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Black To The Future

The ever-popular blackcurrant may hold another key in the quest for eternal youth, thanks to its anti-oxidant properties.

Blackcurrant growers in New Zealand, dotted around the Nelson, Marlborough, Canterbury and Southland areas, are waiting eagerly for the results from a three year research programme being carried out by the industry body, Blackcurrants NZ (BCNZ) and HortResearch.

According to Ian Turk, product manager for BCNZ, laboratory research at Tufts University in Boston suggests that blackcurrants (and blueberries) are very high in anti-oxidants and compounds with so-called anti-ageing properties and this has been a major factor in increased demand for blackcurrants.

He says local research into at how those blackcurrant compounds relate to varieties unique to New Zealand will benefit both growers and consumers. It will also identify what it will mean for the industry’s future as demand for the fruit increases.

BCNZ received funding from the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology through its Grants for Private Sector Research and Development scheme (GPSRD) to carry out the research programme.

Mr Turk says the results could provide strong pointers for the whole industry in terms of developing new varieties for New Zealand growing conditions, while retaining the most beneficial compounds identified by the research.

The research programme will help expand the existing breeding programme as well as develop pest and disease control options that are less reliant on chemicals and focus more on controls that will contribute to making the industry pesticide residue free.

“We hope to find some answers to the gall mite, which is the biggest pest problem for the New Zealand blackcurrant industry,” says Mr Turk. “We expect that some form of biological control may be appropriate.”

BCNZ represents New Zealand’s commercially-operated blackcurrant industry, which exports around 3,500 tonnes each year (around 80% of the crop). The majority ends up as concentrate for blackcurrant drinks or other food products.

The organisation’s R&D programme has a number of outcomes, with one of the most exciting being the alleged health benefits. If these are proven, says Mr Turk, it will boost demand for blackcurrants as a health food product.

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