The delicately scented flavor of Earl Grey tea is not to everyone’s taste and is often derided as fancy or girly tea, despite the fact it was invented by a bloke. Add to the brew that he was an Earl and an eminent politician has also led to a cultural association that the tea is drunk more by the wealthy elite. Now the unique ingredient that lends the tea its distinction, oil of bergamot, has been found to have superb medicinal properties. Those who despise it and ask for a cup of “proper” tea instead may have cause to think again.
The extracts of bergamot found in every cup of Earl Grey tea are found to be as good as statins in lowering bad, and increasing good, cholesterol. These are the key countermeasures in prevention against heart disease. The soothing and restorative qualities of a “nice cup of tea,” so often used for solace and comfort, could have a much more far-reaching and beneficial effect on heart health, if the tea of choice is Earl Grey. They could be busy reducing blood fats.
Work began on the study of bergamot as a known “superfood” at the University of Magna Graecia in south Italy in 2012. The bergamot citrus fruit (rather like an orange) is a native of the Mediterranean and had a centuries old reputation as an antiseptic, and an anti-inflammatory bathing agent for wounds. This research, which was published in the International Journal of Cardiology, discovered the effectiveness of bergamot as an alternative medicine to statins.
A follow-up study by a team at the University of Calabria has continued the research and written up their results in the Journal of Functional Foods. They took the enzymes from the bergamot, hydroxl methyl glutaryl flavonones (HMGF) and reduced them to strong concentrations. They then used these on the proteins responsible for causing heart disease.
The HMGF increased the levels of high-density lipoproteins (HDL) and decreased the levels of low-density proteins (LDL) otherwise known as good and bad cholesterol. The Calabrian scientists came to the conclusion that a supplement of HMGF, taken daily, could be as good as statins in combating high cholesterol. In comparative test with statins commonly used to treat the same proteins, the results were just as good. Statins are linked to certain side effects, although not in all patients.
Bergamot fruit now joins other components of the Mediterranean Diet, long hailed as a superb eating regime for all those who wish to live long and healthy lives and help prevent the risks of heart disease, one of the Western world’s biggest killers.
Prior to this scientific breakthrough, Earl Grey had gone down in history as a British Prime Minister of the Whig party in the 1830s. He had brought in the Reform Act which introduced secret ballots and swept a broom through formerly corrupt election practices. He also abolished slavery throughout the British Empire with an act of 1833. However, he is best remembered for the eponymous tea. How he came to be associated with the famous brand of tea that bears his name is a matter of dispute.
One story is that he had rescued the drowning son of a Chinese mandarin, and as a thank you gift, the black china tea with its perfumed scent, was created. Whilst this is an appealing version, it sadly does not corroborate with the archives. Earl Grey had never been to China on a diplomatic mission as this story requires.
Establishment tea-blending firm, Jacksons of Piccadilly, claim that the recipe was handed to them by the then Lord Grey in 1830 and they use that original recipe to this day. It has since become a quintessentially English blend and often served with a slice of lemon rather than milk at elegant afternoon tea parties. Earl Grey tea is sometimes spelled as Earl Gray in America. One of its best known advocates in popular culture in Captain Picard of Star Trek’s Next Generation.
Now indulging in sandwiches, scones and cake might not be such a guilty pleasure if the pot of Earl Grey tea accompanying it is attacking all the bad cholesterol at the same time. As unlikely as it may seem, Earl Grey tea is a newly proven healthy hot drink.
By Kate Henderson