Currants and Gooseberries

Both gooseberries and currants belong to the genus Ribes.  They were once quite popular in the United States in the 1800s.  In 1899, reported [Ribes] production in the U.S. reached nearly 7,000 acres (Bratsch and Williams, 2009).  However, in the early 1900s, white pine blister rust (WPBR) became a serious disease, threatening the lucrative timber business in the United States.  Ribes were implicated as the alternate hosts of WPBR.  In an attempt to prevent the spread of WPBR, the federal government and state governments in the United States banned propagation, planting and cultivation of currants and gooseberries around 1912.  Different states had varying degrees of restrictions.  There were more restrictions on black currants than other Ribes plants.  However, commercial Ribes production came to an end shortly after the federal ban.  

Even though the federal ban on Ribes was lifted in 1966, there was little interest in growing.  A few researchers have kept the Ribes research programs going in the US and Canada.  As consumer’s demand for nutritious local foods increases, there is a renewed interest in growing gooseberries and currants as a new fruit crop due to their high vitamin and antioxidant contents and many uses.  According to Barney and Hummer, currants are mostly used in North America for making jellies, relishes, and juices.  Gooseberries are used primarily in jams, jellies, pastries, and compotes.  Bush-ripened gooseberries eaten out of hand as a table dessert are delightful treats (Barney and Hummer, 2005.)

Market Potential

Currants and gooseberries can be a good specialty crop for farmers to grow for profit.  Both production research and market outlets are needed since consumers are not very familiar with currants and gooseberries due to their limited availability in Ohio or in the US in general. 

Russia, Germany and Poland are the leading countries of currant and gooseberry production.  In 2001, a combined total of 658,698 metric tons (one metric ton = 1.1 ton) of currants were produced by these three countries!  In 2009, the combined total for these three countries are 522,300 metric tons, with 314,000 in Russia, 196,453 in Poland, and 11,847 in Germany. It may not realistic for our growers to expect an instant market first.  However, it is still possible that a niche market for currants and gooseberry can be developed first.  This market can grow in size over time.  A comprehensive marketing program is needed to make Ribes industry a viable one.  Some of the marketing tools and protection protocols that have been developed from OSU South Centers will be helpful in moving the industry along.  A few farmers in Ohio have planted gooseberries and currants and have had limited success.  With increased consumer awareness and increased production, the Ribes industry can potentially reach a substantial size in Ohio.

Legality of Ribes Production in Ohio

The federal government lifted the ban on Ribes in 1966.  Many states have eased restrictions on Ribes production.  In Ohio, the current Ohio law (Regulation AG-71-85.01) to suppress and control White Pine Blister Rust Disease is as follows:

(A) The European black currant, Ribes nigrum L. or any variety of this species is hereby declared to be a public nuisance, and it shall be unlawful for any person to possess, transport, plant, propagate, sell, or offer for sale, plants, roots, scions, seeds, or cuttings of these plants in this state.

(B) Recognized varieties, e.g., “Consort” produced by the hybridization of Ribes nigrum L. or a variety thereof with a resistant or immune species, known to be immune or highly resistant to the White Pine Blister Rust fungus, (Cronartium ribicola, Fischer) are exempt from the restrictions imposed by paragraph (A) above. 

Seven varieties (Consort, Coronet, Crusader, Titania, Lowes Auslese, Polar and Willoughby) have been shown to be immune and can be shipped into Ohio. All other varieties of black currant are prohibited.  In addition, Ohio law does not prohibit the planting of red currants or gooseberries within the state.

Types of Ribes

The descriptions of currants, gooseberries and jostaberries are adapted from a fact sheet by Drs. Bratsch and Williams.  Authors thank Dr. Bratsch for granting permission to use the content of Specialty Crop Profile: Ribes (Currants and Gooseberries).  The publication is available at http://pubs.ext.vt.edu/438/438-107/438-107.html

Currants

Most cultivated currants are of European origin, though there are many native North American species (Bratsch and Williams, 2009).  Currants can be red, white, pink, and black.  Unlike gooseberries, currant plants do not have thorns.  Their fruit are about pea-size.  They are in grape-like clusters called “strigs” and can be harvester in clusters.  Some of the common currant species are Ribes rubrum (most red currants and some whites), R. petraeum (white), R. vulgare (pink, white, and red), and R. nigrum and R. ussurienses (black). The flavor of currants is tart.  This is why currants are seldom eaten as fresh fruit. 

They are typically processed into juices, jams, and jellies. Black currants have a very strong odor, which can be considered quite offensive by some.  They also have an astringent flavor. Yet they are highly prized in Europe for juice products and their high nutrient content.  Black currents have one of the highest vitamin C concentrations among fruits.  Their vitamin C concentrations can be as high as 250 milligrams per 100 grams of juice, even after six months of storage (Bratsch and Williams, 2009).

Descriptions of Common Varieties

Red

CASCADE: Matures early. Fruit is large and dark red, but vigor and productivity are only medium. 

JONKEERS VAN TETS: Produces heavy yields.  Fruit is dark red and has a very good flavor. Resistant to mildew and aphids; susceptible to botrytis.Red Currants

RED LAKE: A vigorous, hardy, and productive variety. The fruit is large, bright red when mature, and of good quality. The long-stemmed clusters are easy to pick.  Susceptible to powdery mildew.

ROVADA: A dependable producer. It blooms and fruits late, so frost is less of a problem than with other varieties. Resistant to powdery mildew and other leaf diseases.

WILDER: Very much like Red Lake—high yielding with good-quality berries. Has more resistance to leaf spot.

White and Pink

BLANKA: Dependable and produces heavy yields.  Plants are vigorous and easy to grow.

PINK CHAMPAGNE: Has good quality and flavor.  As the name indicates, fruit is an interesting

Shade of pink (yields tend to be low)

PRIMUS: Produces fruit late in the season.  Plants are vigorous.  Similar to Blanka in most characteristics, but yields are slightly lower.

WHITE IMPERIAL: Has low acidity and produces moderate yields. Plants have a spreading habit.

BlackBlack Currants

Only varieties with good resistance to white pine blister rust are listed below.

BEN SAREK: Highly recommended for the home gardener. Bushes are compact, approximately 3 feet in height at maturity, with high yields and easy-to-pick fruit. Makes excellent jam and jelly and is recommended for wine making.  Highly resistant to white pine blister rust.

CONSORT: Produces a medium crop of small to medium fruit. Plants are self-fertile. Though resistant to white pink blister rust, this variety is susceptible to leaf spots and mildew.

CORONET: Yields are usually low and fruit is of marginal quality.  A pollinator is required.

CRUSADER: Only marginally productive, and quality is low. A pollinator is required.

TITIANA: Produces heavy crops of large, high quality fruit. Has very high resistance to white pine blister rust.  Currants (Clove or Buffalo)

CRANDALL: A native species of currant that is sometimes considered more closely related to gooseberries than currants.  Valued for its highly fragrant blossoms.

Gooseberries

Cultivated gooseberries are divided into two major types, European (Ribes grossularia var. uva-crispa), and American (R. hirtellum). European types are native to North Africa and the Caucasus Mountains of Eastern Europe and western Asia, while the American types are native to the northern United States and Canada (Bratsch and Williams, 2009).

GooseberriesWithin the European types, fruit size varies widely, from pea size to as large as a small egg. Color varies as well, with fruit maturing in shades of green, pink, red, purple, white, and yellow. This diversity is due to the historical popularity of the European gooseberry. Over the past two centuries, hundreds of cultivars have been developed, with a focus on prize-winning fruit size and color (Bratsch and Williams, 2009).

Native American gooseberry species have smaller fruit size and less flavor, but are very resistant to diseases compared to European cultivars, which are noted for powdery mildew and leaf spot susceptibility.  This has limited the culture of most of the European types in the U.S., because they require significant fungicide applications to ensure regular cropping. However, disease resistance is improving through additional breeding with American types, and several new promising European cultivars have been introduced recently in the U.S. and Canada. These new cultivars have the potential to increase U.S. production, and enhance the feasibility of low-spray or organic production; important considering that registered pesticides are limited. In comparison, most known American cultivars in the trade today have had some historical infusion of European genetics to improve size and flavor, which can be traced to a handful of breeding crosses made in the 1800s.

All gooseberry cultivars have varying degrees of thorniness. Fruit are produced in small groups or singly on stems, and are picked individually. Specialized mechanical harvesters have been developed in Europe for both gooseberry and currant fruit. These harvesters are not readily available in the U.S., but can be imported. For small-scale production, hand harvesting still remains the most economical method of harvest, but adds significant cost to production.

Ripe GooseberriesDescriptions of Common Varieties

CAPTIVATOR: An American-European hybrid that produces large, sweet, pinkish-red fruit. Plants are resistant to mildew.

PIXWELL: Sold most often and is very productive and hardy, but the fruit is only of fair quality. Fruit is best if harvested slightly under ripe.  Plants are mildew-resistant.

POORMAN: Red-fruited, large, and flavorful. The fruit ripens over a long season and is the best variety of the American types for home gardens since it is vigorous and has fewer and smaller thorns than most varieties. It is resistant to powdery mildew.

HINNONMAKI RED: Has a tart skin but sweet, aromatic flesh. Plants are moderately vigorous and partially resistant to mildew.

INVICTA: Has large, pale-green fruit and less flavor than most European types. Plants are large and have many spines. Has good resistance to powdery mildew.

Jostaberries

JostaberriesThe jostaberry is an interspecies cross between gooseberries and black currants.  Its fruit are larger than currants, are gooseberry-like, and are black in color. The stems are thornless. Fruit quality has not gained wide appeal for either fresh or processed use, but it has inspired renewed breeding efforts, with new and improved crosses being developed.  It has a vigorous growth habit, and is resistant to white pine blister rust (Cronartium ribicola). Disease (powdery mildew) resistance is similar to the black currant parent.

Acknowledgements: We would like to thank Ohio Department of Agriculture and the USDA for a specialty crop block grant in 2009-2011.