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Blackcurrants in Australia: Old Favourite and New Superfood

Afsaneh & Tony Howey Tending the ViBERi Orchard

Long recognised for their health benefits, many Australians have fond memories of blackcurrants. Commonly used in throat lozenges and immune-boosting home remedies, it’s hard to find someone who doesn’t fondly recall a blackcurrant drink or a helpful pack of soothing sweets in a school blazer pocket. 

 
Blackcurrants have come a long way from their humble beginnings. A small berry with a characteristic sweet and tart rich flavour, the blackcurrant has long been a staple of European cooking. Across Europe, its medicinal properties have been well known since time immemorial, and the fruit features prominently in old cuisines from the UK to the heart of Russia. 
 
But it’s no mere folk medicine. After decades of careful research, studies have proven the usefulness of blackcurrant extracts beyond simple home cough and cold remedies. From heart health to endurance and recovery, blackcurrants are showing that they still have a lot to offer. Combined with progress made by New Zealand’s blackcurrant growers, this versatile fruit is making strides as a hot new super-food with an age-old pedigree.  

Finding a New Place in Australia 

This may seem like new information to many, and it’s hardly surprising. While blackcurrants are a long time Aussie favourite, they have struggled to find their place as a super-food. The Australian dietary supplement market is booming, with an overwhelming amount of information available to consumers. Walk into any Australian health food store or chemist and buyers will be greeted with a vast selection of powders, potions, additives and pills. The supplemental food market is a multi-billion dollar industry. In 2020 it’s estimated that over $3 billion was spent locally on dietary supplements and vitamins, much of it dubiously sourced and poorly studied. 
 
New Zealand blackcurrants represent something truly special. They are an old remedy with scientifically proven effectiveness. And oh they are delicious! Few supplements have such an intense and versatile flavour. Blackcurrants have a special edge when it comes to improving anyone’s diet. 

Old World Wisdom Meets Kiwi Magic 

New Zealand is the world’s largest blackcurrant grower in the southern hemisphere. Traditionally, black currants were cultivated in cool, temperate climates throughout Europe. Like many Old World favourites, the plant arrived in the Antipodes with the arrival of European settlers, but it took some time to be grown on a commercial scale. 
 
The first blackcurrant orchards were established in New Zealand in the late 1970s, especially in the South Island. The moist cool climate, free of pests and disease, were well suited to the plant. Plantings of blackcurrant bushes soon became a familiar sight, especially across the Nelson and Canterbury regions ‚ÄĒ under the shadow of the Southern Alps. Today many of those original farms are still going strong, with many remaining under the care of a single family for generations. By the 90s, New Zealand¬†had¬†already become recognised as a world leader in blackcurrant development, producing hardy plants with exceptional properties.¬†
 
Blackcurrents have undergone a resurgence in the early 2000s as evidence has mounted demonstrating their health benefits, as well as the benefits of organic fruit and vegetables. Organic farming is a philosophy of natural growth, avoiding synthetic fertilisers, pesticides and other additives, and focuses on letting nature take care of creating the best quality produce. Black currants are especially well suited for organic cultivation. New Zealand farmers’ commitment to breeding black currant plants for their specific conditions have resulted in plants that are hardy and low maintenance, allowing fruit to be produced with little to no synthetic additives.

Growing Blackcurrants

A black currant farmer is always busy. Blackcurrants are a small berry, smooth and with a rich purple skin of such a deep colour that it often appears black. They grow on a compact shrub that can reach around 1.5m (5ft) tall. The plant has large, broad leaves and in the early spring produces dainty clusters of pale white and pink flowers that are a rich source of food for honeybees. 
 
Once pollinated, the fruit develops in small groups along the stems, ripening completely by summer into the characteristic dark berry. The blackcurrant harvest traditionally starts just after Boxing Day, and continues throughout January as each different cultivar ripens in turn. 
 
Each individual plant fruits for between 10-15 years, and it takes three years for a baby plant to start producing a mature crop. 
 
New Zealand black currants are an ideal crop for organic cultivation management. Compost, clover cover and other natural tactics are employed to fertilise, and to prevent weeds from taking root. Sometimes enterprising growers allow sheep to graze between the rows during the autumn and winter. They nibble down weeds and fertilise with droppings as they go, an efficient and picturesque way to clear the ground without herbicides.  
 
Besides its pure water and fertile soils, New Zealand has another secret weapon to produce particularly healthy fruit. Due to its latitude, the growing regions of the South Island receive particularly intense light. No other growing region in the world has the combination of good soils, clean water and high ultraviolet light. These high antioxidant blackcurrants are unique, and only produced in this region. 
 
The hard work of New Zealand’s black currant farmers has paid off. Nowhere else in the world produces a berry that is as nutritious and delicious.

Cutting Edge Science and Old Favourites 

Black currant health benefits are long understood, and increasingly well studied. Over the last thirty years, regular scientific studies on blackcurrants from a wide variety of scientific bodies have covered every aspect of the plant, from their cultivation to their nutritional values. 
 
Black currants are recognised globally for their high Vitamin C content. After fresh fruit became scarce after World War 2, the British Government granted all children under two a free supply of blackcurrant cordial. Vit C is a key nutrient for the immune system, skin and connective tissue, and it aides in the absorption of iron from the diet. 
 
In addition, blackcurrants contain compounds known as Anthocyanins. A number of studies in the last ten years has linked this potent anti-oxidant to potentially improved recovery time for athletes, both by increasing blood flow and supporting the metabolism of acids in the muscles. 
 
There is also promising research to suggest New Zealand black currants in particular may work well to support blood sugar regulation for those with Type Two Diabetes, and support existing treatments for those with chronic immune conditions. 
 
Blackcurrants are also a low FODMAP food, a new option for people enduring poor gastrointestinal health. They are naturally anti-inflammatory, and have a low glycemic index, making them a perfect flavourful addition to the often restrictive FODMAP diet. 
 
Because New Zealand black currants are organically grown, these properties are preserved. Almost no nutrients are lost and no additives are needed during processing, too, thanks to innovative freeze-drying techniques. 

Changing Tastes in an Evolving World

Most Australians would be familiar with blackcurrants as a syrup, cordial or jam. Black currant juice is also commonly added to cold and flu remedies for that all-important boost of Vitamin C. 
 
But increasingly busy lifestyles demand more flexibility. New technologies are allowing us to best utilise New Zealand black currant health properties. A serving of a handful of blackcurrants every day is best, and to that aim a variety of options have been developed. 
 
Freeze dried and blackcurrant powder are the most efficient way to benefit from the nutritional content of the berry. This concentrates the beneficial compounds of the berry without adding more sugar, and allows it to be easily added to meals. Those most familiar with the berry have devised their own recipes and traditions, some of which can be found on our website. 
 
Freeze dried blackcurrants are a perfect balance between a powdered supplement and a snacking dried fruit. They have a remarkable tang to them that elevates sweet and savoury dishes alike, and are easily added to smoothies and shakes for a boost of flavourful nutrition. 
 
That said, for many, black currant powder is a convenient, delicious and all natural Vitamin C powder. For busy folks, it’s an easy fruit powder to brighten up any smoothie or shake, or it can be used to bring a pop of colour or flavour to ice cream, yoghurts or porridge. And then there are other, perhaps more decadent, options for enjoying blackcurrants, such as rolled in dark chocolate...

A Partnership Across the Ditch

New Zealand has always had a special place in the Australian imagination, and it’s reflected in how readily retailers are stocking New Zealand blackcurrant products. As local interest grows, more retailers are keen to give New Zealand blackcurrants a shot on their shelves. For now, it’s an exclusive list of well regarded health food specialists, but the stage is set for a broader availability for Australian consumers. 
 
The health benefits New Zealand black currants provide are ready to jump the ditch and become a common part of the Australian diet. With a long tradition of use and new research proving its efficiency as a superfood, the New Zealand black currant is ready to leave its mark on the health and well being of Australians across the country. From heart health to sports recovery to immunity support, New Zealand black currants exist at the boundary of cutting-edge science and time-honoured wisdom. This berry is ready to make its mark on the Australian lifestyle. 

 

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