I’m not one to reach for a certain ingredient solely because of health claims, but I do think eating a wide variety of foods is not only more likely to be better for our physical and mental health, it’s also more delicious. When I see science prove a food to be particularly nutrient-rich, I might well make a point of having it to hand in the pantry or fridge.
Blackcurrants haven’t thus far received the kind of adoration heaped on certain other ‘superfoods’, but recent research indicates that we’d do well to include them often in our diet– especially those grown in New Zealand. Professor Mark Willems, a leading sports performance researcher in the UK, tells me studies show that “Very few other berries… contain anything like the total anthocyanin content of New Zealand blackcurrants”. The anthocyanins, found in the skin of blackcurrants, are desirable because they’re “Scientifically proven to deliver a wide range of health and wellness benefits including vision support, healthy inflammation response and immune support”, explains Willems. “They’re also proven to help you stay sharp when you’re under stress, tired or under pressure as well as help with energy levels and aid your recovery and endurance when exercising.” Blackcurrants are also rich in Vitamin C, calcium and fibre.
In New Zealand they’re commercially mostly grown in Canterbury and Nelson, and we can buy them frozen whole, dried, freeze-dried, in concentrated syrups, in drinks, and of course in jams–although Willems points out cooking fruit for extended periods destroys both vitamin C and anthocyanin content. Fresh blackcurrants aren’t easily come by, and quickly lose their pizazz.
Blackcurrants have a distinct tartness that can balance sweet and rich flavours. Throw a handful of frozen blackcurrants into a banana-based smoothie and add a spoonful of quality Manuka honey: a good fortifying breakfast for wintery mornings. Add them too, to fruit crumbles with a rich topping of butter-bound chopped nuts and nut flour. Add either the frozen or dried kind to that nostalgic classic, bran muffins–eaten warm, stuffed with a big slice of butter, they’re a wee moment of pure joy (I recommend Al Brown’s bran muffin recipe in his book Eat Up).
Freeze-dried whole blackcurrants are easy to add to so many dishes–scattered on top of muesli, chia or sago pudding, porridge, used to decorate cheesecake and fruit flan, or just popped into a lunchbox with a selection of other virtuous grazing items. Powdered freeze-dried blackcurrants can be used in the same way and add an instant visual and tart-taste appeal to all sorts of baking and desserts.
Don’t overlook the more savoury applications: Infuse vinegar with dried blackcurrants, or soak them in lemon and orange juice and blitz with Dijon mustard and olive oil to make a tangy dressing for steamed greens or colourful salads. Make texture-forward salads with freekeh, barley, wild rice or buckwheat with toasted chopped nuts, garden herbs and raw apple, pear or persimmon, dress well, and dust with blackcurrant powder. Their sharpness pairs well with rich meats and fish, so experiment in pairing them with proteins like duck, fattier cuts of pork, lamb and salmon–tip: a blackcurrant cure for gravlax will gain you instant dinner party fame.
*This piece was originally published in Sunday magazine.