Blackcurrants, which grow wherever there is little sunlight, have always been eaten. Their medicinal properties had been empirically observed.
The leaves of the blackcurrant bush were used in the 12th century as an ointment for curing gout.
Later, in 1712, the abbot Pierre Bailly de Montaran published his work Les propriétés admirables du cassis [The Admirable Properties of Blackcurrants]. The blackcurrant was considered a true panacea in the 18th century. Infusions made with its leaves were renowned for combatting rheumatism, swelling, troublesome circulation, dysentery, etc, so much so that blackcurrant bushes were grown in every garden.
The first blackcurrant plantations were created in 1750 in the park belonging to the Montmiyard chateau at Dijon. August-Denis Lagoutte produced the first crème de cassis in this town in 1841, which became famous a century later by Canon Felix Kir, mayor of Dijon between 1945 and 1967. He allowed his name to be associated with blanc’cass, a drink made from white wine and crème de cassis that had existed in the town since the beginning of the century. The name Kir gained international fame.
Blackcurrants arrived in North America with settlers who had taken curative plants with them. Blackcurrant farming was later banned because the plants developed a fungus that was fatal for white pines. This prohibition was lifted in around 1960 after the introduction of new resistant varieties. The United States and Canada are now producers.
Blackcurrants should be firm and shiny, and without any trace of moldiness.
As well as fresh, blackcurrants can be found frozen, mostly from China, and wild or grown hydroponically.
Dried (sweetened) and powdered blackcurrant is also available.
Most blackcurrants produced are used in industrial confectionery (fruit jellies, preserves, gelatin desserts), but also for making blackberry cordial and crème de cassis liqueur.
Blackcurrants are delicate and should be used as quickly as possible. If not, they can be kept in the refrigerator for two or three days.
Blackcurrants have an excellent nutritional value. They are packed with vitamins including C and E, carotenoids, and an impressive number of other antioxidants (anthocyanins, flavonoids, tannins, and polyphenolic compounds that act synergistically), and fibers (especially pectins). They also contain small amounts of malic acid, quinic acid, and salicylic acid (aspirin). They are among the healthiest of fruit.
The blackcurrant grows wild in almost all the mountainous regions of Europe.
Some ten varieties are grown in France (Burgundy, Orléanais, Haute-Savoie), Germany, Belgium, Netherlands, Britain, Poland, Russia, the United States, and China.
They are distinguished by the size of their berries. Among them, the most popular are the Noir de Bourgogne, which has small berries, and the Black Down, Boskoop Giant, and Wellington, which have large and very dark berries.
The hybrid whitecurrant also exists, with its very pale berries.
The blackcurrant season is short: June and July.
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