This yellow-green citrus fruit is cultivated around the Mediterranean in specific regions of Italy, France and Turkey. The unique flavour profile of the Bergamot is unlike any other citrus fruit, carrying a bittersweet, floral flavour that can almost be described as having an air of sophistication about it.
Perhaps most famously, it provides the backbone to Earl Grey tea, that perfumed freshness is there thanks to this remarkable ingredient. Bergamot is one of those ingredients that can be used as a secret weapon. With it being such a distinct and pronounced flavour, you can build upon it, or when used deftly, deliver a mere whisper of its presence. Either way, it’s the kind of ingredient chefs do well to have in their arsenal. And, by all accounts, that’s exactly what they’re doing. Bergamot is currently getting a lot of use in many of the hallowed kitchens of the UK. Nathan Outlaw’s Earl Grey ice cream is gaining thunderous applause, while over in Shoreditch’s shiny new Turkish restaurant Oklava, Great British Menu finalist Selin Kiazim knocks out a stunning chocolate, prune and cardamom delice with bergamot cream and praline. The complexity of the dish is no doubt tempered by that bright bittersweet balance.
The peel is actually one of the most valuable parts of the bergamot, which is being used in all manner of marinades. The oils present in the peel are where that loud intensity of flavour is hiding. When thrown into a pestle and mortar and beaten to within an inch of its life, the peel gives up those vital oils. This leaves them wide open to absorb into dry ingredients for a pretty outstanding paste to be smothered on meats. Food grade bergamot essential oil is getting used commercially everywhere from frozen desserts through to long, slow braises.
We are talking grown up flavours here. That verge on bitterness that has made all those trendy IPAs so successful. It’s not that the bergamot was not known or even used before now, but the market appears to be much more ready for flavours that sit out on the bitter spectrum.
But that doesn’t mean dishes have to be challenging. Under the guise of Earl Grey you can concoct all manner of exciting sounding sauces, creams and marinades. A Mediterranean style consommé freshened up with bergamot shows potential as a light broth for poaching, while fresh pasta will also take the brightness of bergamot juice when tempered with herbs like mint and thyme.
Smoked foods tend to work particularly well with bergamot, so switching it out for lemon juice with your smoked salmon can yield impressive results. Similarly, smoked meats like goat, pork and lamb can be lifted a little with bergamot juice too. Unlike lemon, it seems less dominating and sits more in tune with the scent of wood smoke.
As the Telegraph pointed out at the start of 2018, bergamot is set to be a leading food trend this year, what remains to be seen is how great chefs are going to be using it.