black currant

What is black currant

Black currant (Ribes nigrum L.) is a small, perennial shrub native to central Europe and northern Asia, is cultivated throughout the world, including the United States where it prefers damp fertile soils 1. Black currant is winter hardy, but cold weather at flowering time during the spring reduces the size of the crop. Bunches of small, glossy black fruit develop along the stems in the summer and can be harvested by hand or by machine. The raw fruit is particularly rich in vitamin C and polyphenol phytochemicals. Blackcurrants can be eaten raw but are usually cooked in a variety of sweet or savory dishes. They are used to make jams, jellies and syrups and are grown commercially for the juice market. The fruit is also used in the preparation of alcoholic beverages and both fruit and foliage have uses in traditional medicine and the preparation of dyes.

The fruit of black currants can be eaten raw, but it has a strong, tart flavor. It can be made into jams and jellies which set readily because of the fruit’s high content of pectin and acid. For culinary use, black currant is usually cooked with sugar to produce a purée, which can then be passed through muslin to separate the juice. The purée can be used to make black currant preserves and be included in cheesecakes, yogurt, ice cream, desserts, sorbets and many other sweet dishes. The exceptionally strong flavor can be moderated by combining it with other fruits, such as raspberries and strawberries in summer pudding or apples in crumbles and pies. Black currant juice can be used in syrups and cordials. Black currants are a common ingredient of Rødgrød, a popular kissel-like dessert in North German and Danish cuisines.

Black currants are also used in savory cooking because their astringency creates added flavor in many sauces, meat and other dishes and they are included in some unusual combinations of foods. They can be added to tomato and mint to make a salad, used to accompany roast or grilled lamb, used to accompany seafood and shellfish, used as a dipping sauce at barbecues, blended with mayonnaise, used to invigorate bananas and other tropical fruits, combined with dark chocolate or added to mincemeat in traditional mince pies at Christmas.

Black currant juice

Black currant juice forms the basis for various popular cordials, juice drinks, juices and smoothies. Typically blended with apple or other red fruits, it is also mixed with pomegranate and grape juice. Macerated blackcurrants are also the primary ingredient in the apéritif liqueur crème de cassis, which in turn is added to white wine to produce a Kir or to champagne to make a Kir Royale.

In the United Kingdom, blackcurrant cordial is often mixed with cider (hard cider) to make a drink called “cider and black”. If made with any common British lager beer, it is known as a “lager and black”. The addition of blackcurrant to a mix of cider and lager results in “diesel” or “snakebite and black” available at pubs. A “black ‘n’ black” can be made by adding a small amount of blackcurrant juice to a pint of stout. The head is purple if the shot of juice is placed in the glass first. Blackcurrant juice is sometimes combined with whey in an endurance/energy-type drink.

In Russia, blackcurrant leaves may be used for flavouring tea or preserves, such as salted cucumbers, and berries for home winemaking. Sweetened vodka may also be infused with blackcurrant leaves making a deep greenish-yellow beverage with a tart flavour and astringent taste. The berries may be infused in a similar manner. In Britain, 95% of the blackcurrants grown end up in Ribena (a brand of fruit juice whose name is derived from Ribes nigrum) and similar fruit syrups and juices.

Figure 1. Black currant 

black currant

Black currant nutrition facts

Raw black currants are 82% water, 15% carbohydrates, 1% protein and 0.4% fat (see Table 1). Per 100 g serving providing 63 calories, the raw fruit has high vitamin C content (218% of the Daily Value, DV) and moderate levels of iron and manganese (12% DV each). Other nutrients are present in negligible amounts (less than 10% DV).

Major anthocyanins in blackcurrant pomace are delphinidin-3-O-glucoside, delphinidin-3-O-rutinoside, cyanidin-3-O-glucoside, and cyanidin-3-O-rutinoside, which are retained in the juice concentrate among other yet unidentified polyphenols.

Black currant seed oil is rich in vitamin E and unsaturated fatty acids, including alpha-linolenic acid and gamma-linolenic acid.

Table 1. Black currant (raw) nutrition facts

NutrientUnitValue per 100 g
Total lipid (fat)g0.41
Carbohydrate, by differenceg15.38
Calcium, Camg55
Iron, Femg1.54
Magnesium, Mgmg24
Phosphorus, Pmg59
Potassium, Kmg322
Sodium, Namg2
Zinc, Znmg0.27
Copper, Cumg0.086
Manganese, Mnmg0.256
Vitamin C, total ascorbic acidmg181
Pantothenic acidmg0.398
Vitamin B-6mg0.066
Vitamin B-12µg0
Vitamin A, RAEµg12
Vitamin A, IUIU230
Vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol)mg1
Fatty acids, total saturatedg0.034
Fatty acids, total monounsaturatedg0.058
16:1 undifferentiatedg0.001
18:1 undifferentiatedg0.056
Fatty acids, total polyunsaturatedg0.179
18:2 undifferentiatedg0.107
18:3 undifferentiatedg0.072
Fatty acids, total transg0
(-)-Epicatechin 3-gallatemg0
(-)-Epigallocatechin 3-gallatemg0
Total isoflavonesmg0.07
Proanthocyanidin dimersmg2.9
Proanthocyanidin trimersmg2.2
Proanthocyanidin 4-6mersmg7.8
Proanthocyanidin 7-10mersmg7.2
Proanthocyanidin polymers (>10mers)mg135.1
[Source 2]

Black currant oil

Blackcurrant seed oil is a rich source of gamma-linolenic acid (omega 6 polyunsaturated fatty acid) ~ 17 percent 3 and is typically consumed as a part of a dietary supplement. This gamma-linolenic acid (omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid) is used for prevention and/or treatment of various degenerative pathologies such as osteoporosis 4, diabetes 5 and cancer 6, 7. Additionally, gamma-linolenic acid has been shown to suppress in vitro (test tube) tumor growth 8, improve oxygenation status 9, exert anti-inflammatory activity and display beneficial effects in the early stages of sepsis 10.

Black currant oil benefits

Numerous studies primarily carried out in the 1980s and 1990s demonstrated that gamma-linolenic acid-enriched botanical oils (evening primrose, borage, blackcurrant seed, and fungal-derived) had the capacity to relieve the signs and symptoms of several chronic inflammatory diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis (RA) and atopic dermatitis 11. However, several more recent reviews and meta-analyses have questioned these earlier studies and raised doubts about the clinical effectiveness of gamma-linolenic acid-enriched supplements particularly in the context of atopic dermatitis and rheumatoid arthritis 12 (see Table 2). A variety of issues complicate these studies including the fact that many of the trials have: 1) relatively low subject numbers; 2) less than ideal study designs (e.g. the absence of washout period in cross-over design trials); 3) variations in the types of gamma-linolenic acid supplements and how they are administered (e.g. dose, duration); and 4) differences in selection/inclusion criteria (e.g. population demographics and disease states) 13.

Table 2. Effect of gamma-linolenic acid-enriched oil supplements on various human disease from meta-analyses and recent studies

StudyDisease1 and Study
Supplement3location# subjects# studiesdurationoutcomeeffect
Morse et al., 1989 14Atoptic dermatitis
(CO, parallel)
UK, Italy,
3119 (EPO)4, 8, or
12 wk
Severity of
reduced severity of
Van Gool et al., 2004 15Atoptic dermatitis
Italy, UK,
107122 (total)
BO (6)
EPO (12)
BCO ( 1)
3–24wkSeverity of
no effect
Bamford et al., 2013 12Eczema (AE, AD, AEDS)
adult, children (RCTs)
EPO, BOUK, Italy,
India, NZ,
159627 (total)
19 (EPO)
8 (BO)
3–24wkSeverity of
no effect
Morse and Clough, 2006 16Atopic eczemaEPO
1207264–8wksSeverity of
reduced severity of
Fiocchi et al., 1994 17Atoptic dermatitis,
3g oil/d
Italy10na4wkLesion number;

Severity of

decrease number
reduced severity of
van Gool et al., 2003 18Atoptic dermatitis,
infants (RCT)
BO, 100mg/dNetherlands118na6moIncidence in 1st yr;
Severity of
no prevention benefit;
reduced severity of
symptoms (trend)
Kitz et al., 2006 19Atoptic dermatitis, infantsGLA,
Germany131na6 moPreventionno effect
Kawamura et al., 2011 20Atoptic dermatitis,
200mg/d, oil
in food
Japan130na16wkTrans-water loss;
Nocturnal itching
no effect;
Simon et al., 2014 21Atoptic dermatitis,
children and adult (open
study, non-controlled)
EPA, 4–6g
Switzerland21na12wkSCORAD4 indexplasma GLA content
correlates with
Cameron et al., 2011 22
Macfarlane et al., 2011 23
Rheumatoid arthritis
(RCT, parallel, placebo
UK, USA286 (total)
>90 (in 3
22 (total)
EPO (2)
BCO (1)
6moMorning stiffness;
decreased (2 of 3);
no effect
Cameron et al., 2011 22
Macfarlane et al., 2011 23
Rheumatoid arthritis1400-
USA, Finland>111EPO (1)
BO (2)
BCO (1)
Morning stiffness;
Joint tenderness;
Joint swelling;
Arm et al., 2013 24Mild asthma, adults
(ex vivo)
>50% decrease
(basophil response);
>35% decrease
(neutrophil response)
Ziboh et al., 2004 25Mild asthma, adults
BO (2g
(ex vivo);
Peak flow
>20% decrease
no effect
1AD, atopic dermatitis; AE, atopic eczema; AEDS, atopic eczema/dermatitis syndrome;
2RCT, randomized clinical trial; CO crossover; CCT, controlled clinical trial
3BO, borage oil: BCO. Blackcurrant oil; EPO, evening primrose oil; EO, echium oil; GLA, gamma-linolenic acid; SDA, stearidonic acid
4SCORAD, SCOing Atopic Dermatitis
[Source 26]

Several studies have also investigated the effects of gamma-linolenic acid when given in combination with botanical or marine omega-3 (n-3) enriched PUFA supplements. Enteral diets enriched with marine oils containing omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (i.e. eicosapentaenoic acid [EPA, 20:5n-3] and docosahexaenoic acid [DHA, 22:6n-3]) and gamma-linolenic acid have been shown to reduce cytokine production and neutrophil recruitment into the lung resulting in fewer days on ventilation and shorter stays in the intensive care unit in patients with acute lung injury or acute respiratory distress syndrome 27. Importantly, these dietary combinations of gamma-linolenic acid and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids were also shown to reduce both morbidity and mortality of critically ill patients 27. However, as with the studies of gamma-linolenic acid alone, the results combining gamma-linolenic acid and omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids have not been reproducible. Other clinical studies, such as the OMEGA trial, did not show a benefit of these gamma-linolenic acid/omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid combinations on patient outcomes 28.

Supplementation strategies providing gamma-linolenic acid together with omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (i.e. EPA and DHA) have also been utilized in patients with atopic asthma 29 and have been shown to block ex vivo synthesis of leukotrienes from whole blood and isolated neutrophils. Importantly when provided as an emulsion, daily consumption of these combinations was associated with an improved quality of life in asthma patients and a decreased reliance on rescue medication 29. These results compared favorably with quality of life scores obtained in mild asthmatics treated with montelukast or zafirlukast 30.

Alternatively, botanical oil combinations (e.g. borage and echium oils) containing gamma-linolenic acid, the n-3 18C-PUFAs, alpha-linolenic acid (ALA, 18:3n-3) and stearidonic acid (SDA, 18:4n-3), have been shown to reduce leukotriene generation and forced expiratory volume in mild asthmatics 31, improve glucose tolerance in insulin-resistant monkeys 32 and reduce total and LDL “bad” cholesterol levels in patients with diabetes and metabolic syndrome 33. These botanical oil studies, however, have yet to be replicated in larger human clinical trials.

Together, these data indicate that the outcomes of clinical studies utilizing gamma-linolenic acid supplementation, alone or in combination with other fatty acid-based supplements, while promising are highly inconsistent. More recent studies suggest that there are important metabolic and genetic factors within the human host that significantly impact the study of gamma-linolenic acid or gamma-linolenic acid/omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids combinations and reveal that a “one size fits all” model of supplementation may not be appropriate. Furthermore, these studies suggest that it may be necessary to better understand key metabolic and genetic issues regarding gamma-linolenic acid metabolism before gamma-linolenic acid-enriched supplements can be effectively used to address human disease.

Black currant benefits

In addition to its anecdotal use in traditional herbal medicine, modern laboratories have demonstrated the potent anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and antimicrobial effects of black currant constituents on a myriad of disease states. Various reports also describe the beneficial functions of black currant for human health, vasodilatation 34, eyestrain 35 and as an antivirus agent 36. These properties are mainly due to the anthocyanins (specifically delphinidin-3-O-glucoside, delphinidin-3-O-rutinoside, cyanidin-3-O-glucoside and cyanidin-3-O-rutinoside), flavonols, phenolic acids and polyunsaturated fatty acids in black currant. In previous studies, researchers found immunostimulating effects of a polysaccharide, which called cassis polysaccharide, derived from black currant 37 and its antitumor activity and ability to induce tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α) production in a mouse study 37. Scientists also found that cassis polysaccharide has an effect on macrophage activation in in vitro (test tube) experiments 37.

Anthocyanins are effective antioxidants 38 but they have also been proposed to have other biological activities that are independent of their antioxidative capacities and produce health benefits. Examples range from inhibition of cancer cell growth in vitro 39, induction of insulin production in isolated pancreatic cells 40, reduction of starch digestion through inhibition of a-glucosidase activity 41, suppression of inflammatory responses 42, slow down patient’s glaucoma progression 43, as well as protection against age-related declines in cognitive behavior and neuronal dysfunction in the central nervous system 44.

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