[NAFEX] Re Black currant, taste - improvement, etc Loooong

Ribes60 at aol.com Ribes60 at aol.com
Sun Mar 7 22:04:49 EST 2004

This is in reply to several postings re black currant taste and “
improvements, I have taken a couple days to consider what I want to say and how to say it. 
My first thought was to say, “they are just better”  and, “black currants 
are like women – there is no such thing as a bad one, some are just better than 
others”. Somehow I did not think that was the answer expected.
I expect that by now, most regular posters have decided that I am pretty 
passionate about black currants and will try to honestly answer all questions to 
the best of my ability. So here goes:
Here we will deal with three different classes of black currants, Ribes 
Nigrum (the European black currant), Ribes Americana (one of the native American 
black currants) and Ribes Odoratum (another American black currant – Crandall). 
These are all different types of black currants. Then in the 1950s and 60s the 
Canadians bred and released three selections of Ribes Ussuriense that are 
very similar to R. Nigrum. These selections are Consort, Crusader and Coronet, in 
my opinion they look like R Nigrum but they are very different in flavor and 
some other characteristics. I have grown each of them and we have used 
Crusader as a parent in some of the breeding that we have done. These three 
selections are fully immune to WPBR and are often accepted in many locations that do 
not allow R. Nigrum. Crusader has not added very much to the seedlings that were 
produced and we no longer use it. 
Every seedling has it’s own special characteristics, we try to manipulate 
these by choosing parents they are known to possess the characteristics that we 
like. This may take a lot of crosses and backcrosses in hopes that we will come 
up with a plant and berry that is just what we want.
Improvements are somewhat like “taste” and “quality” – they may mean 
different things to different folks. If you are a commercial grower, you may want 
all fruit to ripen at the same time and need only one picking, you may want the 
fruit to look good, have good color and ship well Taste is great if you can 
get that also, but often taste is a secondary characteristic, because “most 
consumers don’t know what they really want anyway”. This is one of the really 
good things about NAFEXers, most eat or use the fruit that they grow and do not 
really care how it looks as long as it tastes good or is satisfactory to them.
I have been extolling the gooseberries and currants for many years, and most 
people do not know much if anything about them. I have said for a long time 
that “someday, they will be common to many farm markets, roadside stands and the 
fresh market in general”. I want to be able to go the chain markets and find 
black currant juice, candy, yogurt, ice cream and cough drops flavored with 
black currant. This is not going to just suddenly happen. I think that we have 
to have a market that demands it, and also have a ready supply for that market. 
In my opinion, this will only happen if we can expand the market slowly, this 
means that growers are not expected to plant 10, 20 or 50 acres of currants, 
and that juicers will not process thousands of pounds of berries until they 
feel they market is ready for it. 
My strategy is to have small growers especially those near large centers of 
populations and those that know and like them to share the harvest. I have 
found that I can sell almost all the fruit I grow and pick. Value added products 
have always been accepted very well. Jams, pies and wines have been the 
products that have attracted the most interest, but as small growers we need to 
really attract the people that like to use fruit fresh and raw. To do this we need 
to have fruit that is palatable and acceptable to eat “out of hand” (and we 
need to shorten the acquired taste time)
Black currant, generally has a sharp intense taste that does not appeal to 
the majority of the consuming population. Cooking the fruit, even for a short 
time, converts it to a very acceptable product. We have found that there are 
some selections that are sweeter and milder than others, not that they are “less 
good for cooking or juicing” but they may require less sugar and the flavor is 
very good. Some are very acid like and really need to be cooked.
Taste is such a subjective thing that I find it hard to qualify or quantify, 
that is why there is so many brands of beer, soft drink salsa and on and on. 
The selection of currants for home processing is not as important as how the 
product is blended – the amount of sugar other spices or flavoring added. The 
home grower can produce a “customized” product that is “just what he wants”. I 
have heard it said that cinnamon or nutmeg just mask poor quality apples. The 
amount of sugar certainly affects jam and jam made with very little sugar 
(and the appropriate pectin) is IMHO, much better than the usual commercial 
product.  All this is not true of the fresh raw fruit – it lives or dies on it’s 
own merit. I strive for a fruit that is acceptable to the greatest number of 
consumers, just as it comes off the plant or with very little added. There is 
almost as much variability in black currants as exist in grapes, apples, peaches 
and other fruit, there is just not as good selection to choose from. I am 
very fortunate to have the opportunity to taste hundreds of selections of black 
currant, some are immediately acceptable to me but maybe not so much to Harry 
Swartz, the breeder. I have found that we have some different tastes, but there 
are some that we both discard without question.. Remember, all are good, some 
just better than others.
Ed Mashburn
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