There’s a lot of confusion regarding currants and dried currants. Contrary to popular belief, zante currants, also sometimes labeled as currants, are just tiny raisins and nothing like actual currants.
Real, fresh currants are related to gooseberries and they’re available in a mix of colors. They have varying flavors, depending on their color, and can be enjoyed in a variety of sweet and savory dishes.
In this blog, we’ll take a look at currants, what makes them different from raisins, and how to pick out, enjoy, and store fresh currants.
What Are Currants?
In the United States, ‘currants’ often refer to dried Corinth grapes, also known as Zante currants that are basically just tiny forms of raisins. They’re not true currants because they come from grapes that are about 1/4th size of regular grapes.
True currants, on the other hand, belong to the Ribes family of flowering shrubs and taste amazing when they’re eaten fresh. They typically come in three different colors – bright ruby red, dark purple or black, and translucent white.
Because of their vibrant colors, they’re mostly enjoyed in fresh fruit salads, berry mixes, or used to garnish a variety of desserts.
What Do Currants Taste Like?
All varieties of fresh currants are known to have an acidic kick to them that perfectly balances out their sweetness. Black currants are the sweetest of the bunch. Red currants, however, are quite tart in taste but they do have a slight sweetness to them that is reminiscent of sugar-coated cranberries.
Difference between Currants and Raisins
Zante currants and raisins both fall in the category of dried fruits that come from different types of vine-grown grapes. Raisins come from grapes that were originally green in color but darkened as they were dried. They contain tiny seeds and have a sweet flavor.
Real currants, however, are bush-grown berries that are more tart than sweet. These are also sold dried, but they’re not as widely available as raisins and zante currants.
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How to Pick out Currants
Currants are the freshest in June and July. They can be found at farmers’ markets and a few grocery stores from June through August. When you’re picking out currants, look for ones that are bright in color, translucent, and firm.
Black currants are known to be muskier, so look for berries that are firm and plump. If you’re getting red currants, it’s best to get them when they’re dark red as opposed to bright red in color as they’ll have a sweeter taste. (source)
How to Use Fresh Currants
There are many ways you can enjoy the sweet and sour taste of currants. You can eat them on their own and add a tiny sprinkle of sugar to balance out the tartness or use them in a variety of sweet and savory recipes. Here are some options you should consider:
You can mix crushed red currants into a light salad dressing or add them into a rich Cumberland sauce. It’s a classic English sauce that’s made with port wine, ginger, vinegar, orange, and currants and served with roasted meats such as duck, venison, and lamb.
You can add whole currants in quick bread or muffins, or use them in ice cream, sorbet, or pie filling with other fruits as well. Since both black and red currants contain a lot of natural pectins, you can also use them to make the most delicious jams and jellies with only sugar as the other ingredient.
How to Store Currants
Just like berries, fresh currants also have a short life-span and need to be stored properly to preserve their freshness. It’s advisable to rinse fresh currants before using and pat them dry using clean paper towels.
You shouldn’t wash them ahead of time, as prolonged exposure to moisturize will only shorten their shelf-life and cause them to rot or mold quickly in the refrigerator. Don’t forget to remove their stems before storing them in an air-tight container or sealable plastic bag in your refrigerator for up to three days.
To freeze fresh currants, you need to assemble them in a single layer on a baking tray and freeze them for about three hours. Once they’re completely frozen, place them inside sealable freezer-safe plastic bags and store them safely for up to six months.
Currants are not as readily available as other berries so you need to keep an eye out when they’re in season and get the freshest currants to make the most delicious jams and jellies at home. You can also eat them on their own and add a tiny bit of sugar to help offset their tartness. Store them properly in your freezer to enjoy them for up to several months.