Red currants are delicious tart berries native to western Europe that are packed with nutrients. Their tart flavor is reminiscent of gooseberry, which is why red currants have been popularized in Scandinavian and American cuisine.
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What is a Red Currant?
Red currant (Ribes rubrum) is a small, round-shaped fruit that belongs to the Grossulariaceae family. It is native to Europe, Asia, and North America and is commonly found in cooler regions of the world.
Red currant berries grow on deciduous shrubs that reach up to 1.5 meters in height. The fruit is small, translucent, and bright red. It has a slightly tart flavor and is typically harvested in mid or early summer. Red currants are often used in jams, jellies, syrups, and other desserts due to their tangy taste and high pectin content.
Regarding appearance, red currants are similar to other currants, such as black and white currants, but differ in their bright red color. The fruit grows in clusters on long stems and has a slightly translucent appearance. The skin is thin and delicate, while the pulp is juicy and crunchy. When ripe, the fruit is somewhat soft and has a sweet and tart aroma.
The History of Red Currants
Currants are small berries consumed since prehistoric times and are native to Western Europe and Asia.
Doctors highly valued red currants during the Middle Ages for their medicinal properties. In the 15th century, the systematic cultivation of currants began, and people started using them for flavoring and coloring soft wines.
Today, 99% of all currants are produced in Europe, with Russia being the largest producer, followed by Poland and Germany. The Czech Republic, Germany, and Belgium are the top export countries for all types of currants.
What Does a Red Currant Taste Like?
Red currants have a unique tart and slightly sweet flavor. When eaten raw, they have a bright, juicy, and tangy taste with a somewhat sour aftertaste. They are not as sweet as other berries like strawberries or blueberries, but they have a distinct flavor that many people enjoy.
When cooked, the tartness of red currants is often balanced by adding sugar, which brings out their natural sweetness. Cooked red currants are commonly used to make jams, jellies, sauces, and desserts.
How to Tell When Red Currants are Ripe
Red currants typically ripen in mid to late summer, depending on the climate and growing conditions. Here are some visual characteristics to look for to determine when red currants are ripe:
|The fruit should have a deep red color and be fully colored. Immature fruit will be lighter in color and may have streaks of green.
|Ripe red currants will have a firm, plump texture. The fruit should feel slightly soft to the touch but not mushy.
|The fruit should be sweet and slightly tart, with a flavor that intensifies as the fruit ripens.
|It is also good to smell the fruit, as ripe currants will have a sweet, fruity aroma.
Other Types of Currants
Red currants are similar to other currants in that they are tart berries used in jams, jellies, and other culinary applications. However, there are some differences between red currants and different types of cultivars.
Black currants: Black currants are larger and darker in color than red currants, and they have a more intense flavor described as slightly musky. They are used in jams, juices, and liqueurs and are rich in vitamin C and antioxidants.
White currants: White currants are slightly sweeter than red currants and have a more delicate flavor. They are often used in desserts and preserves and can be eaten fresh. They are smaller than red currants and are white or pale yellow.
Jostaberries: Jostaberries are a hybrid fruit cross between black currants and gooseberries. They are larger and darker in color than red currants and have a unique flavor that is a combination of sweet and tart. They are often used in jams and pies and are a good vitamin C and antioxidant source.
Are Cranberries the Same Thing as Red Currants?
Cranberries and red currants are not the same, but they share some similarities in their culinary applications and nutritional profiles. Here are some of the main similarities and differences between the two:
- Both are small, round, tart fruits used in cooking and baking.
- Both are rich in antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals.
- Both can be found fresh, frozen, or dried and used in various recipes, including sauces, jams, jellies, pies, and baked goods.
- Both are commonly used in European and North American cuisine, although they may be more prevalent in different regions or countries.
There are also many differences between cranberries and red currants, including:
- Cranberries are more prominent than red currants, with a diameter of about 1-2 cm, while red currants are roughly half the size, at around 0.5-1 cm in diameter.
- Cranberries grow on low-lying vines in wetlands or bogs, while red currants grow on small shrubs or bushes.
- Cranberries are usually bright red or dark red, while red currants are deep red or almost translucent with a slight sheen.
- Cranberries are incredibly tart and acidic, while red currants are also tart but have a slightly sweeter flavor.
- Cranberries are commonly consumed in juice form, while red currants are more commonly used in preserves, jams, and baking.
Can I Eat Raw Red Currants?
Yes, you can eat raw red currants. They are safe and commonly used in their natural form in salads, desserts, and other dishes. However, they can be quite tart and acidic, so some prefer using them in cooked dishes or adding sugar to balance their flavor.
Cooking with Red Currants
Before cooking with red currants, preparing them properly by removing the fruit from the stems is essential. Here’s how to do it:
- Rinse the red currants under cold running water and pat them dry with a paper towel.
- Hold a bunch of red currants by the stem and use a fork to pull the fruit off the stem gently. The fruit should come off quickly.
Now that the red currants are prepped, you can use them in various dishes. Red currants are often cooked with sugar to balance their tartness and are used in jams, jellies, and sauces. They can also be used fresh in salads and desserts.
Red currants are commonly found in European cuisine, particularly in Scandinavia and Germany. They’re often used to make traditional dishes such as red currant jelly, a sweet-tart spread commonly served with meat, and red currant soup, a tangy soup served as a dessert.
Here are a few specific dishes that feature red currants:
Red Currant Sauce for Game Meats: Cook down red currants with red wine, rosemary, and garlic to make a tangy and flavorful sauce that pairs well with game meats such as duck, lamb, or venison.
Red Currant and Orange Glazed Ham: Combine red currants with orange juice, baking spices, and a touch of honey or maple syrup to make a sweet and spicy glaze for baked ham.
Red Currant and Apple Crisp: Layer sliced apples and red currants in a baking dish, sprinkle with a mixture of oats, cinnamon, and brown sugar, and bake until golden and bubbly.
Red currant muffins: Fresh or frozen red currants can add a tangy and sweet flavor to muffins.
Red currant syrup: Red currant syrup can be used as a topping for pancakes, waffles, ice cream, or yogurt. You can also use it to flavor drinks like lemonade, sparkling water, or cocktails.
How to Store Red Currants
Red currants can be stored in the refrigerator to extend their shelf life. Place them in a plastic bag or container in the crisper drawer. They can last up to one week when stored this way.
You can also freeze red currants to extend their shelf life for up to six months. After washing the berries and removing the stems, place them in a zip-lock bag or container and freeze them until solid. Once frozen, transfer them to a freezer-safe container or bag.
Red currants can be dried to extend their shelf life by placing them on a baking sheet with enough spacing between them and in a low-temperature oven or dehydrator until dehydrated and shriveled. You can store them in an airtight container for up to six months if dehydrated.
Nutritional Benefits of Red Currants
Red currants are a fruit that has many health benefits. They have a low glycemic index so that they won’t cause sugar crashes or mood swings. They contain a lot of vitamin C, which can help fight infections and improve skin and hair.
They also have manganese, potassium, copper, and iron, which can assist in antioxidant defense and red blood cell formation. A good source of vitamin K, they help increase overall bone strength.
Lastly, they have fiber which can improve digestive health and prevent constipation. Together with the low calories in red currants, what’s not to love about this super berry?
Where to Purchase Red Currants
You can often find red currants at farmers’ markets, specialty food stores, and some larger grocery stores. If you have trouble finding fresh red currants, you may also be able to find them frozen, dried, or in the form of preserves or jams.
Red currants are typically available in the summer, usually from late June to early August, depending on the region. They are seasonal fruit and may be difficult to find outside their harvest season.