Sweet Surprise: Discovering Currants


Photo by manray3/FlickrCC

A currant is a different variety of a raisin, right? That's what I thought, mainly because the only currants I ran into were dried and in the Sun-Maid boxes that looked just like small raisins.

Wrong. I was in Rendezvous--a restaurant in Central Square in Cambridge, Mass.--having a wonderful orange-saffron risotto. The risotto was perfect: slightly crunchy with a nutty flavor. The saffron made it yellow--but I couldn't really taste it. The slightly tangy orange flavor was a wonderful compliment to the nuttiness.

On my third spoonful I was startled by an intense sweet, but not sugary, flavor. I took another bite which contained this little, shriveled black ball and there was this intense sweetness again. I love sweet, and this was heavenly. The combination of nutty, citrus, and sweet was pretty special.

I mixed some dried currants into rice and couscous, adding a sweet tang--delicious, especially when served with a lamb stew or tagine.

I thought maybe it was a small, unique raisin I had eaten. When the owner passed by I motioned him over and asked. He informed me it was a currant. I then revealed my ignorance about it being related to a raisin and learned my lesson.

I was told that we ignoramuses (or is it ignorami?) often confuse currants with Zante grape raisins. However, grapes are fruit that come from vines. Currants are berries that come from shrubs. Currants are only found in the Northern Hemisphere. Rendezvous' proprietor told me that their currants are cultivated in Massachusetts. You probably have seen the red variety, but this risotto had the dried black variety, about the size of a caper.

Until 2003, currants could not be cultivated in the U.S., but now they can and are frequently available in farmers markets and stores. I mixed some dried currants into rice and couscous adding a sweet tang--delicious, especially when served with a lamb stew or tagine.

So now I am a little smarter--but just a little--and have another interesting food to cook with.

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Ezekiel J. Emanuel is an oncologist, a bioethicist, and a vice provost of the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author or editor of 10 books, including Brothers Emanuel and Reinventing American Health Care.

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