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Not too sweet and not too tart.

Most people think of currants as the tiny, dark, dried fruit found in scones or fruitcake. Known as Zante currants, those fruits are actually dried grapes, or raisins.

But true currants are a smooth-skinned, seedy fruit about the size of blueberries. They belong to the genus Ribes, whose members include another uncommon fruit, the gooseberry.

Sweet-tart black or red currants are already well known in Europe. And now the fruit can be found in sparkling water and juice blends here in the United States.

Black currants lend beverages a deep purple hue. They also give it a healthy dose of vitamin C--a whopping 2 to 3 times that of orange juice, ounce for ounce.

Most of the currants crushed for juice blends are grown abroad. But because of these potential markets, there's a new interest in growing them here, says Kim E. Hummer. She is curator of ARS' National Clonal Germplasm Repository in Corvallis, Oregon.

The repository houses over 200 different currants, including not just the black and red, but pink and white ones, too. They come from all over the world. Beauty of Altay, for instance, is a black currant from the former Soviet Union, and Gloire de Sablons, a pink currant, came originally from France.

The repository is one in a network of 30 ARS-managed gene banks that safeguard economically important crops and their wild relatives. The Corvallis collection also houses pears, mints, hops, and other small fruits.

One of the most recent currant acquisitions came from high atop a mountain called Popocatepetl, in southern Mexico.

"Because this particular plant grows where there is frost almost every night of the year, it may have unusual hardiness," says Hummer. "We want to see how it will survive in the Pacific Northwest."

Just a few acres of currants are grown commercially in the United States--in Oregon and Washington. England, Scotland, Poland, and a few other countries also cultivate black and red currants, which are used for juices, jams, jellies, and pies.

The berries grow in small clusters on bushes with attractive, lobed leaves. The woody bushes can reach up to 5 feet. Certain ornamental currants sport beautiful spring flowers of white, yellow, maroon, or bright pink. They're found in botanical gardens and arboretums in the western states, as well as backyard gardens, says Hummer.--By Julie Corliss, formerly ARS.

Kim E. Hummer is with the USDA-ARS National Clonal Germplasm Repository, 3347 Peoria Road, Corvallis, OR 97333. Phone (503) 750-8712, fax number (503) 750-8717.
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Title Annotation:currants
Author:Corliss, Julie
Publication:Agricultural Research
Date:May 1, 1993
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