Basics of Flavour

Most people associate the flavour of blackcurrants with the popular health cordials such as Ribena, or with the French liquor known as cassis. Cassis is the French name for blackcurrants so cassis berries and blackcurrant berries are the same thing.
The latin botanical name for blackcurrant is Ribes nigrum. Other members of the Ribes family include gooseberries.

Flavour Profiles

Three main varieties of blackcurrants are grown in New Zealand. Each has it’s own distinctive flavour profile:

Magnus: an old-fashioned style: powerful acidity and flavour.
Ben Rua: balanced rounded fruitiness, gentler floral aroma.
Ben Ard: sweet acidity, herbaceous, richest colour.

‘ Blackcurrant’   is often used as a descriptor for other foods and wines. Cabernet sauvignon wines especially are often defined by the intensity of their blackcurrant flavour profile.

Flavour Analysis

But how do we describe ‘blackcurrant’? A group of NZ food experts, treating the blackcurrant as if it was a wine being enjoyed and reviewed agreed on the following:

(Note: the tasting was done with the Ben Ard variety)

The Blackcurrant: A sweet earthy taste unlike other berries. Fresh gooseberry and passion-fruit flavour-aromas and hints of raspberry, combined with the floral aromatic notes of carnations and roses. An underlying tannic structure adds complexity and balance to the blackcurrant’s acidity and sweetness. The aftertaste is fresh and sharply cleansing, with no residual sweetness.

The gooseberry characteristic is insightful: it’s a word also often used to describe New Zealand-grown sauvignon blanc. In sauvignon blanc that unique flavour characteristic is explained by the very high presence in the grapes of a compound called methoxypyrazine. This very important flavour component is present in gooseberries and, research has indicated, its presence in New Zealand-grown blackcurrants to a higher degree than in blackcurrants grown in other countries.
This helps to explain the flavour and more importantly, it helps to explain why blackcurrants can be used in recipes designed to pair either sauvignon blanc or pinot noir and cabernet sauvignon wines.