Species: Vitis vinifera
The "currant" is one of the oldest raisins known (the term currant is used to describe its small berry size, but it is a true grape [Vitis vinifera] and not a member of the Ribes species). As early as the year 75 A.D., Pliny writes of a tiny Greek grape, thin-skinned, juicy, and sweet, and with bunches exceedingly small. It then dropped out of written history until the eleventh century, when trade of this type of raisin between the Greek producers and the Venetians was recorded. From 1334 to 1377 they were reported as Reysyns de Corauntz in the English markets, and the name raisins of Corinth was used in the 1500s. The name currant gradually evolved from Corinth, the name of the port whence the early supplies of this fruit reached western Europe. However, by the early 1700s the trade in currants shifted toward the Ionian Islands of Greece, notably Zante - hence, the traditional commercial name for this variety, 'Zante Currant.'
'Black Corinth' is considered the most correct name in the English literature. Black differentiates it from similar white- and red-fruited grape varieties, 'White Corinth' and 'Red (Rose) Corinth.' Synonyms include Corinthe noir (France), Raisin de Corinthe (Greece), and Passolina and Passerina (Italy).
Early introductions of 'Black Corinth' into the United States dates back to 1854, but at first without successful distribution or establishment in California. In 1861, Colonel Agoston Haraszthy imported 'White Corinth' and 'Red Corinth' varieties, and small though not commercially important plantings were established in different parts of California. The successful introduction and commercialization of 'Black Corinth' came with cuttings imported in 1901 by USDA. USDA's agricultural explorer David Fairchild had purchased the cuttings from the Greek village of Panariti, noted for its production of quality 'Black Corinth' raisins. Interest in the variety was slow to develop, however, due both to limited knowledge of its culture and to the popularity of 'Thompson Seedless.' Acerage finally expanded significantly during the 1920s and 1930s in response to comparatively higher prices for 'Black Corinth' raisins and the adoption of improved fruit set and berry size. By 1936, plantings had reached 2,951 acres (1,194 ha), approximately its present level.
'Black Corinth' raisins are used mostly for cooking and baking because of their small size and tender skin. The fresh grapes are occasionally used by wineries for blending and color, depending on need and availability, such as during winery crush shortages and the 'Black Corinth' raisin surpluses of the 1970s and 1990s. They are also shipped fresh as 'Black Corinth' grapes for use as a culinary and beverage garnish.
Foundation Plant Services at UC Davis is the source of Foundation grapevine material for the nursery industry, and the staff can provide information about possible sources for obtaining this stock.
The National Grape Registry (NGR) contains information about varieties of wine, juice, and table grapes, raisins, and grape rootstocks available in the United States. Growers, nurseries, winemakers and researchers can find background information and source contacts for those grape varieties in this single convenient location.