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Black Currant Berries
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Black currants grow on deciduous shrubs that reach heights of 2 meters on average. The small glossy berries grow in tightly clustered strands and are a deep inky blue color when fully ripe. Their soft pulpy flesh has a juicy texture and contains multiple small edible seeds. The skin of Black currant berries is slightly thicker than other varieties, contributing to its strong flavor and tannic finish. Their complex flavor profile consists of concentrated raspberry and blackberry, gooseberry, passionfruit, rose and pine.
Black currants are available in summer.
Black currants are botanically classified as Ribes nigrum, and are distant relative of the gooseberry within the family Grossulariaceae. There are over 150 species within the Ribes genus, each categorized by color: red, white or black. Most Black currant varieties are known for their considerable strong flavor and usually require processing before eating. They are most famously used as the flavor base for the liquor Crème de cassis.
Black currants are an excellent source of vitamin C, containing almost twice that of an orange. They also provide flavonoids, beta-carotene, lutein and phenolic acid.
Though the occasional perfectly ripe Black currant is sweet enough for fresh eating, most often these tart berries are reserved for cooked applications. They are typically made into jams, jellies, syrups and liqueurs which are bolstered with some kind of sweetener. In savory dishes, their natural astringency can add the necessary acidity to sauces that accompany rich meat and wild game. Make a pan sauce with cassis, fresh currants and honey for seared duck breast. Finish a loin of roast pork in a sauce studded with Black currants and sage. Make a vinaigrette with Black current juice and olive oil to dress a warm venison salad with hazelnuts, feta cheese and chicory. Other complimentary flavors include, apple, pear, ginger, oats, juniper, vanilla, cinnamon, cloves and woody herbs.
In the Second World War, Black currant syrup was recommended to parents to serve children by the British government to make up for the lack of vitamin C from other unavailable fruit.
Black currants are native to Central and Eastern Europe as well as parts of Asia. The earliest record of their cultivation dates back to the 11th century where they were grown in a Russian monastery garden. It was not until much later during the 17th century that official commercial production of the Black currant actually began. The bushes can be very long-lived, but require heavy pruning each year to insure a robust fruiting.
Recipes that include Black Currant Berries. One is easiest, three is harder.