A popular berry during summertime, deep purple black currants (sometimes called blackcurrants) offer a wealth of nutrients not found anywhere else. The plump little black currant can be puckeringly sour however, so it's one fruit that usually requires some type of added sweetness, such as honey or stevia, for eating as is or for baking. Black currant sauce can make a delicious savory sauce for serving with lamb, turkey, or fish.
Native to central and northern Europe and Siberia, and found in Britain for over 500 years, the small shrub bearing this fruit is similar to those bearing translucent, white, and red varieties, but while they're sweeter, they offer fewer vitamins and minerals. Chinese and European folk medicine both claim dozens of traditional uses for black currants as a curative.
Growing your own black currant bushes requires a few tricks. First of all, they require winter temperatures as low as zero degrees centigrade. Choose a sunny location and add compost or well-rotted manure to the hole before planting. Make sure you add two to four inches of mulch around the plants as they thrive in cool, moist soil. Pick black currants while they are dry and still firm. If not used immediately, they can be refrigerated and will last up to a few weeks.
Health Benefits of Black Currants
Infection-fighting vitamin C shows up in a big way in these little berries, with more than 300 percent of the daily recommended value in a 100-gram serving (equivalent to a little under a cup of apple slices). This vitamin has antioxidant properties that stop free radicals (from exposure to toxic chemicals and pollutants that cause aging, cancer, heart disease, and inflammation) from damaging cells.
B-vitamins in black currants such as pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), pyridoxine (vitamin B6) and thiamin (vitamin B1) are called "essential" because they're necessary from regular source outside the body - a.k.a. eating them - because these vitamins are needed by the body for metabolism.
Iron is an important mineral in black currants, providing 20 percent of the daily value along with protection against immunity deficiencies and fatigue by transporting oxygen to cells. Also present are copper, calcium, phosphorus, manganese, magnesium, and potassium for optimal cell, tissue, and organ function in the body. Anthocyanins are one of the compounds that make black currants uniquely powerful in antioxidants. Flavonoids like betacarotene, zeaxanthin, and cryptoxanthin help lower the risk of lung and mouth cancers, protect against neurological diseases, slow the aging process, and fight inflammation.
The list of other things black currants help with is a long one. Studies show they may play a part in preventing Alzheimer's disease, prevent and treat arthritis, gout, and liver problems, ease problems with menopause, painful periods, and PMS, and against diarrhea. It's even useful topically for healing wounds and treating insect bites.
As far as ORAC value (oxygen radical absorbance capacity), black currants offer one of the highest values among every other fruit but a few: chokeberries, elderberries, and cranberries.
Black Currant Nutrition Facts
Serving Size: 3.5 ounces (100 grams), raw
|Calories from Fat
*Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your daily values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie
Studies on Black Currants
Scientists investigated the inhibitory effects of black currant extract against pathogens associated with oral, nasal, and upper respiratory infectious diseases, including respiratory syncytial virus, influenza virus A and B, herpes simplex virus type 1, Streptococcus pneumoniae, and Streptococcus mutans. They found that "less than one percent concentration of extract of blackcurrant inhibited replication of (several of the diseases investigated) by over 50 percent and a 10 percent extract inhibited adsorption of these viruses onto the cell surface by over 95 percent" and "a 10 percent extract disinfected 99.8 percent of H. Influenzae type B and 78.9 percent of S. pneumoniae in 10 minutes."
The conclusion was that black currant extract has potential as a functional food for oral care.1
One study noted the dietary antioxidants, such as anthocyanins, were helpful in preventing and controlling various diseases by counteracting the imbalance of oxidative and antioxidative factors. Black currant, known to contain high amounts of anthocyanins, has recently been found to be the second most effective amongst nine different berry extracts studied for their free radical scavenging activity. The study was conducted to evaluate the potential antiproliferative effects of black currant fruit skin extract against liver cancer cells. The results indicate, for the first time, that black currant skin containing an anthocyanin-rich fraction inhibits the proliferation of liver cancer cells.2
Black Currant Healthy Recipes:
Black Currant Gastrique*
|1 cup chicken stock
||1 shallot, peeled and minced
||1 teaspoon thyme leaves
||3 cups black currants
|1 tablespoon honey
||½ cup apple cider vinegar
||1 teaspoon unsalted butter
||Salt and pepper to taste
|2/3 cup chopped toasted almonds
||¼ teaspoon salt
||¼ teaspoon pepper
- Place the chicken stock into a medium saucepan over medium high heat. Reduce the chicken stock by half.
- Add the shallot to the chicken stock and cook until the shallot is soft and golden. Continue to reduce the stock for a few more minutes. Add in the thyme leaves and the currants, coating the currants with the chicken stock. Add in the honey and vinegar.
- Simmer the sauce over low heat for about 7 to 10 minutes, or until the black currants have softened and extruded their juices. You can use the back of a wooden spoon to press against the berries to crush them lightly. Add in the butter at the end of the cooking process to “mount” the sauce. This gives the sauce a velvety shine and makes it smoother and creamier.
- You can either strain the sauce through moistened cheesecloth to make it perfectly smooth, or you can serve it rustic style with the bits of black currant and shallot adding texture and interest to the sauce.
- Taste the sauce and add in salt and pepper as needed.
This recipe makes two cups of gastrique.
*Gastrique is a sweet and sour savory sauce that goes well with hearty Alaskan dishes.
(From Within the Wild)
Black Currant Fun Facts
Black currants were called "forbidden fruit" in the U.S. until 2003, all because of misinformation. It started when a certain Lord Weymouth shipped white pine seedlings from America to Britain. Before long, white pines in Germany began showing blister rust. Unaware of the problem, the U.S began importing European pine seedlings, as well as the disease. Tree experts decided the disease, appearing to threaten the white pine industry, actually jumped from white pines to black currants to white pines. In 1911, bans against black currant bushes blackballed the once popular berry. While some states began overturning the ban in 1966, it still stands in others.
Black currants have been used for many ailments, including infections, inflammation from arthritis, problems with night vision, and even cancer. Besides the whopping amount of vitamin C in these little beauties (over 300 percent of the daily value), they also contain pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), pyridoxine (vitamin B6), and thiamin (vitamin B1). Iron is an important mineral, as well as copper, calcium, phosphorus, manganese, magnesium, and potassium. Anthocyanins are one of the compounds that make black currants uniquely powerful in antioxidants, and flavonoids like betacarotene, zeaxanthin, and cryptoxanthin help lower the risk of certain cancers, neurological diseases, slow the aging process, and fight inflammation. They're quite tart, so they require a bit of sweetness, but these amazingly healthy berries are a great choice for desserts and savory sauces.