The blackcurrant (Ribes nigrum) or black currant is a woody shrub in the family Grossulariaceae grown for its berries. It is native to temperate parts of central and northern Europe and northern Asia, where it prefers damp fertile soils and is widely cultivated both commercially and domestically.
The raw fruit is particularly rich in vitamin C and polyphenols. Blackcurrants can be eaten raw, but are usually cooked in sweet or savoury dishes. They are used to make jams, preserves, and syrups and are grown commercially for the juice market. The fruit is also used to make alcoholic beverages and dyes.
Blackcurrants can grow well on sandy or heavy loams, or forest soils, as long as their nutrient requirements are met. They prefer damp, fertile but not waterlogged ground and are intolerant of drought. Although the bushes are winter hardy, frosts during the flowering period may adversely affect the yield and cold winds may restrict the number of flying insects visiting and pollinating the flowers. A pH of about 6 is ideal for blackcurrants and the ground can be limed if the soil is too acidic. Planting is usually done in the autumn or winter to allow the plants to become established before growth starts in the spring, but container-grown stock can be planted at any time of year.
The blackcurrant requires a number of essential nutrients to be present to enable it to thrive; nitrogen provides strong plant growth and stimulates the production of flower sprigs; phosphorus aids growth, the setting of fruit and crop yield; potassium promotes growth of individual shoots and increases the weight of individual fruits; magnesium is a constituent of chlorophyll and helps increase yields through interaction with potassium; calcium is required for cell division and enlargement and is particularly important for young plants and buds.
Fruit in blackcurrants is borne primarily on one-year-old shoots. Newly planted bushes should be pruned severely, cutting all shoots back to two buds above ground level. This gives the plant a chance to get properly established before needing to put its energy into producing fruit. The general rule when pruning is to remove all weak shoots and those growing out sideways which may get weighed down when fruiting. The remaining branches should be thinned to remove old unproductive wood and to encourage new shoots. An established bush should not be allowed to become overcrowded and should have about one third of its main branches or stems removed each year. When harvesting by machine, plants with an upright growth habit are encouraged.
American gooseberry mildew and powdery mildew can infect the leaves and shoot tips, and botrytis may cause the fruit to rot in a wet season. Currant and gooseberry leaf spot (Drepanopeziza ribis) is another disease of blackcurrants, but it is not usually a serious problem as most cultivars now have some resistance.
Blackcurrants are also used in savoury cooking. Their astringency creates added flavour in sauces, meats and other dishes. Blackcurrants are included in some unusual combinations of foods. They can be added to tomato and mint to make a salad. Blackcurrants may accompany roast beef, grilled lamb, seafood and shellfish. They can provide a dipping sauce at barbecues. They can be blended with mayonnaise, and used to invigorate bananas and other tropical fruits. Blackcurrants can be combined with dark chocolate or added to mincemeat in traditional mince pies at Christmas.