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.
Needless 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.
The 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.
Of 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.
So 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.