Blackcurrant (Ribes Nigrum)

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Recently many researchers have been focusing on the beneficial roles of blackcurrant. Blackcurrant is considered as a valuable fruit due to its high medicinal value. Over a thousand years, blackcurrant has been used as a Chinese folk medicine. Blackcurrant is a functional food that does not just provide energy to the body, but also plays a protective role against a number of diseases and disorders. Its high content of pectin, acid, anthocyanins, flavonoids, vitamin C and antioxidants do not just make it an attractive and delicious fruit, but their presence makes it extremely healthy.

Health Benefits of Black Current

Fruits are considered an important part of our diet. Blackcurrant is an amazing fruit, which has a very high content of polyphenol and antioxidants. Such a brilliant composition makes it very important in the treatment of various diseases such as asthma, type 2 diabetes mellitus, hypertension and cardiovascular diseases and so on. It has anti-infective, anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties. Further, it keeps infections, diseases and disorders at bay. Let’s throw some light on blackcurrant’s nutritional profile:

Nutrients in Blackcurrants

Blackcurrant as compared to other fruits such as orange, apple, strawberry, gooseberry and red currant has high moisture content. This makes it an amazing fruit for individuals who want to shed some pounds. Blackcurrant is a rich source of vitamins such as carotenoids (pro-vitamin A), thiamine (vitamin B1), niacin (vitamin B3), vitamin E and minerals such as potassium, magnesium, iron and calcium. Besides this, blackcurrant contains low level of sodium, thus it is beneficial for individuals with high blood pressure.

Rich in Antioxidants

It is found that free radicals play an important role in the etiology of various diseases. In order to reduce the risk of diseases and to fight oxidative stress, it is very important to eat foods rich in antioxidants. Blackcurrant is one such fruit that is extremely rich in antioxidants. This fruit strengthens the antioxidant enzyme system of the body so that these antioxidants are able to combat oxidative stress. Superoxide free radical is a very harmful radical that causes damage to the cells of the body. Research has found that blackcurrant contains ‘SUPEROXIDE DISMUTASE’, a very potent antioxidant that can scavenge superoxide radical and protect the body. Besides this, superoxide dismutase is also used in the treatment of anti-ageing. As the levels of superoxide dismutase increases, the level of superoxide radical drops and vice versa. Thus, consuming blackcurrant can reduce the oxidative stress and improve the level of antioxidants in the body.

Abundance of Anthocyanins

Anthocyanins are a group of bioactive compounds that are present in huge amount in blackcurrant. Anthocyanins, a major group of flavonoid family, have shown to provide many health benefits. It is strong antioxidative properties fights oxidative stress and reduces the risk of diseases and disorders associated with it such as type 2 diabetes mellitus, cancer, cardiovascular disease, cataract, ageing and so on. Anthocyanin structures present in blackcurrant fruit includes:

  • PEONIDIN
  • PETUNIDIN
  • DELPHINIDIN
  • MALVIDIN
  • PELARGONIDIN
  • CYANIDIN

These anthocyanins also possess antimicrobial properties and thus, protects against a number of infections.

Rich in Bioactive Compounds

Besides anthocyanins, blackcurrant fruit contains an array of phenolic acids that are extremely beneficial for health. GALLIC ACID and VANILLIC ACID are two important phenolic acids that are present in blackcurrant leaves as well as fruit. Blackcurrant is also abundant in flavonols and it contains eight different types of flavonols. Some flavonols include QUERCETIN, MYRICETIN and KAEMPFEROL. These flavonols provide protection to the heart and thus, help in the prevention and treatment of heart diseases. Besides this, blackcurrant also contain significant amount of ASCORBIC ACID. Studies have also noted the presence of carotenoids in blackcurrants. The presence of so many natural health-promoting compounds makes blackcurrant a super fruit.

Therapeutic Advantages

Blackcurrants are very popular as a therapeutic food. It has gained a lot of popularity in clinical setting. Let’s have a look at how eating blackcurrants can cut down the risk of diseases:

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Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus

Research has found that blackcurrants exhibit hypoglycemic property, that is, it helps in lowering high plasma glucose levels in individuals with type 2 diabetes mellitus. Blackcurrants inhibit the activity of digestive enzymes that breakdown carbohydrates into glucose during the process of digestion. Such an inhibition delays the release of glucose and thus, prevents sudden spike in the plasma glucose level. Such effect is attributed to high phenolic content of black currant, especially ‘anthocyanins’. Thus, whole and fresh blackcurrants can be included in a diabetic diet to attain glycemic control.

Anti-Infective Agent

Blackcurrants are very effective in preventing infections. The antiviral activity of blackcurrant fruits has found to be very effective against influenza A & B viruses, and herpes simplex virus. Such high antiviral potential of blackcurrant fruit is due to the abundance of Anthocyanin in it. Anthocyanins indirectly inactivate the influenza viruses A and B by inhibiting virus adsorption and adhesion to the cells. Furthermore, it also inhibits the virus release from the infected cells and prevents the spread of infection.

Another study showed that blackcurrant fruit completely suppressed the activity of virus cells. Thus, blackcurrant fruits can be used as an easy and excellent remedy to treat and prevent the onset of various infections.

Cognitive Performance

Blackcurrant consumption is associated with improvement in cognitive performance. Cognitive decline is very common in individuals with growing age. Research has shown that eating blackcurrants may help in lowering cognitive decline that occurs with natural ageing. Besides this, it also provides nourishment to the brain cells and is even involved in neuro-protection. The presence of different polyphenols in blackcurrants is associated with improvement in cognitive performance in humans. It also releases hormones that improve mood. Thus, blackcurrants can be termed as amazing ‘brain food’ that helps in improving cognitive performance, alertness and overall state of mind.

Anti-Inflammatory Properties

Diseases and disorders are associated with inflammation. An individual with a disease or disorder is constantly in a state of inflammation. In order to prevent diseases, it is important to cut down the level of inflammation. Blackcurrant is often termed as a ‘super fruit’ because it contains plenty of polyphenols and antioxidants that provide various health benefits. Several studies have shown that blackcurrant fruit reduces the pro-inflammatory factors such as interleukin 6, TNFα and so on and thus, reduces the overall inflammation. Anthocyanins present in blackcurrant interfere with the action of these pro-inflammatory factors and thus, lowers inflammation. Antioxidants present in blackcurrant also inhibit the action of reactive oxygen species by scavenging them. Thus, eating blackcurrants is a simple and easy way to keep inflammation at bay.

Boosts Immune System

Whole blackcurrant fruit and blackcurrant juice contain a polysaccharide rich substance that boosts the immune system and keeps diseases and infections at bay. It stimulates the specialized cells of immune system that destroys the infection-causing virus or bacteria and thus, protects the body. It was also noted that blackcurrant juice contains antioxidative and antimicrobial compounds that fights infection. As compared to other juices, blackcurrant juice had the maximum immune-stimulatory effect and thus, it can be successfully used in producing dietary or pharmaceutical products. Thus, drinking blackcurrant juice can help individuals with poor immunity to fight infections. It can also be an excellent and healthy beverage for individuals with HIV, cancer and tuberculosis who are more prone to infections.

Heart Disease

The formation of fatty masses in the walls of arteries (atherogenesis) increases the risk of heart disease. The presence of free radicals and oxidative stress further deteriorates the condition and causes damage to the heart. Therefore, it is important to consume foods that reduce the formation of fatty mass as well as inhibit oxidative stress. Blackcurrant is an amazing fruit that combats oxidative stress and inhibits the development and progression of atherosclerosis.

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An interesting research found that consumption of 100% blackcurrant juice is associated with a decrease in the lipid peroxidation (lipid peroxidation is degradation of lipids, a common step in heart disease). Furthermore, it was also observed that 100% blackcurrant juice has antiatherogenic properties. It also increases the antioxidative status in the body and reduces the accumulation of cholesterol and fatty masses in the arterial walls.

Studies have also observed that among all other fruit juices, blackcurrant juice has the highest concentration of polyphenols that provide protection to the heart. In other words, 100% blackcurrant juice is a therapeutic beverage that protects the heart and delays the onset of heart diseases.

High Cholesterol & Triglyceride Level

Studies have found that blackcurrant exerts beneficial effects on the serum lipid profile. It was observed that blackcurrant reduced the level of triglyceride. Furthermore, it also reduced the level of LDL – low-density lipoprotein cholesterol (unhealthy), VLDL – very low-density cholesterol and total cholesterol. Such reduction is attributed to the presence of polyphenols in blackcurrant that have lipid-lowering properties.

In addition to this, bioactive constituents present in blackcurrant inhibit the activity of pancreatic lipase, an enzyme involved in digestion and absorption of dietary fat. When such an enzyme is inhibited, dietary fat is not digested and absorbed. Thus, it does not raise cholesterol levels. The presence of anthocyanins also plays an effective role in lowering LDL – low-density lipoprotein cholesterol. Thus, blackcurrant can be used in the treatment of high cholesterol and triglyceride level.

Cancer

Anthocyanins present in blackcurrant possess potent anticarcinogenic properties and such a composition makes blackcurrant effective in the treatment as well as prevention of cancer. Blackcurrant inhibits the multiplication of cancer cells and its spread to other parts of the body. Besides this, it also promotes death of cancer cells and thus, reduces the overall population of cancer cells. Furthermore, its strong free radical scavenging properties has also shown to protect against stomach cancer. Therefore, blackcurrant should be made a part of regular diet to reduce the risk of cancer.

Asthma

Asthma is an allergic and a chronic inflammatory condition. Polyphenols present in blackcurrant have found to have beneficial effects in inflammatory conditions. Research found that blackcurrant reduced the markers of inflammation in human lung epithelial cells and thus, reduced the risk of asthma attack. Polyphenols, flavonoids, anthocyanin and antioxidants present in blackcurrant modulate the inflammatory process, neutralize free radicals, combat oxidative stress and reduce the risk of asthma. Thus, individuals with asthma should make blackcurrants a part of their daily diet.

Hypertension

Studies have observed that consumption of blackcurrant helps to lower blood pressure in individuals with high blood pressure or hypertension. One interesting research showed that drinking blackcurrant juice reduced the systolic and diastolic blood pressure and improved the overall blood flow. Furthermore, it also increased vasodilation, which is, widening of the inner walls of blood vessels to improve the blood flow, reduced vasoconstriction, and helped in lowering the blood pressure. Such an effect is attributed to the presence of anthocyanins, potassium and magnesium in blackcurrant. Thus, fresh whole blackcurrants and blackcurrant juice can be made a part of DASH diet (dietary approaches to stop hypertension)

Effect of Processing Blackcurrant

Blackcurrants can be consumed in various forms, but you can get maximum nutrients out of them only when you eat them whole and fresh. Many researches have shown that processing and juicing blackcurrants may lead to a loss of important nutrients in it and may affect its overall nutrient composition. Ascorbic acid, polyphenols, anthocyanins and flavonoids are sensitive to processing. One interesting study observed that processing blackcurrants might lead to loss of flavonols to up to 46% and anthocyanins to up to 50%.

Ways to Consume Blackcurrant

Very less people actually consume blackcurrants in their fresh form. It is widely consumed in its dried form or processed form. Here are some different ways to consume blackcurrants:

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  • Fresh, whole blackcurrants are delicious and full of nutrients
  • Have a glass of refreshing blackcurrant juice
  • You can have dried blackcurrants that are available throughout the year
  • Replace boring jams with some blackcurrant jam
  • You can also make your own blackcurrant jelly
  • Make your ice-cream more interesting by adding some blackcurrants to it
  • Blackcurrant pudding is another amazing dessert
  • Blackcurrant milkshake is a great combination of protein and antioxidants
  • Blackcurrant smoothie is another refreshing way to consume blackcurrants
  • Blackcurrant squash is completely irresistible
  • Make some blackcurrant sauce for cheesecakes, pancakes and ice-creams
  • Make your own blackcurrant yogurt

How to Store Blackcurrants

Dried blackcurrants are available all throughout the year, but fresh blackcurrants are available in the market during mid-summer. It is very important to carefully store blackcurrant without lowering the quality and quantity of nutrients present in it.

  1. If you want to store blackcurrants for a short period, you can store them easily and safely at room temperature.
  2. If you want to store blackcurrants for a week or longer (usually 2 to 3 weeks) you can place them in the refrigerator.
  3. If you want to store fresh blackcurrants for a very long period, that is, 10 months to one year, you will have to freeze it. Do not wash blackcurrants before freezing them. Washing may increase the moisture content during storage and blackcurrants may get spoiled quickly. Simply place dry blackcurrants in the freezer. Once they are completely frozen, transfer them to an airtight container or a plastic bag. Such a storage method will prevent over-ripening of blackcurrants and inhibits decay development.

However, it was observed that storing fresh blackcurrants for a long period might be associated with a decrease in the bioactive compounds present in it.

Fruit Description & History

Blackcurrant is a black, fleshy berry that is not just valued for its medicinal properties, but it is also a very important raw material of a traditional alcoholic beverage in France. It has a sweet earthy taste and a very strong aroma. It contains approximately 120 different volatile aroma compounds such as esters, terpenes and alcohol.

Blackcurrant fruits can be used in both sweet as well as savory preparations. A medium sized shrub grows around 1.5 to 2 meters tall. On ripening, the green color of the fruit changes to dark purple-black color. This is because the amount of chlorophyll decreases and the amount of anthocyanins and other flavonoid increases. It has an outer glossy skin or peel, is 1 cm in diameter, and contains various seeds.

Besides blackcurrant fruits, its leaves and buds are also a great source of polyphenols and antioxidants. The environment in which it is cultivated and its genotype can highly influence the content of ascorbic acid and polyphenols in blackcurrant. Its strong aroma, pleasant taste, flavor and mouth feel has made blackcurrant an important ingredient of various juices, jam, squash and jelly industries.

Blackcurrants belong to the genus Ribes and are native to northern Asia and central and northern Europe. The botanical or scientific name for blackcurrants is Ribes Nigrum. It is most widely consumed in processed or dried form. Today, blackcurrants are widely cultivated in Europe, New Zealand, Russia and different parts of Asia.

The term ‘currant’ originates from an ancient Greek word for the city Corinth. It has been cultivated in Europe for more than 400 years and it was first mentioned and described by the herbalists around 17th century. Blackcurrants were first used in tea and medical concoction. Later the use of this fruit in various other recipes was discovered.

Deep organic soil with great water holding capacity and aeration is the best type of soil for blackcurrant cultivation. In addition to this, blackcurrant grows best when the pH of the soil is ranges between 5.5 and 7. It grows best in regions with mild summer and cold winter conditions. The sugar and acid content of blackcurrant is greatly influenced by the environmental conditions.



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