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About the Black Currant, America’s Forbidden Fruit

While I was in Poland last summer, among the many other things that trip exposed me to, was a popular juice in Poland made from a fruit that, until that point, I had never even heard of, known as the black currant. It turns out that the black currant is a fruit related to the gooseberry that is popular all across Europe, used in desserts, pies, jams, juices, candies, yogurts, and even to add flavor to beer or liqueur. Having had it in juice and jam before, I can testify this berry is popular for good reason, sporting a sweet yet tart taste that makes it unlike almost any other fruit I’ve yet tasted – the best way I can describe it is that it is what one might get if you combined a cranberry, a blueberry and a grape.
black-currant-juiceNeedless to say, I am a fan of this fruit – which is why upon my return to the United States I was somewhat shocked to find out that growing the black currant in the United States has been illegal for almost a century in most of the country, due to the fact the berry bushes were deemed a threat to the US lumber industry, as they can act as a vector for white pine blister rust. As such, to this day, almost every state has outlawed the planting and cultivation of the black currant, and many have gone as far as to forbid their sale and transportation the black currant.
black-current-juice-vavelThe only place I’ve even found a black currant product sold that wasn’t a multivitamin has been Wegmans stores in Northern Virginia, which sell black currant juice in their international isles, including the Polish Vavel brand I became acquainted with while in Krakow and Warsaw last summer.

To me, this is a shame not just because the black currant proved quite tasty – upon further research, I found that it’s a true blue miracle fruit from a nutritional standpoint, offering twice the antioxidants as blueberries, four times the vitamin C of oranges, and twice the potassium as bananas, as well as a host of other vitamins ranging from Iron and Calcium to Vitamin E. As Europe has proven, they can be used in a wide range of products, are relatively easy to grow, and have a wide potential cultivation range. This means that the black currant could potentially be grown almost anywhere in the USA, cultivated rather easily, and utilized in countless products. From a nutritional, culinary, agricultural and economic standpoint, the black currant offers vast potential if only it were allowed to be grown and sold legally.
black-currant-fruitsOf course, as if the ban on the fruit needed to be made even more pointless, the original reason it was banned is no longer a factor – strands of the black currant have been grown that do not host the white pine blister rust since the 1970s, and the bans were moved from the federal to the state level around the same point. The reason most of the bans remain in place at this point is merely due to the fact they’ve been on the books for over a century in some parts of the country, and not nearly enough people are even aware of the existence of the black currant, let alone the potential benefits of its legalization to see it happen.

Thankfully, some small steps by some passionate supporters of this forbidden fruit have been working to see this changed. The most notable of these have been Greg Quinn, a New York horticulturist and farmer whose vocal support of the fruit has seen it legalized in his native state, and is overseeing the growing trend of its growth in New York. Other efforts have succeeded on Oregon, Connecticut and Vermont, though in much of the rest of the country, the status quo of the black current remains the same as it has for the last century. Needless to say, I would love to see my native Virginia join the ranks of the states that have struck down the ban, if only that I could buy black currant juice closer to home.
Black_Currant_BowlSo please, if you are reading this, try to find a bottle of this tasteful fruit, and see what the fuss about the black currant is for yourself. Then talk to your state representatives about striking down the outdated prohibitions against the fruit, allowing for the growth of what could and should be the next big American agricultural product. Forbidden fruits may taste the sweetest, but it’s about time that the black currant gets its rightful time in the sun, and hopefully with it, on our dining tables.

16 thoughts on “About the Black Currant, America’s Forbidden Fruit”

  1. Life In Black says:

    It seems to be readily available in Pennsylvania if you’re up for a road trip. 😛

    1. Sean CW Korsgaard says:

      They sell black current products at least in Wegmans stores in Northern Virginia, which is slightly closer to home – I’m always up for a road trip however 😀

  2. Daniel says:

    Hmm, I’ll have to check to see if its available in my area of Rhode Island/Mass. I know for certain that the local Aldi’s doesn’t carry any blackcurrant juice. There’s a new Market Basket grocery store being built near my house, so when it’s complete I might have a look.

    1. Sean CW Korsgaard says:

      You certainly will have to keep your eyes peeled – only place I’ve seen sell it here in Virginia is Wegmans, I don’t know if they have those in New England. One more reason they need to lift the restrictions on this marvelous little fruit!

    2. Leon says:

      Yesterday was the first time I saw black currant juice being sold at Market Basket in the greater Boston area. $2.99 per 1 liter bottle imported from Russia. They have been selling pomegranade juice produced by the same company for a while and now there is a nice addition of black currant juice.

      1. Sean CW Korsgaard says:

        A nice addition indeed! Glad to hear New England has a few places that sell black currant juice – I only wish a lot more places in Virginia did!

  3. Peter Molnár says:

    You’d probably love to hear that we grow black currant in our garden as well, Sean. 🙂 In small numbers, but last time I checked, it was still growing there. We also have a decent amount of gooseberries, blackberries (aka brambleberries), mulberries. Even actual wild raspberries (grandpa brought a few stems back home from the local forest a few decades ago and they’ve since grown into quite an impressive patch). Should I smuggle you a few if I ever visit the US ? 😉

    1. Sean CW Korsgaard says:

      (drools) That garden sounds AMAZING!

      Also, yes, yes you should smuggle some into the country if you ever come here.

  4. Welsh says:

    If you are unaware of it, there is a red variety as well that sometimes morphs into white as they spread. I have some bushes here in Illinois by my driveway that are about 18 years old. 😉 they are sour as the Black ones without the slight bitter after taste that the skins of the black ones have. They are mainly used to make sauces in europe but make a lovely jelly and are nice fresh as well. Try them some time and compare. Home depot often carries rooted cuttings of them in spring in the paper boxes. I had black currant plants for only a few years before they failed. Not sure if there was a disease that got them or not but the red ones seem immune to whatever killed the black ones.

    1. Sean CW Korsgaard says:

      Based on your description, I may just have to try and hunt the red ones down for myself.

  5. Jacqueline says:

    Where californien wine get a blackcurrant arome if it is a rare product?
    I use to plant them in France and make outstanding creme de cassis.
    I miss it, where to get the fruit around south florida?

  6. Daan says:

    That is funny. Is Cremé de cassis liquor allowed in the USA? Or blackcurrant Ice Cream? (Imported)

    1. Sean CW Korsgaard says:

      I don’t know if its illegal, but I’ve certainly never seen either in stores. We do have black current juice and black current jam imported though, so I think if there were demand, those could be imported as well… though importing ice cream could well be a tricky matter of logistics.

      1. Michael D Schwers says:

        A Virginia winery in Middleburg named Mt. Defiance makes a blackcurrant cassis from berries grown in NY. I’d been on the hunt for a purer form of the liqueur as the traditional French Kir (and Kir Royale) is made with Creme de Cassis rather than Chambord, which is a blend of raspberries, blackberries, honey, etc. (There are some who say Chambord contains a trace of blackcurrant). It was not until I visited the ABC store in search of a blackcurrant cassis that I stumbled upon the Mt. Defiance Cassis and in reading the back label I learned of the ruinouns fate of the blackcurrant berry here in the United States over a century ago. I am waiting for the Louis Jadot Chardonnay (Macon Village) to reach an optimal chill so I can enjoy a Kir in its true state!


  7. Brenda Pinzón says:

    I grew up in Mexico until the age of seven. One of my favorite treats was shaved ice with black currant syrup. I have spent my whole life in the US trying to find a flavor that satisfies my craving. Unfortunately, I haven’t found it yet. I didn’t know it was banned ! I will order it online. I want my kids to experience the sweet, tart, and aromatic flavor of the black currant.
    We call it grosella in Mexico. (pronounced -growseya)

  8. Sandra says:

    I share similar sentiments toward black currant as well, Sean. I grew up in Lithuania and currants of all colors (red, white, black, but especially black) has been my favorite. Few months ago we moved to NC, bought a property with some land and started building our dream mini homestead. Imagine my disappointment when I found out that NC is one of the states where growing currants and gooseberries is illegal. I was grumbling for several days! I am honestly baffled that this century old agricultural law is still active. I am planning to write a letter or somehow reach out to the government about this black currant situation.
    However, until I am able to grow those berries my self, I was able to find jams at Homegoods, Marshals, TJ Max and Ross stores as well.

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