Blackcurrants are said to be a source of vitamin C, anthocyanins and other antioxidants, while the seeds are also rich in omega-6 GLA.
However, the berries are little-known in the US market due to a ban on cultivation at the start of last century, which still holds in some states to this day.
“Given that blackcurrants are rich in anthocyanins and nutritionally important compounds, great market potential exists for blackcurrant products in North America where consumers are increasingly concerned with slowing the aging process and preventing cancer and heart disease,” write Danny Barney and Kim Hummer, authors to the book Currants, Gooseberries and Jostaberries: a Guide for Growers, Marketers and Researchers.
Just The Berries, a New Zealand-based supplier of blackcurrant ingredients, agrees that there is strong potential in the US markets for blackcurrants.
Dr Eddie Shiojima, general manager and director of product development at Just The Berries, told NutraIngredients-USA.com: “We introduced blackcurrant ingredients here in 2004. There was so much interest we set up an office in 2005 to make a strong approach to the US market."
Shiojima cited the benefits of blackcurrants for combating eyesight complaints such as myopia, but added: “It’s still difficult for dietary supplement makers to use blackcurrant powder because they still don’t know much about it.”
Just The Berries sold $1.8m worth of blackcurrant ingredients in the US market in 2008, equivalent to 500 tons of fruit.
US processors such as Los Angeles-based Jarrow Formulas, which makes supplement products, are already seizing the opportunities afforded by the market. The company launched Blackcurrant Freeze-Dried Extract from New Zealand Dietary Supplement Vegetarian Capsules at the end of last year.
The product is sold in a 60-count plastic bottle, flagged as “20 percent higher orac polyphenols – promotes eye comfort and antioxidant protection”.
Fresh opportunities for US cultivation
Blackcurrant cultivation was banned in the US in the early 1900s, following its association with transmitting White Pine Blister Rust to pine trees. Since then, however, the ban has been lifted in many states. In addition, the development of strains that are resistant to the fungus such as Titania opens up fresh possibilities for ingredient suppliers.
Danny Barney, co-author of Currants, Gooseberries and Jostaberries and professor of horticulture and superintendent at the University of Idaho told NutraIngredients-USA.com: “Blackcurrants are well adapted to parts of North America and have a long history of cultivation here. With the availability of high-quality, blister resistant cultivars we have the opportunity to reintroduce blackcurrants as a specialty fruit crop.”
Barney, who is trying to promote the US cultivation of the currants, is working on a breeding program on currants adapted to commercial production in the northwestern United States and western Canada.
Priorities of his program include the development of cultivars with high fruit and juice quality, as well as high yields and machine harvestability.
"Flavor is also important. Cultivars with acceptable juice quality for commercial processing should optimize nutritional aspects, including antioxidant types and concentrations, and stability of anthocyanins," he said.