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Redcurrants should not be confused with “Zante currants,” a widely sold dried fruit, which are actually from a seedless cultivar of the grape species, Vitis vinifera.
Ribes rubrum is generally grows to 1 to 1.5 m (3 to 4.5 ft) in height, with smooth or gland tipped hairy stems, lacking the spines or prickles that are common on many Ribes species. The leaves are alternate and simple, with 3 to 5 coarsely toothed lobes; the terminal lobe is longer than the side lobes. The small bisexual flowers, greenish to greenish brown, are borne in racemes (clusters) of 5 to 15 flowers. The flowers are somewhat campanulate (bell-shaped), with 5 purplish petals at the end. The smooth-skinned, globe-shaped fruit, which usually ripens to bright red (although some cultivars are pale red or green), is a juicy berry (a soft fleshy fruit with several to many soft seeds embedded in the pulp), with the remains of the calyx (flowering parts) persisting at the end. Fruits are up to 1.1 cm (0.5 in) in diameter.
The tart fruits, which are high in vitamin C, are sometimes eaten fresh, out of hand or in fruit salads (although generally with sugar added, as they can be quite sour). More typically, they are prepared into jams, jellies, syrups, and sorbets, and are used in a wide variety of baked goods and desserts.
The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that 2010 commercial production of all species of currants (both red and black) was 640,968 metric tons harvested from 119,529 hectares in the Northern Hemisphere. The Russian Federation was the leading producer, alone responsible for 51% of the crop, with Poland contributing another 30%. Other countries that produced more than 1.5% of the total were Ukraine, Austria, United Kingdom, Germany, and Denmark.
Ribes rubrum has naturalized in parts of North America and China after cultivation. The planting of this and other Ribes species was restricted in many northern U.S. states during the 1930s through 1950s, after it was discovered that Ribes species were an alternate host for white pine blister rust, Cronartium ribicola, a fungal disease that affects the commercially important white pine, Pinus strobus. Regulations prohibited planting of currants within a specified distance from pine stands. Although studies conducted in national forests in the 1960s suggested that removing Ribes made no difference in the incidence of the blister rust in pine stands, Ribes remains listed as a noxious weed in Michigan and is restricted in Maine.
(Bailey et al. 1976, Carlson 1978, Flora of China 2003, Michigan Flora Online 2011, USDA PLANTS 2012, van Wyk 2005.)