Photograph of Ben Klibreck blackcurrants

Our blackcurrant cultivars occupy over 95% of the UK cropping area and around 50% of the global area.


Blackcurrant breeding at the Institute began in 1956 and the programme has developed to become one of the world’s largest for Ribes, with the ‘Ben’ series of cultivars now grown commercially worldwide. At the present time, it is estimated that Institute cultivars occupy over 95% of the UK cropping area and around 50% of the global area.

The programme was initially aimed at producing frost-tolerant cultivars to provide a consistency of cropping that was previously unavailable, due to regular frosts during flowering that decimated crops of existing cultivars. However, the reduced incidence of spring frost has enabled the programme’s aims to move more towards other agronomic traits, including environmental adaptability and pest resistance and also to the production of cultivars with improved levels of ascorbic acid (vitamin C) (Hancock et al. 2007), anthocyanins and desirable sensory components (Brennan et al. 1997).

Most blackcurrants in the UK are used for juice processing and the James Hutton Institute breeding programme has since 1990 been funded by GlaxoSmithKline, makers of RibenaTM. Many of the recent releases are exclusive to GSK growers, including Ben Avon, Ben Dorain and Ben Klibreck.

In addition to the juice processing market, the Institute/Mylnefield Research Services (MRS) has since 2006 bred blackcurrants for the emerging fresh market, funded by Winterwood Farms. The increase in fresh consumption has been largely due to the perceived health benefits of blackcurrant. Objectives for this programme are quite different from the processing market, since the fruit is hand-picked with a preference for large-fruited types. So far, the programme has produced the cultivar Big Ben for this sector of the market.

For the future sustainability of the programmes, considerable emphasis is now placed on the development of improved breeding strategies, mainly centred on the use of marker assisted selection. The first linkage map of blackcurrant was published by the group in 2008 (Brennan, Jorgensen, Hackett et al. 2008), and a PCR-based marker linked to gall mite resistance is now being deployed in the programme for the selection of resistant germplasm (Brennan, Jorgensen, Gordon et al. 2008).

Contact: Amanda Moura

Photograph of red gooseberries


The James Hutton Institute maintains germplasm of various Ribes species as part of the genetic base for the blackcurrant breeding programmes. This germplasm includes accessions of Ribes grossularia, and using this material in crossing has led to a semi-thornless dessert gooseberry seedling currently in trials with growers and the Royal Horticultural Society.


Brennan, R.M., Hunter, E.A. and Muir, D.D. 1997. Descriptive sensory profiles of blackcurrant juice and genotypic effects on sensory quality. Food Research International 30, 381-390.

Brennan, R., Jorgensen, L., Hackett, C., Woodhead, M., Gordon, S.L. and Russell, J. 2008. The development of a genetic linkage map of blackcurrant (Ribes nigrum L.) and the identification of regions associated with key fruit quality and agronomic traits. Euphytica 161, 19-34.

Brennan, R., Jorgensen, L., Gordon, S., Loades, K., Hackett, C. and Russell, J. 2008. The development of a PCR-based marker linked to resistance to the blackcurrant gall mite (Cecidophyopsis ribis Acari: Eriophyidae). Theoretical and Applied Genetics 118(2), 205-11.

Hancock, R.D., Walker, P.G., Pont, S.D.A., Marquis, N., Vivera, S., Gordon, S.L., Brennan, R.M. and Viola, R. 2007. L-Ascorbic acid accumulation in fruit of Ribes nigrum occurs by in situ biosynthesis via the L-galactose pathway. Functional Plant Biology 34, 1080-1091.