Zante currants, Corinth raisins, or Corinthian raisins, also called simply currants, are dried berries of the small, sweet, seedless grape cultivar 'Black Corinth' (Vitis vinifera). The name comes from the Anglo-French phrase "raisins de Corinthe" (grapes of Corinth) and the Ionian island of Zakynthos (Zante), which was once the major producer and exporter. It is not related to black, red or white currants, which are berries of shrubs in the genus Ribes and not usually prepared in dried form.
The currant is one of the oldest known raisins. The first written record was in 75 AD by Pliny the Elder, who described a tiny, juicy, thick-skinned grape with small bunches. The next mention is a millennium later, when the raisins became a subject of trade between Venetian merchants and Greek producers from Ionian coasts. In the 14th century, they were sold in the English market under the label Reysyns de Corauntz, and the name raisins of Corinth was recorded in the 15th century, after the Greek harbor which was the primary source of export. Gradually, the name got corrupted into currant. However, by the 17th century, trade shifted towards the Ionian islands, particularly Zakynthos (Zante), at which time it was named Zante currant.
The first attempts to introduce the Black Corinth cultivar in the United States date back to 1854. The first successful vineyards of White and Red Corinth (related varieties), were established in California in 1861 by Colonel Ágoston Haraszthy. Around 1901, David Fairchild of USDA imported high-quality black currant cuttings from the Greek village of Panariti, a renowned producer, and established the first commercial crops. However, because of the higher popularity of Thompson Seedless, American production remained modest up to 1920s and 1930s, after which its popularity increased due to the higher prices it could bring and improved cultivation practices (girdling). The plantings reached 3,000 acres (1,200 ha) by 1936, which is approximately its current level.
In wild grapes, the species is dioecious; the sexes grow on separate vines with male flowers on one plant, and female flowers on another. Black Corinth is an "almost male" variety in that the flowers have well-developed anthers (male), but only tiny underdeveloped ovaries (female).
Clusters of Black Corinth are small, averaging 6.3 oz (180 g) and ranging from 3.2 to 9.5 oz (91 to 269 g). They are cylindrical, with prominent shoulder or winged. The berries are very small 0.012–0.021 oz (0.34–0.60 g), round, and of a reddish black color. The skin is very thin, and the flesh is juicy and soft. It is practically seedless, except in an occasional large berry. When dried, the raisins weigh 0.0032–0.0049 oz (0.091–0.139 g) and are dark brown or black. Leaves are medium-sized, heart-shaped, and oblong. They are five-lobed with deep sinuses.
To yield sufficient fruit, Black Corinth grapes need to be carefully managed. In ancient times, girdling was a standard practice to increase the set and size of seedless grapes, until the discovery of the plant hormone gibberellic acid, and its ability to do the same thing with less labor. Historically, Black Corinth stock was probably kept for its pollen-producing abilities, so other female flowered varieties (with naturally higher yields) would set full crops.
The fresh fruit of zante currants are very small and sweet, with quite intense flavor for a grape. Black Corinth, White Corinth, and Red Corinth are often marketed under the name "Champagne grapes" in U.S. specialty stores, but despite the name, they are not used for making Champagne.
When dried, they are used in cooking, especially baking and are a major ingredient of currant slice (or currant square) and currant cake. In the United Kingdom, they are usually called simply "currants", and often are used in scones, currant buns, Christmas cake, Christmas pudding and mincemeat. They are sometimes sold in mixtures as "mixed dried fruit".
Along with grapes and raisins, Zante currants are nephrotoxic to dogs. This toxicity manifests as renal failure and can be seen in relatively small doses.
- "Viticultural Information". University of California: UC Integrated Viticulture. Zante Currant.
- Greece: Royal Decree of 30.12.1955 regarding control measures on the collection, dehydration, packaging, vending and protection of quality of Corinthian dried raisins (currants), retrieved 28 April 2014
- Barnhart, Clarence L.; Barnhart, Robert K., eds. (1987) . The World Book Dictionary. A–K. Doubleday & Company, Inc. p. 509. ISBN 0-7166-0287-3.
- Christensen, L. Peter (2000). Raisin production manual. ANR Publications. p. 40.
- Rombough, Lon J. (2001). "A Grape that isn't a Grape but is a Grape". Home Orchard Society. Retrieved 2011-08-05.
- "USDA Nutrient Database". Retrieved 2009-05-05.
- Cortinovis, Cristina. "Household Food Items Toxic to Dogs and Cats". PMC 4801869
|Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Currant.|