Is kaffir lime the same as bergamot? They are not and if you’ve been confused by the images you see online, it’s time to set things right.
Bergamot and kaffir lime originate from the Citrus family and they are completely different fruits despite the images you see when you google bergamot and kaffir lime!
Let’s begin with their scent profiles. Our kaffir lime essential oil is sharp and citrusy ending with a lemongrass undertone while our bergamot essential oil is indulgently and powerfully sweet at first whiff and gradually softens to a mild powder-like fragrance. Our citrus essential oils are steam-distilled, unlike other citrus essential oils that are cold-pressed hence the distinguishable scent differences. Additionally, steam-distilled citrus essential oils offer key advantages – they have a longer shelf life and are non-photo toxic thus safer on the skin and for use with children!
Kaffir lime is citrus hystrix. In Malaysia, we call this limau purut while in Thailand, it goes by the name of Thai lime, Bai Magrood or simply makrut. Indonesians call this jeruk puru and Filipinos call this Kabuyau. Because kaffir is a derogatory term, we probably can follow the Thais and call it makrut!
Kaffir Lime Fruits and Leaves
The makrut is a green lime with a hard and knobbly exterior with little juice. The makrut tree grows well in Southeast Asia and southern China. Its leaves, when crushed, have an intense aroma. The leaves are popularly used in Thai dishes and tom yam soups where their zestiness adds an indescribable nuance despite being too fibrous to eat.
As a cooking ingredient, it is a blood detoxifier that helps eliminate pathogens in the blood. It works by detoxifying the liver and lymphatic systems. Its rind and leaves can be rubbed on teeth and gums for oral healthcare. It is also used in herbal formulas like soaps and shampoos for scalp and hair as its acidity strengthens hair follicles, kills head lice, prevents dandruff and prevents male balding.
If you don’t have a kaffir lime tree in your backyard (unlike most Thai people), you can try using kaffir lime essential oil. It has a pick-me-up zestiness similar to a freshly squeezed lemon! Besides its uplifting scent, a massage with kaffir lime essential oil eases discomfort and pain due to its anti-inflammatory properties. It also stimulates the digestive system and prevents constipation. Research has also found that kaffir lime oil inhibits cervical cancer cells and if used in chemotherapy treatment, prevents the decrease of white blood cells.
Besides massage, diffusing kaffir lime essential oil in the evenings does double duty – it reduces stress and anxiety while repelling insects. Use it when working or studying to calm and focus the mind.
In the Malaysian context, the kaffir lime fruit is used for stomachache, worms in children, flu and headaches. It is also an important ingredient in Malay shamanism practices as kaffir lime baths are used to eliminate negative energy from the body. It is also used in Chinese feng shui for cleansing and getting rid of negative chi.
On the other hand, Bergamot, or citrus bergamia refers to the bergamot orange which is a bitter, tart and strangely inedible yellow citrus fruit. It is grown in southern Italy where its rind is cold-pressed for its oil. (Note that our bergamot essential oil is steam-distilled hence offering a sweeter aroma.)
Ripe Bergamot Fruits
Nonetheless, the tree is originally from Southeast Asia! Accordingly, it got its name from a Turkish word – ‘beg-armudi’ – meaning ‘The Prince’s Pear’ as it looked like a pear in shape and colour. Another story says that the bergamot was named after the northern Italian city of Bergamo although to be fair, bergamot fruits are also grown in North Africa, Tunisia, Brazil, Algeria, Morocco, Argentina, Turkey and Southeast Asia.
Bergamot fruits are 6-8 cm in diameter with a globular shape and glossy rind. People grow the fruit for its rind and the oils in the rind are used in concocting perfume in the ancient past as well as now. Bergamot also gives Earl Grey tea its distinct flavour profile. The oil is so prized that it has earned a Protected Designation Of Origin or DOP in 2001 to protect the standard quality of oil from Calabria, Italy.
This is why the kaffir lime is not bergamot. We hope this has been helpful in clarifying the major differences between these two poor misunderstood fruits!