Blackcurrants or black currant (Ribes nigrum) are the main ingredient in cassis syrup.
The fruit of blackcurrants can be eaten raw, but it has an intense, tart flavor. For culinary use, the fruit is usually cooked in a variety of sweet or savory dishes.
For sweet dishes, blackcurrants are cooked with sugar to produce a purée, which can then be passed through muslin to separate the juice. You can make both the juice and purée into jams and jellies which set readily because of the fruit's high pectin and acid content.
The purée can be used to make blackcurrant preserves, while the juice can be sweetened for blackcurrant nectar. Both can be used in many recipes for sweet dishes such as cheesecakes, yogurt, ice cream, desserts, sorbets, pancakes, sauces, and fillings. You can tone down the exceptionally strong flavor that is typical of blackcurrants by combining it with other fruits such as raspberries and strawberries.
The juice forms the basis for various popular cordials, juice blends, and smoothies. Typically blended with apple or other red fruits, it is also mixed with pomegranate and grape juice. In Britain, 95% of the blackcurrants grown end up in Ribena (blackcurrant juice) and similar fruit syrups and juices. Macerated blackcurrants are also the primary ingredient in the apéritif liqueur crème de cassis, which in turn is added to white wine to produce a Kir or to champagne to make a Kir Royale.1
In the United Kingdom, blackcurrant cordial is often mixed with hard cider to make a drink called "cider and black." A "black 'n' black" can be made by adding a small amount of blackcurrant juice to a pint of stout. The head is purple if the shot of juice is placed in the glass first.
Blackcurrant juice is sometimes combined with whey in an endurance / energy-type drink.1
Blackcurrants are also used in savory cooking because their astringency creates added flavor in many sauces, meat, and other dishes.1
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You may be able to find blackcurrant juice in the import section of the grocery store. Ribena is a popular British brand. Other blackcurrant products are available in some specialty stores and online. Farmer’s markets are often a good source for blackcurrants and blackcurrant products.
Wash blackcurrants before use. Consume fresh berries within 1 week. When freezing, place dry, unwashed berries on a cookie sheet. Once frozen, they may be transferred to a plastic bag or container and stored for 10 months to 1 year.
Blackcurrants have four times more vitamin C than oranges and twice the antioxidants of blueberries. Polyphenol phytochemicals, present in the fruit, seeds, and leaves of blackcurrants, are being researched for their potential biological activities. Blackcurrant seed oil is rich in vitamin E and unsaturated fatty acids, including alpha-linolenic acid and gamma-linolenic acid.1
The compounds in blackcurrants are thought to have a direct effect on your body’s inflammatory response. Blackcurrant seed oil contains gamma-linolenic acid (GLA), a type of omega-6 fatty acid that’s been said to help ease inflammation in the body. The high GLA and anthocyanin content in blackcurrants can help reduce joint or muscle pain, stiffness, and soreness.
In some studies, GLA supplements were so effective that participants with rheumatoid arthritis could reduce their usual pain medications.
Dangers / intolerances:
Blackcurrant supplements have been known to cause some side effects such as soft stools, mild diarrhea, and intestinal gas.
Because it can slow blood clotting, blackcurrant supplements are not recommended for people with bleeding disorders or those about to have surgery.2
Use as a medicinal plant:
Blackcurrant leaves are dried for tea and ground into powder for supplements. They have a range of properties, including antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, antiviral, and antiseptic.
One study showed that blackcurrant supplements enhanced the immune response in people who exercised regularly. They could also train harder for longer periods of time. Another study of healthy older adults showed that blackcurrant seed oil boosted the immune system.
Blackcurrant is high in potassium and GLA, which can help lower your blood pressure. The GLA also helps cells in your heart resist damage and slows down platelet clumping in your blood vessels.2
Research shows that the GLA and linoleic acid contained in blackcurrants may be promising for treating dry eye and other eye conditions. Clinical trials with blackcurrants found that these berries may improve the eyes’ ability to adapt to the dark; increase blood flow to the eyes; slow progression of visual field deterioration in people with glaucoma; and ease symptoms of visual fatigue.2
Cultivation and harvest:
The blackcurrant or black currant (Ribes nigrum) is a woody shrub grown for its berries. It is native to temperate parts of central and northern Europe and northern Asia where it is widely cultivated both commercially and domestically. Bunches of small, glossy black fruit develop along the stems in the summer and can be harvested by hand or by machine.
Blackcurrants were once popular in the United States as well but became less common 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. New disease-resistant varieties of currants were later developed, and in 1966 the government left it up to the states to lift the ban. As a result, currant growing is making a comeback in New York, Vermont, Connecticut, and Oregon. However, several statewide bans still exist including Maine, New Hampshire, Virginia, Ohio, and Massachusetts. Since the American federal ban curtailed 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 U.S. market.1
Blackcurrants are used to make jams, jellies, and syrups and are grown commercially for the juice market. The fruit is also used in the preparation of alcoholic beverages, and both fruit and foliage have uses in traditional medicine.
Commercially produced and processed blackcurrant products often contain high amounts of sugar. You should carefully check the ingredients for added sugar when purchasing them.
Literature / Sources:
- Wikipedia. Blackcurrant [Internet]. Version dated 10.13.2018
- Rebecca Morris, “6 Health Benefits of Black Currant,” Healthline newsletter, medically reviewed by Debra Rose Wilson, PhD, MSN, RN, IBCLC, AHN-BC, CHT on September 26, 2016, www.healthline.com/health/ health-benefits-black-currant.