Maraschino Cherry

Maraschino Cherry


In the US, a maraschino [mar-uh-skee-noh] cherry is a preserved, sweetened cherry, typically made from light-colored sweet cherries such as the Royal Ann, Rainier, or Gold varieties. In their modern form, the cherries are first preserved in a brine solution usually containing sulfur dioxide and calcium chloride to bleach the fruit, then soaked in a suspension of food coloring (usually Red 40), sugar syrup, and other components.

Maraschino cherries are an ingredient in many cocktails, giving them the nickname: ‘Cocktail cherries.’ As a garnish, they often are used to decorate frozen yogurt, baked ham, cakes, pastry, parfaits, milkshakes, ice cream sundaes, and ice cream sodas. They are frequently included in canned fruit cocktail. They are also used as an accompaniment to sweet paan (an Indian preparation of herbs for chewing), and sometimes, along with some of the maraschino “‘juice,’ put into a glass of Coca-Cola to make an old-fashioned or homemade ‘Cherry Coke.’

The name maraschino originates to the marasca cherry of Croatia and the maraschino liqueur made from pickled cherries that were crushed and aged. Whole cherries preserved in this liqueur were known as ‘maraschino cherries’ and were a local means of preserving the fruit in Dalmatia. In the 19th century, they became popular in the rest of Europe and demand soon outstripped supply. The cherries came to be seen as a delicacy reserved for royalty and the very wealthy. Copycats from other regions emerged, producing ‘marascino’ cherries by adapting the process to local cherry varieties.

The cherries were first introduced in the US in the late 19th century, where they were served in fine bars and restaurants. Because they were scarce and expensive, by the turn of the century American producers were experimenting with other processes for preserving cherries, with flavors such as almond extract and substitute fruit like Queen Anne cherries. Among these, alcohol was already becoming less common. In response, the USDA in 1912 defined ‘maraschino cherries’ as ‘marasca cherries preserved in maraschino.’ The artificially-colored and sweetened Royal Anne variety were required to be called ‘Imitation Maraschino Cherries’ instead.

Alcohol was outlawed in the US in 1920, making the original Croatian liqueur and the cherries preserved with it illegal. Ernest H. Wiegand, a professor of horticulture at Oregon State University, developed the modern method of manufacturing maraschino cherries using a brine solution rather than alcohol. However, according to his colleagues at OSU, Prohibition had nothing to do with Wiegand’s research: his intention was to develop a better brining process for cherries that would not soften them.

After Prohibition was repealed lobbying by the food industry encouraged the FDA to revise federal policy toward canned cherries. It held a hearing in 1939 to establish a new standard of identity. Since 1940, ‘maraschino cherries’ have been defined as ‘cherries which have been dyed red, impregnated with sugar and packed in a sugar syrup flavored with oil of bitter almonds or a similar flavor.’ Commonly used food dyes Yellow Number 1 and Red Number 1 and 4 were banned by the FDA in 1960, but an exception was made for Red Number 4 to allow the coloring of maraschino cherries, which by then were considered mainly decorative and not a foodstuff.


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