Ribes nigrum L.
* Species Plantarum 1:201. 1753
Ribes nigrum, or Blackcurrant (cassis, cassissier, gadellier noir and groseillier noir - French; Schwarze Johannisbeere - German) is a species of Ribes berry native to central and northern Europe and northern Asia.
When not in fruit, the plant looks similar to the redcurrant shrub, distinguished by a strong fragrance from leaves and stems. The fruit is an edible berry 1 cm diameter, very dark purple in color, almost black, with a glossy skin and a persistent calyx at the apex, and containing several seeds dense in nutrients. An established bush can produce up to 5 kilos of berries during summer.
Plants from Asia are sometimes distinguished as a separate variety Ribes nigrum var. sibiricum, or even as a distinct species Ribes cyathiforme.
There are many cultivars of blackcurrant, including: Amos Black, Ben Alder, Ben Avon, Ben Connan, Ben Dorain, Ben Gairn, Ben Hope, Ben Lomond, Ben Loyal, Ben More, Ben Sarek, Ben Tirran, Big Ben, Boskoop Giant, Cotswold Cross and Wellington XXX.
New varieties are being developed continuously to improve frost tolerance, disease resistance, machine harvesting, fruit quality, nutritional content and fruit flavor.
During World War II, most fruits rich in vitamin C, such as oranges, became almost impossible to obtain in the United Kingdom. Since blackcurrant berries are a rich source of vitamin C and blackcurrant plants are suitable for growing in the UK climate, blackcurrant cultivation was encouraged by the British government. Soon, the yield of the nation's crop increased significantly. From 1942 on, almost the entire British blackcurrant crop was made into blackcurrant syrup (or cordial) and distributed to the nation's children free, giving rise to the lasting popularity of blackcurrant flavorings in Britain.
Blackcurrants were once popular in the United States as well, but became rare in the 20th century after currant farming was banned in the early 1900s when blackcurrants, as a vector of white pine blister rust, were considered a threat to the U.S. logging industry. The federal ban on growing currants was shifted to jurisdiction of individual states in 1966, and was lifted in New York State in 2003 through the efforts of horticulturist Greg Quinn. As a result, currant growing is making a comeback in New York, Vermont, Connecticut and Oregon. However, several statewide bans still exist including Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
Since the American federal ban ceased currant production nationally for nearly a century, the fruit remains largely unknown in the United States and has yet to regain its previous popularity to levels enjoyed in Europe or New Zealand. Owing to its unique flavor and richness in polyphenols, dietary fiber and essential nutrients, awareness and popularity of blackcurrant is once again growing, with a number of consumer products entering the market.
Nutrients and phytochemicals
Other phytochemicals in the fruit (polyphenols/anthocyanins) have been demonstrated in laboratory experiments with potential to inhibit inflammation mechanisms suspected to be at the origin of heart disease, cancer, microbial infections or neurological disorders like Alzheimer's disease. Major anthocyanins in blackcurrant pomace are delphinidin-3-O-glucoside, delphinidin-3-O-rutinoside, cyanidin-3-O-glucoside, and cyanidin-3-O-rutinoside which are retained in the juice concentrate among other yet unidentified polyphenols.
Blackcurrant seed oil is also rich in many nutrients, especially vitamin E and several unsaturated fatty acids including alpha-linolenic acid and gamma-linolenic acid.
In the UK, blackcurrant cordial is often mixed with cider to make a drink called Cider & Black available at pubs. Adding a small amount of blackcurrant juice to Guinness is preferred by some to heighten the taste of the popular beer. Macerated blackcurrants are also the primary ingredient in the apéritif crème de cassis. Japan imports $3.6 million in New Zealand blackcurrants for uses as dietary supplements, snacks, functional food products and as quick-frozen (IQF) produce for culinary production as jams, jellies or preserves. In Russia, blackcurrant leaves are often used for flavoring tea. Sweetened vodka may also be infused with blackcurrant leaves or berries, making a deep yellowish-green beverage with a sharp flavor and astringent taste. A universally sold drink Ribena is a juice drink made from blackcurrants and takes its name as a pun from "Ribes".
Blackcurrant berries have a distinctive sweet and sharp taste popular in jam, juice, ice cream, and liqueur (see Ribena). They are a common ingredient of Rote Grütze, a popular kissel-like dessert in North German cuisine and Danish cuisine. In the UK, Europe and Commonwealth countries, some types of confectionery include a blackcurrant flavor, and in Belgium and the Netherlands, cassis is a flavored currant soft drink. In the United States, Blackcurrant 'flavor' is rather rare in candies and jellies compared to UK candies. In the United States Grape flavor, is often used in brands of candy where blackcurrant would appear in Europe. Blackcurrant syrup mixed with white wine is called Kir or Kir Royale when mixed with Champagne.
Other than being juiced and used in jellies, syrups, and cordials, blackcurrants are used in cooking because their astringency creates flavor in many sauces, meat dishes and desserts. It was once thought that currants needed to be "topped and tailed" (the stalk and flower-remnants removed) before cooking.
However, this is not the case, as these parts are easily assimilated during the cooking process. If one prefers, the whole blackcurrant stem with fruit can be frozen, then shaken vigorously. The tops and tails are broken off and fruit can be separated easily.
Notes & References
1. ^ a b "Synonymy - Ribes nigrum". Northern Ontario Plant Database. http://www.northernontarioflora.ca/chklst.cfm?speciesid=1003093. Retrieved November 11, 2009.
Source: Wikispecies, Wikipedia: All text is available under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License