Most citrus scents used in perfume are quite familiar: lemon, lime, grapefruit, orange, or clementine are all fruits you’ve likely encountered before. However, there’s one very widely used exception: bergamot.
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For many of us, the first time we hear of bergamot is on a fragrance description. What does bergamot smell like and why is it in so many perfumes?
What is Bergamot?
Bergamot is considered a type of orange, sometimes referred to as bergamot orange or the Latin name Citrus bergamia. They are fragrant citrus fruits about the size of a regular orange, with a yellow or green color similar to a lime, depending on ripeness. The skin is often bumpy and irregular rather than smooth.
Bergamot is most likely a hybrid of lemons and bitter oranges. In terms of taste, the fruit is less sour than lemon but sourer than grapefruit and generally considered inedible.
Where Is Bergamot from?
Bergamot originated in Southeast Asia but is now primarily grown on the Ionian Sea coast of Calabria in Southern Italy. It is such an important crop there, it has become the symbol of Reggio di Calabria.
During World War II, Italy was unable to export bergamot oil and so alternative production began in Argentina, Brazil, Algeria, the Ivory Coast, Morocco, Tunisia, Turkey, and South-East Asia.
What Does Bergamot Smell Like?
Bergamot has the bright sunniness typical of citrus but with a unique floral and spicy edge. It’s tart, acidic, and highly fragrant. In fact, bergamot is what gives Earl Grey tea its distinctive scent. The oils of bergamot come from cold-pressing the rind.
Despite being a little-known citrus, bergamot essential oil is one of the most common scents in perfumery, why? Perfumers love bergamot because it can complimentarily blend with a wide range of scents including ylang-ylang, vetiver, rosemary, sandalwood, and jasmine.
Bergamot holds a time-honored place in perfumery, in fact, bergamot oil first appears in 1714 as an ingredient in Eau de Cologne at the Farina Archive in Cologne.
Benefits of Bergamot
Like many citrus scents, what bergamot smells like is an uplifting and energizing scent that will lift your mood. It also believed to fight infections, relieve stress, and aid digestion.
8 Best Perfumes with Bergamot (Unisex)
For an ingredient as ubiquitous as bergamot, choosing just a few fragrances to feature is close to impossible. However, in these fragrances bergamot takes the mainstage and is not just a supporting role. Bergamot (and citrus in general) is usually considered a unisex scent appropriate for both men and women and is best worn in warm weather.
Top Pick: Acqua di Parma Blu Mediterraneo Bergamotto di Calabria Eau de Toilette
From the name already, it’s clear Acqua di Parma’s Blu Mediterraneo Bergamotto di Calabria EDT* is an ode to the heart of bergamot growing in Italy. The landscape of Calabria is described through a mix of bergamot, Amalfi lemon, neroli, and cedar notes. The scent feels light and fresh, like a walk on a sunny Mediterranean beach and is a perfect introduction to bergamot.
Most Versatile: Maison Francis Kurkdjian Aqua Universalis
If you’re looking for something that doesn’t scream fruit but is still inspired by bergamot, try Maison Francis Kurkdjian Aqua Universalis*. It’s a versatile crisp, clean, musky scent that could be worn for casual, work, or evening wear. It feels elegant and uplifting.
Best for Evening Wear: Floris Bergamotto di Positano Eau de Parfum
Floris Bergamotto di Positano* attempts to summon the Mediterranean with bright bergamot, fresh mandarin, and shimmering marine notes. With warm base notes of amber, ambrette, wood, and ginger it’s the perfect fragrance for a summer evening.
Best Fruity Floral: Byredo Pulp
Byredo Pulp* is a study in contrasts. Sweet but not cloying. Green but not sharp. Dry but also mouthwatering. It’s a fresh and strong fragrance and the bergamot is layered with fig, black currant and red apple notes for an overload of fruit that never overwhelms.
Best Pure Citrus Blast: Annick Goutal Eau d’Hadrien Eau de Parfum
Annick Goutal’s Eau d’Hadrien* came out in 1981, entered the FiFi Award Hall of Fame in 2008 and is still one of the brand’s best-selling fragrances. Inspired by the Tuscan landscape, it’s a fresh, clean perfume with nearly all citrus notes including bergamot, grapefruit, Sicilian lemon, citron, mandarin orange, and ylang-ylang with only cypress to and aldehydes to break out for the pure citrus blast. It works though, and beautifully so.
Best Asian-Inspired: Hermès Le Jardin De Monsieur Li Eau de Toilette
Unlike most Italian focused bergamot fragrances, Le Jardin de Monsieur Li *explores bergamot’s Asian roots. The garden is a purely imagined garden of awakening and harmony created by Hermes in-house perfumer Jean-Claude Ellena who traveled around China for inspiration. It includes Asian standbys such as jasmine and bamboo along with plum, kumquat, and mint — all entwined and lifted with bergamot.
Best Sexy Bergamot: Tom Ford Venetian Bergamot Eau de Parfum
Tom Ford’s Venetian Bergamot *is a spicier, richer take on bergamot. Gardenia and bergamot dominate this floral citrus scent. Sharp black and pink peppercorn along with ginger notes open the fragrance while sandalwood balances it with a warmer, richer scent. A smooth and luxurious scent.
Best Pure Bergamot: Guerlain Aqua Allegoria Bergamote Calabria Eau de Toilette
Guerlain’s Aqua Allegoria Bergamote Calabria* is an uncomplicated tribute to bergamot. With only six fragrance notes it consists of top notes of bergamot and petitgrain, heart notes of cardamom and ginger, and base notes of white musk and woody. It’s light and delicate, similar to the beautiful bottle it comes in. If you want a simple fragrance with character, give this one a try.
Answers to what does bergamot smell like will prompt many to describe it as a unique scent for a number of reasons. No matter if you enjoy it in a cup of Earl Grey or spray it on in fragrance, the fresh, sweet smell of bergamot will lift you up and make you feel like you’re wandering a sunny Italian coastline.