This month, a food to familiarize yourself with is the Black currant (Ribes nigrum). These cousins of the gooseberry (Ribes uva-crispa) originate in Europe and northern parts of Asia and while they are less popular in America, recent studies have acclaimed the super-fruit for its health and healing properties. These berries are packed with Vitamin C, in fact they contain over 5 times the amount found in an orange. You can obtain 302% of the Daily Value in just 100 grams of the fruit. They are also a good source of fiber, potassium, phosphorous and iron, which we already know are great for overall health. And as for the blueberry craze in America, the Black currant has our blueberry beat when it comes to antioxidants, so this is definitely a fruit to get familiar with. Antioxidants are known to prevent heart disease and cancer. In addition, the lesser-known nutrients in the berry, polyphenolics (which can be found in red wine and chocolate) and anthocyanins (which cause the deep color in blue and purple fruits), have been associated with the prevention of memory loss and Alzheimer’s disease.
The European fruit has quite a unique history. A potential reason as for why Black currants aren’t as popular in the United States is the fact that they were actually banned here at one point. They were mistakenly blamed for the spread of a disease called “white pine blister rust”, by acting as a host to the virus, which afflicted populations in the early 1900s. Although the federal ban was lifted in the 1960s, the berry never really re-gained its popularity here as it did overseas.
You may be able to catch these nutrient-packed berries in the months of July and August, when they are in season. For the rest of the year, you can consume it in its juice form, dried or frozen in specialty stores. Other than specialty stores, depending on where you live, your local farmer’s market may carry them. Make sure not to mistake them for dried currants, which are dried Black Corinth grapes. Black currants deserve their own fame as they have shown to be the underdog of healing fruits.
The taste of the Black currant can be described as both sweet and sharp. Many people use the berry in jams, jellies and baked goodies, however the best way to eat it is in its natural form. When black currants are juiced, most of the nutrients are left in the wasted skin and excess. Therefore, consuming the whole fruit is the best way to get the benefits of its nutrients. The fruit is often paired with cider to make a drink called (Cider and Black). As long as you remember to eat the fruit when you are finished sipping, you are sure to benefit from the nutrients. It has also been infused with beers and other alcoholic beverages. What better way to feel less guilty at happy hour? If you are not into the bar scene, you can always reserve them and infuse your tea with them or find other ways to incorporate them into your diet. To eat them fresh, they should be washed just before they are to be eaten. If they are stored in the refrigerator, eat them as soon as possible. Incorporate them into your breakfast smoothie or even add the dried versions to a trail mix or your favorite berry muffin recipe to also get the entire fruit into your daily diet.
One of the more amazing properties of this fruit is its association with the prevention or delay of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Alzheimer’s disease is caused by the accumulation of protein deposits in the brain called amyloid plaques. These proteins are associated with damage to brain cells, which are eventually killed off. This form of damage is known as oxidative stress, which the anti-oxidant compounds in the berries appear to combat. Oxidative stress is an important cause of brain degeneration as well as cancer and aging. The berries apparently combat the oxidative stress through the chemical compounds they contain, anthocyanins and polyphenolics, which have been associated with the delay of memory loss. Scientists describe the mechanism as “influencing the early gene expression in learning and memory, which influences cell signaling pathways that help neuronal cells communicate with each other”. Think of it as the top-shelf anti-aging serum for your brain. It is important to understand that the fruit is not an alternative treatment to Alzheimer’s or dementia. Rather, it may delay the onset of such diseases.
Black currents are so effective in delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s and dementia that there are processes in place in attempts to extract the nutrients and fortify other foods with them. Scientists in Scotland, in particular, have pioneered this idea because of the benefits known and because of the high prevalence of Alzheimer’s among the population. So don’t be surprised if you see a new bottle in the vitamin aisle, labeled “Black currant extract” in the future. Before the fruit hits the pharmacy, however, you may take advantage of it by exploring local farmer’s markets or natural food stores that may carry it.
The black currant should absolutely be a fruit that you introduce to your friends and family, especially if Alzheimer’s and dementia run in the family. Even if you are young and feel unaffected by such diseases, there are more than enough additional properties for you to choose in order to convince yourself that this super-fruit is one to seek out.