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What Are Maraschino Cherries?

By
Matthew Krimmel
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If you've ordered a cocktail and it included a cherry, chances are it was a maraschino cherry. That type of bright red cherry accompanies cocktails, ice cream sundaes, and other treats we've come to love. But why does that bright red cherry appear different from the type of cherry we buy from the food market? Read on to learn more about maraschino cherries.

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What Are Maraschino Cherries?

Maraschino cherries, also known as cocktail cherries, are preserved, sweetened, and artificially colored to become bright red cherries. That's why they have a different taste and composition (no pits) than natural cherries.

What Are Maraschino Cherries Used For?

Many alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks feature them, including the Old Fashioned, the Aviation, and the Shirley Temple.

A maraschino cherry and some maraschino cherry syrup can be added to a glass of Coca-Cola to create a homemade "Cherry Coke."

Maraschino cherries are added to sundaes, milkshakes, cakes, and pastries on dessert menus in restaurants.

Maraschino Cherries Origin and Evolution

Maraschino cherries originated in Croatia and northern Italy about 200 years ago. Merchants in these regions used a sweet cherry called the marasca cherry as the base. They soaked it in maraschino liqueur until it was ready for use as a delicious treat.

In the 1890s, restaurants and hotels in the United States began importing maraschino cherries. They became a popular garnish for cocktails and desserts.

The Royal Anne Cherry

By 1896, cherry processors in the United States began experimenting with a recipe using a local sweet cherry called the Royal Anne cherry. The processors started to use less maraschino liqueur until eventually replacing it with almond oil. It's still used today for flavor and preservation of non-alcoholic maraschino cherries.

In 1912, the FDA clarified its official definition of maraschino cherries. It declared that they only described marasca cherries preserved in maraschino liqueur. All other techniques for producing the cherries weren't producing "true" maraschino cherries.

New Preservation Method

In 1919, Ernest Wiegand, a professor at Oregon State University, and cherry processors began working on a cherry preservation method. They reinvented the maraschino cherry brine and eliminated alcohol from maraschino cherry production. This step coincided with the 18th Amendment and the start of Prohibition.

Maraschino cherries were filled with sugar and contained preservatives that made them bright red. It's similar to the formula used for producing them in modern times.

By 1939, the FDA stated that "maraschino cherry" described any sweet cherry created and preserved by these methods.

Are Maraschino Cherries Real?

Maraschino cherries begin as regular cherries before undergoing the treatment that adds preservatives and sugar to give them their unique taste. So, yes, maraschino cherries are crafted from real cherries.

First, they get soaked in a brine solution with calcium chloride and sulfur dioxide. This step bleaches the cherries, removing their natural flavor and red pigment. It takes four to six weeks of soaking in the brine solution for this process to complete.

After the cherries are bleached, they're soaked in another solution with sugar, red food dye, and bitter almond oil for about four weeks. This treatment provides them with bright red color and sweet taste.

Finally, the cherries are pitted and have their stems removed. They get coated with a liquid that sweetens their taste and adds additional preservatives.

Modern maraschino cherries are real cherries that undergo a sizeable transformation.

Are Maraschino Cherries Bad for You?

You should avoid eating them regularly. Maraschino cherries get soaked in syrup, meaning they're loaded with sugar. They also lose most of their vitamins and minerals during processing.

Anthocyanins, powerful antioxidants found in cherries, can prevent conditions such as heart disease and certain cancers. These antioxidants are lost during the brining and bleaching process.

Red 40, also called Allure Red, is the most common red dye used in making maraschino cherries. It contains small amounts of benzidine, a known carcinogen that is linked to bladder cancer.

The term "maraschino," which took its name from the original variety of the fruit used, actually refers to the modern production process.

Maraschino Cherries Pronunciation

"How do you pronounce maraschino cherries?" is a question we hear from time to time. The answer depends on which language you use.

In English, the term "maraschino cherries" is pronounced "meh-ruh-shee-now cheh-reez."

However, in Italian, you pronounce the word differently as "mar-uh skee-noh" with a "k" sound.

Can Dogs Eat Maraschino Cherries?

Maraschino cherries aren't toxic to dogs because they've had their pits removed. However, they contain a high level of sugar added during processing. Excessive sugar intake can result in chronic health issues for your dog, such as obesity and diabetes.

You could feed your dog a fresh cherry, but you'd have to remove the pit, stem, and any leaves first. But, considering your dog probably won't eat enough cherries to receive any nutritional benefits from them, it's a lot of work.

Never let your dog get near a bowl of fresh cherries, as the pits, stems, and leaves contain cyanide. A single cherry ingested often isn't enough to cause cyanide poisoning. But it could be toxic if your dog eats an entire bowl of fresh cherries.

Best Maraschino Cherries

There are numerous options available when shopping for maraschino cherries to use in your whiskey sour, Manhattan, and piña colada. You also want to offer a quality cherry to garnish your restaurant's dessert offerings, such as sundaes or toppings on cakes.

Here's a list of our five favorite maraschino cherries:

  1. Luxardo Original Maraschino Cherries. Many bartenders we speak to use this cherry in their cocktails. These cherries come from marasca cherry trees in the Veneto region of Italy and get treated right after harvesting. A rich syrup they're soaked in gives them a dark color and sweet flavor. It's widely regarded as the best maraschino cherry to include with a Manhattan.
  2. Traverse City Whiskey Co. Premium Cocktail Cherries. These maraschino cherries come from Michigan's Traverse City, nicknamed the "Cherry Capital of the World." They use locally sourced Balaton cherries and produce large, plump, and firm cherries. They get bathed in the company's whiskey, then slow-cooked in large copper pots. This gives them a dark color with notes of smoke and char.
  3. Jack Rudy Cocktail Co. Bourbon Cocktail Cherries. This company uses Oregon's Bordeaux cherries for their large size and firm texture. They compliment any whiskey drink and can also make a great dessert garnish.
  4. Fabbri Amarena Cherries. Fabbri uses amarena cherries, a small, sour variety native to Bologna and Modena. They package them in a stylish blue-and-white ceramic jar and slow cook them using an old-fashioned recipe. The result is a rich flavor and sweet texture that leaves a tart finish.
  5. Tillen Farms Bada Bing Cherries. This company from Maine utilizes bing cherries from the Pacific Northwest. These cherries get a dark color from fruit and vegetable sources like apple, blueberry, and hibiscus.

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Add a Maraschino Cherry on Top

The modern maraschino cherry tastes more like candy than fruit. You find them on top of a sundae or included with your favorite cocktail to give it an extra burst of sweetness.

Classic maraschino cherries preserved in maraschino liqueur retain more of a true cherry flavor with a touch of almond flavoring. The next time you order a cocktail with one, pay special attention to the flavor that your maraschino cherry offers with your drink.

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