What are Red Currants?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Red currants are used to make pies, jams and more.
Red currants are used to make pies, jams and more.

Red currants are the fruit of the Ribes redrum bush. Though native to Western Europe, they are grown in many regions of the Northern Hemisphere, and in some communities, they are a very popular delicacy. German and Scandinavian communities in particular enjoy products made with red currants, such as jams and pies, and there are a wide range of uses for these small, tart berries.

Red currants can be used to make jam.
Red currants can be used to make jam.

The red currant bush has lobed leaves and a rapid growth habit, maturing very quickly into a small shrub. Gardeners with less space sometimes train the bush to grow on trellises and other supports, creating a vine-like plant instead of a shrub. The bushes are deciduous, losing their leaves in the fall and winter, and also extremely hardy, which may be why they are so popular in Northern Europe.

It is sometimes possible to find red currants in the frozen section at the market.
It is sometimes possible to find red currants in the frozen section at the market.

Where other plants fail, red currants will take root and thrive. They can grow in full sun to part shade, as long as the soil is rich and well drained and there is good air circulation in the area. Gardeners often place these bushes in areas of the garden where other plants have trouble growing, such as under shady trees, and when well-maintained, a bush can produce a sizable yield of berries every year.

Red currants are native to Western Europe.
Red currants are native to Western Europe.

Red currants grow in small clusters on the parent plant, and they are a bright, distinctive red with a hint of translucence. A closely related cultivar, the white currant, produces yellowish to white berries with a comparable flavor. High quality currants will be firm and juicy, with no signs of softening or mold, and they also have a very sharp, tart flavor which leads most people to prefer to use red currants in cooked dishes, rather than eating them raw.

Red currant jams are often used on sweet breads, pancakes and waffles.
Red currant jams are often used on sweet breads, pancakes and waffles.

These fruits may be used fresh in tarts, pies, jams, preserves, and so forth, and they can make an interesting alternative to traditional cranberry sauce or other fruit jellies. Red currant jam pairs well with pancakes, waffles, and other sweet foods as well. They may also be dried for inclusion in various baked goods, or for mixing in with other dried fruits for snacks; like dried cranberries, currants pack a punch, so they should be used with care.

Fresh red currents are typically only available in a narrow seasonal window during the summertime, so if you spot some, you should snag them. Dried red currants are available year round at large grocery stores and specialty stores, and it is sometimes also possible to find these berries in the frozen section at the market.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

Catapult

Sometimes dried red currants look almost exactly like raisins. When I was in Europe I bought some, thinking they were raisins. Once I took them home, though, I realized they were more of a spherical shape, rather than the more oval shape of raisins.

They are pretty interchangeable though, although there is a different taste.

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    • Red currants are used to make pies, jams and more.
      By: Christian Jung
      Red currants are used to make pies, jams and more.
    • Red currants can be used to make jam.
      By: orangedahlia
      Red currants can be used to make jam.
    • It is sometimes possible to find red currants in the frozen section at the market.
      By: adisa
      It is sometimes possible to find red currants in the frozen section at the market.
    • Red currants are native to Western Europe.
      By: Ekler
      Red currants are native to Western Europe.
    • Red currant jams are often used on sweet breads, pancakes and waffles.
      By: Liv Friis-larsen
      Red currant jams are often used on sweet breads, pancakes and waffles.