Genuine Currants have become a popular addition to many recipes, from jams and jellies to baked goods, sauces and deserts. Often, the genuine Currants are confused with a dried grape called Zante currants. In this blog post, we'll explain the differences between black currants and zante currants and we'll discuss the intriguing history behind the ban on Black Currants and its eventual overturning.
Black Currants: A Nutrient-Rich Powerhouse Berry Which Boasts a Tart Flavor
Black Currants, scientifically known as Ribes nigrum, are small, dark berries that are highly prized for their intense flavor and nutritional value. These little powerhouses are known for their high vitamin C content, boasting more of this essential nutrient than most other fruits, making them a great choice for immune system support. In fact, Black Currants contain four times the Vitamin C of oranges, more potassium than bananas and twice the antioxidants of blueberries. They are also contain, iron, calcium, magnesium and manganese. Black Currants are typically used to make juices, jams, confections and syrups and are very popular in throughout much of East and West Europe, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa and other parts of the world.
Zante Currants: A Tiny, Sweet Variety of Grape That Has Been Dried
Zante currants, on the other hand, are a different story. Contrary to what their name suggests, they are not true currants but actually tiny, dried grapes, also known as Corinthian raisins. These diminutive, seedless grapes originated in Greece from the Ionian regions of Zakynthos and Corinth. The confusion originated when they first arrived in the U.S. in the 19020’s. The Greek writing on the shipping boxes for the origin of the raisins, Zakynthos and Corinth, was mistranslated to Zante currants. Zante currants are known for their sweetness and are commonly used in dishes such as rice pilaf, scones and other baked goods like fruitcakes and hot cross buns. They are not related to genuine Currants in any way.
Ban on Black Currants: A Controversial History
The ban on Black Currants is a fascinating historical footnote that many are not aware of. In 1911, the United States banned the commercial cultivation of Currants due to concerns related to a disease known as white pine blister rust. This disease can affect white pine trees, a valuable timber resource at the time, and Black Currants were an alternate host plant for the rust fungus. The perceived danger was serious harm to the timber industry.
To protect the white pine industry, commercial cultivation of Currants in the United States was banned and for almost 100 years, genuine Currants were largely forgotten.
Overturning the Ban: A Victory for Black and Red Currants
In the 1960s, Federal legislation prohibiting cultivation was transferred to States jurisdiction. The tide began to turn for Black Currants in 2003 when Greg Quinn, a horticulturist, naturalist, instructor at The New York Botanical Garden and new farmer in New York, spearheaded an effort to repeal the ban on Black Currants. He convincingly made a case pointing out that newer, disease-resistant varieties of Black Currants and new cultivation methods existed. With the help of several State Senators and Assembly persons, the ban on Currants was finally overturned in 2003.
This decision marked a turning point for Black and Red Currants in North America. As the ban was lifted, Currant cultivation began to regain its popularity. Today, you can find Black and Red Currant products such as juices, jams, and wines in various parts of North America, and more people are becoming aware of their numerous health benefits. Quinn went on to establish the first legal Currant farm in the U.S. and founded CurrantC™, a company responsible for manufacturing and distributing many Currant products.
In the world of currants, it's essential to know the discrepancy between Black Currants and Zante currants, as they are distinctly different in flavor, appearance, and culinary uses. While Zante currants are tiny, sweet, dried grapes commonly used in baking, Black Currants are rich in nutrients and are ideal for making juices, jams, and other products. Additionally, the ban on Black Currants, driven by concerns about white pine blister rust, has been overturned in almost all states in which the climate supports Currant farming allowing this nutritious berry to make a comeback in North America.
As consumers become more health-conscious and interested in diverse culinary experiences, the revival of Black Currants and the overturning of their ban have come at just the right time. So, the next time you explore the world of Currants, make sure you're aware of the distinction between these two similarly named but vastly different fruits and consider incorporating Black Currants into your diet for a burst of flavor and nutrition.