By Harold McGee
Currants and gooseberries are all species of the genus Ribes, which is found in northern Europe and North America. These small berries don’t appear to have been cultivated until around 1500. (Their cultivation in the United States has been retarded by federal and state restrictions because they can harbor a disease that attacks white pines.) There are white and red currants, R. sativum and R. rubrum, and hybrids between the two. The black currant R. nigrum, is higher in acid than the others, and has a distinctively intense aroma made up of many spicy terpenes, fruity esters, and a musky, “catty” sulfur compound that is also found in sauvignon blanc wines. Black currants are also notably rich in vitamin C and in antioxidant phenolic compounds—as much as 1% of their weight—about a third of which are anthocyanin pigments. Currants are mainly made into preserves, and the French make black currants into a liqueur, crème de cassis.