People might occasionally hear about a kind of fruit called a currant and they might wonder what this is. It is actually a berry and it comes from an often dense and attractive bush.
Note that while currant berries are often dried, what is sometimes sold in stores as dried Zante Currants aren’t currants. Zante currants are small, black, Corinth grapes and the dried fruit is really small raisins.
Currants are of the genus Ribes and are comprised of several subspecies. One of the main differences between the subspecies is the color of the berries when they are ripe. The most common currants have berries that are red, pink, white, or black. Black currents aren’t really black when ripe, incidentally, they are very dark purple.
The bush is shallow rooted and can grow nearly six feet tall, though it is more commonly about four feet in height. The bush also grows about the same size in diameter and each plant has numerous forked branches. The leaves are lobed and toothed, arranged on the stems in an alternate fashion. The stems may or may not have spines, depending on the subspecies of currant, however, they tend to feel tacky to the touch.
The flowers are small and range in color from greenish to pinkish-white. The flowers are born on a stem so that a cluster is normally made up of about 18 blossoms. These give way to the berries, once the flowers have been pollinated by insects.
Where Do Currants Grow?
Because there are about 150 subspecies of currants which thrive in different habitats, these plants are native to all Canadian Provinces and US states except Hawaii. They are also found in Mexico, in the higher regions of South America, in Europe, Russia, and Asia. The gooseberry is a subspecies of currant, though some sources say that it is merely related. Still, it is of the Ribes genus, which makes it a currant. Gooseberries are even found in more tropical regions, such as the Philippines. Tagalog for gooseberry is gusberi.
Most species of currants need at least some cold temperatures in order to become dormant since these bushes are deciduous, so most grow in temperate regions. They are also commercially grown in many countries.
Like most fruit, currants are good for health. A cupful has 71 calories, mostly from fruit sugar rather than fat and this fruit contains no sodium or cholesterol. The berries are extremely high in vitamin C and are a good source of iron, potassium, manganese, magnesium, and phosphorus. They also contain several antioxidants and are high in omega-3 fatty acids.
Nutritionally, this makes currents good for people who are wanting to lose weight, people on sodium-restricted diets, diabetics, people with high blood pressure and people who are fighting cancer.
Currants make very good jellies and they have a very agreeable, sweet flavor. They can also be cooked in breads such as banana bread and zucchini bread to increase both the flavor and the healthiness of the bread. American Indians added currants to their pemmican, a dried food, and some tribes used them medicinally, primarily for women. Currants are also good when cooked with turkey, quail, grouse, pheasant or venison. A sauce can be made for any of these and the sauce can be used during baking meat.
Currants are plants that most people should be able to identify on sight. The berries are great to eat. One subspecies or another is found in most places. They are fun to pick, though some kinds do have thorns so gloves should be worn. They have good nutritional value. They even store well, once they are dried.
Now you know what is being referred to when you hear of someone cooking with currants.