Those little raisiny things called “currants” aren’t real currants!
This may be the best food conversation topic you’ve come across in a long time.
About a year and a half ago, a report out of Tufts University announced that “Black Currants may thwart Alzheimer’s.” Since then, there has been a growing sense of confusion throughout the country as to what is a Black Currant, what is a Zante currant and are raisins the same as currants?
Since most Americans don’t know what real currants are, we here at CropPharms have made it our mission to not only teach Americans what real Currants are but also what they aren’t.
What’s in a name? Currants, Black Currants, Blackcurrants, Zante currants, there’s much confusion about what to call our favorite little berry here in the U.S. and around the world. Are Currants and Black currants the same? Are Black Currants and Blackcurrants the same? Do Blackcurrants or Black Currants have anything to do with Zante currants? So as the guy who feels responsible for introducing Real Black Currants to the U.S. I’d like to set the record straight:
First, those little raisiny things most Americans know as “currants” and sometimes labeled Zante currants which are associated with currant scones and soda bread or in Mediterranean dishes are not real currants at all. They are actually a raisin which comes from a small black grape of the Corinth variety and originally imported from Greece.
So why are they called and even labeled currants? You ask.
There’s also a lot of different stories out there about how this all came about. One story, with many variations, which is simply copied from article to article on the internet without any real basis, claims that these little raisins were originally called currants by the Greeks for many years because they came from Corinth and the names sounded alike.
The Greeks never actually called their raisins “currants.” Blackcurrants or currants are not Greek words. The Greek work for raisin is Σταφίδες or stafides (in the Latin alphabet), nothing like “currant”.
The real story is that when the Greeks began to export the small dried Corinth grapes (raisins), from the Ionian Islands of Ζάκυνθος (Zakýnthos or Zante) and Κόρινθος (Kórinthos or Corinth), the Greek writing on the sides of the boxes of the first shipment identifying the places of origin was mistranslated from “Zakýnthos / Korinthos to Zante Currants.
At the time, the commercial cultivation of the real currants had been banned for many years in the U.S. and few Americans knew what real Currants were any more, the name stuck and we now have 80+ years of cook books telling us to put a half a cup of Zante currants, or more commonly the abbreviated “currants,” in our scones and soda bread when what they really mean is the special seedless, mini-raisin made from black Corinthian grapes.
The UK and other English speaking countries such as Ireland, Scotland and New Zealand grew black and red currants. There are also sub-cultivars which are white, pink and even green. The black currant variety became the most popular because of its uniquely intense tart flavor and incredible health benefits. It wasn’t long that the black currant became so popular it was thought of a distinct from its colorful cousins and the name “Blackcurrant” emerged as a single type of berry. They still, however, refer to the other berries with separated names; red currants, white currants, pink currants, etc. In virtually all other languages the name is separated, i.e. Черные смородины or čórnaja smoródina in Russian, Czarna porzeczka in Polish, Schwarze Johannisbeeren in German, etc. In the U.S. we also use the separated names “Black Currant” as well as Red Currant or White Currant and often, just Currant which, of course causes some confusion with the misnamed raisins.
Raisins (dried grapes) and Black Currants are entirely different fruits from very different botanical families. Grapes belong to the genus Vitus and Currants belong to the genus Ribes. Raisins have some phytonutrients, most notably boron but raisins contain far fewer phenols (antioxidants) than black currants and black currants supply iron, calcium, manganese, magnesium, and 4 X the vitamin C of oranges, more potassium than bananas, twice the antioxidants of blueberries, and more.
Zante currants have become part of the English vernacular and have come to be accepted to identify the Greek raisins. Calling raisins just “currants,” however, is improper and misleading. The most egregious mistake made by some foodies, bloggers, writers and even some companies selling those raisins is to call a raisin of any type, a black currant or black Zante currant. I can imagine that some companies are just trying to take advantage of the great press earned by the incredible health benefits of the real Black Currant. True Black Currants are amazingly healthy!
Cheers from the farm,