[NAFEX] Info on Black Currant questions (long)

Brungardt, Sam Sam.Brungardt at state.mn.us
Wed Mar 10 10:13:58 EST 2004

Thanks, Richard, for helping bring some useful information to the discussion about black currant flavor.  I cannot but help think that there is a system for rating flavor (fresh and cooked) of the various cultivars, most likely developed in Great Britain or in continental Europe. -- Sam Brungardt, St. Paul, Minn. (USDA zone 4b) 

-----Original Message-----
From: nafex-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org
[mailto:nafex-bounces at lists.ibiblio.org]On Behalf Of Moyer, Richard
Sent: Wednesday, March 10, 2004 8:45 AM
To: 'nafex at lists.ibiblio.org'
Subject: [NAFEX] Info on Black Currant questions (long)

Black Currant info; skip if you don't enjoy details.
The recent black currant discussion has been enjoyable.  I'd like to answer
from my experience with rust resistant cultivars.   Some of you are asking
detailed questions, so here are some detailed answers.
Ribes = genus with gooseberries and currants 
Ribes nigrum = European black currants

As for rust resistance, there are apparently several genetic paths to
disease resistance in black currants, so rust resistance is a range, not a
binary trait.  For instance, many black currants at the NCGR (USDA National
Clonal Germplasm Repository) are rated on a 1-9 scale in rust resistance.
Consort and Titania are elites in their high resistance, rated at 1.  Other
currants with lesser resistance range from 2-9.  Plant pathologists prefer
not to say rust 'immunity', as there may be a time or place where rust could
occur one day, however unlikely.  I'll share later a summary of a more
complete study of Ribes rust resistance at NCGR.  Such studies need to be
cited if working to modify state laws regarding Ribes production.

Thanks to Steve for pointing out that fresh Consort has a 'dirty' flavor,
described by others as 'off' or 'skanky'.  To my taste, at least some of
these off flavors make it into the cooked Consort product.  By cooked
product, I mean 100% berries, plus whatever sugar may need to be added for
palatability.  If used in ice cream, yogurt, etc, these off flavors may be
minimized.  This raises at least 2 issues (I'm not a food scientist):
a) A sizeable minority of the population are non-tasters for certain
flavors; we each lack some ability that others have.  Hence some people
might not detect certain Consort 'off' flavors, flavors which may scream at
a few tasters on the other end of the scale.
b) An off flavor to one person is an acquired, even preferred flavor
component to another.  Hence when saying if 'Consort' works for you, go for
it, I don't imply that differences in rust resistant cultivars are minimal
or nuanced. For some folks, certain 'Consort' flavors simply will not be
noticed, or even be preferred.

Ginda asked whether the better tasting raw R. nigrum are also superior
cooked.  The short answer from my kitchen and palate is yes, with a longer
answer below.  Someone else asked earlier about potential health benefits of
black currants.  From work done with others at OSU and NCGR, we found that
the average amount of total phenolics (wide range of plant chemicals) in
black currant fruit is about 1.6X that of a range of blueberries and
blackberries.  From lunch today, I can state that black currant sauce has a
breadth of flavors and aromas far beyond blackberry sauce, and beyond fig
butter, rhubarb jam, and apple sauce.  (This black currant sauce is from
Titania (R. nigrum), a rust resistant currant).  We're eating Titania and
Crandall (R. aureum, an American) and though these two currants have
comparable levels of total phenolics and rust resistance, they differ in
flavor and aroma, as noted by Ginda.  Crandall was my introduction to
currants; I'm still impressed with its cooked flavor and continue to grow
it.  During bloom, its color and scent beats all European black currants by
a mile.

As for fruit, Consort has 1.45X the phenolics level of Titania and Crandall.
In fact, Consort has the highest phenolics of 33 R. nigrum cultivars tested.
Only a tiny fruited Chilean currant beat Consort in total phenolics, and Kim
Hummer (NCGR) said this one tasted like medicine, and I agree it was very
different.  So if it's total phenolics you are after, Consort beats the
other 33 black currants we tested.  I don't know ID of additional compounds
in Consort that lead to 'off' flavors, as we only did HPLC analysis on color
components (anthocyanins).  Consort leads in total phenolics, which may be
the best reason to grow it.
As for average antioxidant values, blueberries, blackberries and currants we
tested were roughly equal. Two measures of antioxidant capacity, FRAP and
ORAC, were used.  (Black raspberries beat all other fruits hands down for
total antioxidants.)  Consort, Titania and Crandall currants are about equal
for FRAP antioxidant capacity, and Consort is slightly ahead of the other
two in ORAC antioxidant capacity.

Summary: From our study, blueberries, blackberries and black currants are
about the same in antioxidant capacity.  Black currants are significantly
higher than blue- and blackberries in total phenolics, which contribute to a
range and depth of flavors unmatched in most other fruits.  
These flavors are detectable in raw currants, and carry over into cooked
products.  Breeding is not being done to remove these rich flavors on a
quest for sweeter, blander fresh fruit.  Sugar is cheap as far as the food
industry in concerned, and can always be added to an otherwise superior
cooked product.

My personal quest for superior rust resistant cultivars is a cooked product
with enough natural sugars that the sauce stands alone, nothing needing to
be added.  (I'd rather grow my own sugars).  The sauce should also have the
body of the best of the black currant aromas and flavors, hence should be
rich in phenolics and other flavor components.  I know of no efforts to
'dumb down' black currants to make them more bland for the American palate.
Selection of sweetness among several other traits, yes, but those other
traits must be there, including rich full body, superior cropping and plant
form, and disease resistance.  I look forward to the future releases by
Harry Swartz and Ed Mashburn.

Richard Moyer
Zone 6, Bristol, TN
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