Black currants (Ribes nigrum) have an interesting history in the United States. While they’ve been a popular snack in Europe for centuries, these purple-black berries were illegal in the states until recently. Now, they’re making a comeback.
Black currants are native to the more temperate areas of Northern Europe and Northern Asia. Written records of their use date back to the 1500s. While they once grew in the US, they were banned in the early 1910s after they were discovered to host a fungus that killed white pine trees. The ban stayed on the books in most states for years, and the berry remains uncommon in the U.S.
Black currants have a strong flavor that many say is an acquired taste. Though they usually have a tart flavor, they become sweet when ripe. They’re also filled with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, all of which provide major health benefits.
Black currants are full of antioxidants, including anthocyanins. Anthocyanins give black currants their characteristic dark color and fight free radicals in the body, reducing oxidative stress and cell damage.
Black currants have one of the highest antioxidant values for fruit, making them effective in treating or preventing a number of health issues.
Some of the health benefits of black currants include:
Black currants are high in antioxidants, including vitamin C. Along with the anthocyanins in black currants, these antioxidants can help to give your immune system a boost, allowing your body to fight infection and viruses more effectively.
Black currants are rich in an omega-6 fatty acid called gamma-linoleic acid. This compound can help to reduce inflammation, as well as improve symptoms of inflammatory diseases like rheumatoid arthritis. Some studies also showed that gamma-linoleic acid helped to lessen joint pain and stiffness for people with arthritis.
Anthocyanin-rich black currants may help treat glaucoma, one of the leading causes of blindness. The antioxidant increases blood flow in the eyes and may help to slow the progression of glaucoma. Gamma-linoleic acid, linoleic acid (found in vitamin C), and other antioxidants may also help to improve dry eye and symptoms of eye fatigue.
Reduced Risk of Heart Disease
Incorporating black currants into your diet may help to improve your heart health and reduce your risk for heart disease. Some studies show that black currant seed oil can help to improve your total cholesterol levels and reduce triglycerides in your blood.
Black currants contain soluble and insoluble fiber, both of which are vital for healthy digestion. While soluble fiber slows digestion so your gut can absorb more nutrients, insoluble fiber keeps things moving through the digestive system. It also helps to prevent the buildup of toxins and reduce your risk of colon cancer.
Black currants have high levels of manganese, which is an important mineral for helping to control blood sugar level. Manganese may aid in proper insulin secretion and help level out blood sugar for people with type 2 diabetes.
Reduced Risk of Cancer
The antioxidants in black currants help to fight free radicals in the body. They also help to reduce cell damage that can otherwise lead to certain types of cancer. Anthocyanins in black currants may even help to slow the development of existing cancer cells on the liver.
Other vitamins and minerals in the fruit include:
- Vitamin B1 (thiamine)
- Vitamin B2 (riboflavin)
- Vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid)
- Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)
- Vitamin A
Nutrients per Serving
A quarter-cup serving of black currants contains:
What to Watch Out For
Though black currants provide many essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, they may also slow blood clotting for some people. If you have a bleeding disorder or take blood thinning medications like aspirin, you should speak with your doctor before adding black currants to your diet.
Black currants may also lower blood pressure. While this is generally considered a health benefit, it can cause problems if you have low blood pressure or take blood pressure medications. Low blood pressure can lead to dizziness, fainting, rapid breathing, and blurry vision.
How to Eat Black Currants
You’re more likely to find dried black currants than fresh, but some stores do carry them. When buying these berries fresh, look for deep purple, glossy skin. Keep in mind that, once picked, black currants can go bad quickly. You can slow the process by storing them in the refrigerator or freezer.
While black currants have a strong taste, they’re delicious to eat raw when they’re ripe. You can also use them in a variety of recipes. Some ways to prepare black currants include:
- Cooking with sugar and other fruits to make a jam.
- Baking them into muffins, quick breads, or fruit pies.
- Making fresh black currant juice.
- Making a refreshing black currant sorbet or ice cream.
- Mixing them with vodka for a fruity twist.
- Creating a sauce for grouse or duck.