All About Black Currant

Black currant is the “forbidden fruit” of the United States, as they were once believed to spread a fungus that endangered the timber industry. However, new disease-resistant versions have been produced. Thus, the shrub is gradually being reintroduced in the United States. The fruit looks like a blueberry-shaped blackberry and has a host of health benefits.

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Black currants are part of the Ribes genus, along with gooseberries, raspberries, and blackberries. The thorn-free deciduous shrub produces berries that have antibacterial properties, twice the antioxidants of blueberries, and four times the vitamin C than oranges. 

While black currants (also known as blackcurrants) can be eaten raw, it is uncommon. However, this vitamin C-packed fruit is highly popular in the United Kingdom and Europe in juices, cordials, jams, preserves, syrups, and specialty liqueurs. The seeds of black currants are also used to make an oil that is used in home remedies to help a variety of ailments. 

What Is Black Currant?

Shining fresh black currants in wooden bowls, summer harvesting, black kitchen table background, place for text, selective focus

Despite currants being native to North America, as well as Asia and Europe, many Americans are unfamiliar with black currants. Contrary to their name, black currants have nothing to do with raisins. Nor do their sister plants, red and white currants. Instead, they are a highly nutritious berry that makes one of the most popular children’s juices in the United Kingdom.

The reason so many Americans are unfamiliar with this fruit is that currants, along with their cousin the gooseberry, were all banned by the United States Federal government back in 1911. They were thought to produce white pine blister rust, a fungus which negatively impacted the timber industry.

Thankfully, black currant is making its way back to the United States. The bush is no longer banned under Federal law, and individual states are reassessing their own regulations. This is partly due to white pine trees being bred to resist the fungus as well as the development of disease-resistant black currants. 

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What Does It Look Like?

Blackcurrant berries with leaves, black currant

Black currant is a deciduous shrub that can reach about 5-feet high. Unlike its relative the blackberry, it doesn’t have thorns. The berries, however, share the blackberry hue but are shaped like a blueberry. 

What Does It Taste Like?

Black currant has a tart, earthy flavor with an underlying sweetness. Its juice tastes similar to a raisin with a hint of raspberry. Like a blueberry, it has a thin skin that pops when you bite down, releasing a burst of intense juice and chewy seeds. The aroma of black currant is similar to a red grape with a hint of cherry. 

What Is Made From Black Currant?

Blackcurrant berries with leaves, black currant in green bowls.

Black currant is used commercially in juices, cordials, jams, preserves, syrup, and specialty liquors. Alcohol uses of black currant include the wine industry. They are also used to flavor vodka, produce a blended cognac, gin, Crème de Cassis, and wine coolers. 

At home, they are used in pies and cobblers, as you would with blackberry. They are also an excellent alternative to raspberries or cranberries when making breads, muffins, scones, and tarts. Black currants are also wonderful when making yogurt parfaits, smoothies, sorbet, and the filing for crepes. Like many berries, they respond well to being kept in the freezer and canning. 

People also use them to make their own liquors, often called Crème de Cassis, which is the French word for black currant. For healthier alternatives, they are a great option when making kombucha or water kefir

What Are The Health Benefits of Black Currant?

Black currant is a low-calorie and highly nutritious berry. They contain:

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  • Antibacterial properties
  • Antiviral properties
  • Beta-carotene
  • Flavonoids
  • High amounts of antioxidants, including anthocyanins
  • High amounts of omega-6 fatty acid (gamma-linoleic acid)
  • High amounts of potassium
  • High amounts of Vitamin C
  • Lutein
  • Phenolic acid
  • Vitamin A
  • Vitamin E

Boost The Immune System

Black currant contains high amounts of vitamin C and is full of antioxidants and anthocyanins. These all contribute to a healthy immune system. Thus, many people drink its juice and make tea from its leaves when they have sore throats and other flu and cold symptoms. 

Healthy Heart

Black currant shares similar properties to grapes and pomegranates. Much research has been done on how wine and other grape-based drinks decrease plaque buildup in arteries. Thus, it is believed black currant may share this plaque fighting benefit, which is a boon to your heart health. 

Lower Blood Pressure

Another aid to your heart is lower blood pressure. Black currant is thought to help reduce high blood pressure thanks to its high levels of potassium and gamma-linolenic acid levels. 

Lower High Cholesterol

High cholesterol is another heart health concern. The flavonoids in black currants may help reduce cholesterol levels. Studies have looked into how flavonoids mitigate the formation of bad cholesterol. However, most of the research has been on wine and other grape-based drinks. But the flavonoids are so similar, many suspect the benefits are the same.

Promote Eye Health

Researchers are looking into the benefits gamma-linolenic acid has in combating dry eyes. Others are looking into how black currants might benefit the eyes in other ways.

These include:

  • Easing eye fatigue
  • Increasing the eyes’ ability to adjust to the dark
  • Increase blood flow to eyes
  • Reduce the progression of glaucoma

Good For Joints

Eating black currant, rather than just drinking the juice, is thought to be beneficial to people’s joint health. This is because the berry’s seeds contain gamma-linolenic acid, which shows evidence of having anti-inflammatory properties. Thus, many eat the berries or take its seed oil to help with joint pain and stiffness and potentially reduce damage to joints.

What Is Black Currant Seed Oil?

Black currant seed oil comes from the seeds of the berry. The oil contains high levels of omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acids. It catches particular interest due to the chemical gamma-linolenic acid (GLA). Researchers are examining both the berry and the oil’s potential to improve the immune system and prevent signs of aging in the skin, such as wrinkles. 

What Is It Used For?

Research into black currant seed oil is in its infancy. Thus, while it is used by many to try to help a number of ailments and conditions, there is no hard scientific evidence that its use will produce the desired results. Nonetheless, people are trying it.

 The theory is that the GLA, which is an essential fatty acid, is converted into prostaglandins, which both aid the immune system and may both combat joint inflammation and suppress the inflammatory response. Thus, there are trials underway on its potential to help people with arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. 

Other conditions black currant is commonly used for include:

  • Alzheimer’s
  • Bladder stones
  • Circulatory conditions
  • Coughs
  • Edema
  • Glaucoma
  • Gout
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Herpes
  • Menopause
  • Muscle fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Premenstrual syndrome
  • Psoriasis
  • Stomach ulcers
  • Urinary tract infections

Some people treating the above with the oil also make use of the leaf for teas and tinctures and eat the berries to acquire the plant’s full potential health benefits. 

Topically, black currant seed oil is used for minor wounds, insect bites, and skin conditions, such as psoriasis. Another common topical use is adding a few drops to facial creams in the hopes it will prevent and reduce signs of aging.  

Are There Health Risks To Black Currant Or Its Seed Oil?

Like any food, there is a slight chance of an allergic reaction. Regarding black currant, most rashes, hives, or swelling after eating the berry occurs in people who are sensitive to salicylate. Other common foods that contain salicylates are:

  • Apples
  • Avocados
  • Blueberries
  • Cauliflower
  • Coffee

Thus, if you are allergic to the above foods, you may wish to be cautious around black currant. 

Some people may find black currant raises their tendency to get a headache, become gassy, or cause diarrhea. 

People who are taking phenothiazines, a type of antipsychotic medication, are often advised to avoid black currant as it can cause an adverse reaction. 

Black currant is also suspected of slowing down blood clotting. Thus, anyone with a bleeding disorder or taking medications such as Warfarin is advised to be cautious about eating the berry. 

The chances of a minor reduction in blood clotting are also why some are advised to avoid the fruit the day before surgical procedures or getting a tattoo. 

How Many Black Currant Varieties?

There are over 150 black currant cultivars. They are bred to flourish in the climates and conditions of different countries. Thus, they differ in time of flowering, time of harvesting, yield potential, frost resistance, and disease resistance. The cultivars can also impact the chemical composition of the fruit, including sugar content, acidity, and color. 

Commercial growers must take care when selecting varieties and consider not only their local climate and conditions but the demands of potential buyers. For example, Ribena, one of the biggest buyers of black currant in the United Kingdom, has a concise list of 4-5 varieties they’ll consider using for their famous juice. 

Most commercial black currants can be traced back to the Baldwin. It produced an incredibly tasty berry, but the bush was susceptible to frost and mildew. Around 1975 a series of “Ben” varieties began to emerge. These do well in climates that get a hard winter, such as Scotland’s. 

United States

  • Ben Sarek
  • Tihope
  • Titania

United Kingdom

  • Ben Hope
  • Ben Lomond
  • Big Ben (Pick Your Own variety)
  • Foxendown (Pick Your Own variety)
  • Ebony
  • Titania

Other well-known varieties

  • Ben Connan
  • Crusader
  • Consort

Ben Sarek

Ben Sarek is a culinary or dessert cultivar of black currant. It is a compact bush that grows 3-4 feet tall, which is a bit shorter than average cultivars. Ben Sarek can take up to five years before it reaches full berry-producing potential. Butterflies and birds adore it, but rabbits generally ignore it. 

Ben Sarek doesn’t need a lot of pruning, and while it enjoys full sun, it can also be grown in partial shade. Pests that might go for it include aphids, gall mites, and gall midges. However, it does have some in-bred resistance to frost and mildew. 

Tihope

Tihope is a relatively new black currant cultivar. It is disease-resistant, doing well against the dreaded mildew, and its berries are excellent for juices, freezing, and being eaten fresh. It is a vigorous grower and requires a great deal of pruning. It is also susceptible to aphids. However, it is incredibly hardy and has had much success in Poland despite their harsh winters.

Titania

Titania is a black currant cultivar that reaches around 5 feet high. Like Thihope, it is a vigorous grower and requires regular pruning. This cultivar has roots in Russia, thus it does well in frosty winters. It tends to produce berries in 2-3 years. Its fruit is commonly used for flavoring foods and drinks. 

Can Black Currants Be Grown In Pots?

Black currants are typically grown in the ground. Nor are they a particularly ornamental bush. But with the rise in home gardening, including container gardening, the cultivation of black currants is being tried. Thus far, the cultivar that has the most success in a pot is Ben Sarek. 

As mentioned earlier, Ben Sarek is a compact variety that doesn’t require a lot of pruning. Ben Sarek will require a container at least 18 inches, and you would do well to go larger if possible. You will need to use an all-purpose peat-based compost or a loam-based potting compost. 

After about 5 years, the potted black currant will need to be repotted. This is best done in winter. Once the bush has been removed from the pot, shake off as much soil as possible, cut back the roots (but don’t cut into the base), put new soil in the pot, and replant. This should give you another 5-8 years of nutritious and tasty berries.  

Everything You Need To Know About Black Currant

Fresh black currants in wooden bowls, on black kitchen table background, copy space, selective focus

Black currant is slowly being reintroduced in the United States after being banned in the early 1900s. This is good news, as the berry is incredibly healthy in addition to being delicious. This versatile fruit can be used in numerous ways in the kitchen, from sweet baked goods and jams along with healthy options such as kombucha and water kefir.