It's no surprise that celeb chef Jamie Oliver's Facebook post about his blackcurrant drink generated 14,000 likes (and counting) in its first few hours. His pitcher of the bright pink stuff looks stunning, and it's calling our name—and everyone else's name too, apparently. Jamie's description of how to make the drink couldn't be simpler-sounding, if slightly vague: You "smash a handful" of black currants "with a few mint leaves" plus "loadsa [sic] ice and coconut milk and water."
Photo courtesy of Jamie Oliver/Facebook.
How much of each ingredient should you use? Whatever works for you: Add more coconut milk than water if you love that sweet, nutty flavor, or more water if you want to cut down on calories and fat (because alas, coconut milk is loaded with both).
You can make the drink only slightly minty, or go crazy with the herb. And you can dump in as many black currants as you want. But wait a second: black currants? What are they, and where do you buy them?
There's the rub, for any of us who don't happen to live in the U.K., where the currants are "great right now," according to Oliver. Sure enough, the fruit is plentiful in Britain, where it also comes in popular forms like bottled drinks (like the ubiquitous Ribena and Vimto) and jams, desserts, booze, you name it. In the U.S., not so much. The black currant has never really caught on stateside, thanks in part to an outbreak of a plant disease called white pine blister rust that dates back to the 18th century and was linked to the black currant bush. (Talk about a viral drink.) That outbreak led to a 1911 U.S. agricultural ban on growing black currants. Nowadays, some farmers are growing the plant once again, but good luck finding the currants in any market near you.
Fears of the plant disease once caused by black currants are now mostly unfounded. According to the USDA, "American black currant is considered a low risk for serving as a host for the white pine blister rust." But some states still ban the plant. In other states, black currants haven't yet found much of a foothold, thanks to either the lingering stigma or the lack of market momentum so far. That's too bad, since black currants aren't just tasty (tart and sweet and juicy) but packed with vitamin C, iron and antioxidants. The closest you can get to them stateside is usually online, where you can order the currants in concentrated, frozen, or dried form; one brand that sells those products, Currant C, is owned by a farmer named Greg Quinn, who has been a main crusader for the black-currant-growing industry in the U.S.
Back to Jamie Oliver's punch: If you want to make your own version of it, you can order up and dilute the concentrated form of the juice (or bring some bottles back from the U.K. next time you're there). Or, if you're feeling impatient, try making Jamie's drink with a mix of grapes, blackberries and raspberries instead, which (depending on the sweet-tart balance of the varieties you find) can together conjure up the flavor of black currants. Plus, Jaime's drink is all about the coconut milk and the mint too. So whatever berry or currant mixture you pull off with the right mix of those ingredients, it's bound to taste (and look) pretty fabulous.
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