dermatology. Bergamot pectin, a powerful gelatinizing agent, also finds a place in hemostatic and antidiarrheal preparations.

Analysts have isolated some 350 components of bergamot essence, which contribute to its unique bouquet and numerous other qualities. All this in just one fruit!

It is unlikely that Bible writers were acquainted with the bergamot. However, any who care to consider the properties of this citrus and the wisdom of its Creator can certainly find reason to echo the psalmist’s words: “Praise Jehovah . . . , you fruit trees.”​—Psalm 148:1, 9.

[Footnote]

^ par. 6 Just as some people are allergic to such things as grass pollen or flowers, others have reactions to perfumes. Awake! does not promote any particular product.

[Picture on page 25]

Bergamot essence is extracted by grating the rind of whole fruits

[Credit Line]

© Danilo Donadoni/​Marka/​age fotostock