Maraschino Cherry Cocktail

What are Maraschino Cherries

By Sina / Last updated on June 11, 2022 
The sweet and flavorsome Maraschino cherries are among the most common and popular cocktail garnishes.

The list of classic cocktail and alcohol-free drink recipes asking for Maraschino cherries used as a garnish seems sheer endless. The sweet red fruits go back to medieval Europe when people used them for making liqueur. 

Once they arrived in the United States in the late 1800s, the Maraschino cherry -alongside the liqueur- soon became a popular cocktail ingredient. That quickly earned them the nickname Cocktail Cherries. But what's so special about these cherries from the Dalmatian coast?

What are Maraschino cherries?

First of all, Maraschino cherries are actual cherries. They have a sweet taste and a firmer texture compared to untreated cherries. Their color is a very dark red. You could almost think they are black.

People often doubt that they could be natural, especially with that many neon-colored immitations around, but they really are cherries. And also, contrary to popular belief, they don't contain alcohol - though they used to in the distant past.

Authentic Maraschino cherries are made only from the Marasca cherry that grows in the Dalmatian region. -Hence the name Maraschino. The liqueur is still around today and is famously known as Maraschino liqueur.

These days, it's also common to use other types of cherries like Royal Anne or Rainier. They are usually sweet and light-coloured. These copycat Maraschino cherries are bright red and have a more artificial taste.

How are Maraschino cherries made?

There are multiple ways to make Maraschino cherries. But they can be classified into two main categories: the traditional and the modern version.

Traditional Maraschino cherries

In the Middle Ages, Maraschino cherries were pickled, sweetened, then crushed, and added to Maraschino liqueur. The alcohol preserved them until the bottle was empty.

Maraschino Cherries

Today, producers of authentic Maraschino cherries, like Luxardo, soak their cherries in marasca cherry syrup. This syrup is made from the so-called Sangue Morlacco - a juice also used to infuse the Maraschino liqueur. In a final step, the cherries get pasteurized to guarantee food safety.

Luxardo prides itself in only using candied marasca cherries soak in the syrup. -No thickening agents, no other preservatives, no food coloring. And that is why real Maraschino cherries are best. They taste pleasant and quite natural. 

Modern Maraschino imitation

The modern form of Maraschino cherries is usually brighter red and looks not quite as natural. An Oregon State University professor of horticulture named Ernest H. Wiegand invented them in the United States in 1912.

Oregon cherry farmers approached Wiegand because they had trouble preserving their fruit - an idea brought to the continent by Europeans in the late 1800s. The cherry growers wanted their share in the cocktail cherry business but didn't quite know how to get there. 

Wiegand's resolution was to preserve the cherries in a solution of brine, sulfur dioxide, and calcium chloride before soaking them in syrup and food coloring. 

In response to the new method, the the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) passed a law that required Maraschino cherries to be Marasca cherries only. The modern varieties must be labeled "Imitation Maraschino Cherry" instead.

You might have guessed already that I don't like these neon-colored versions overly much. But many do, and they unquestionably look flashy.

The taste of Maraschino cherries

Classic Maraschino cherries taste pretty similar to Maraschino liqueur without the alcohol. -Meaning, they are sweet, you can taste the natural cherry flavor, and a subtle almond note is shining through. If you like cherries in general, you most likely will find them pleasant to eat.

The modern, bright-red Maraschino cherries taste more like candies. They have a quite tough and chewy consistency and an extremely sugary flavor. Generally, I don't find them enjoyable to eat.

Can you make Maraschino cherries at home?

Maraschino cherries are a pricey product. -Especially if you are like me and prefer the authentic over the modern ones. 

Therefore, if you want to save some bucks, you can make your own immitation of the famous cocktail cherry at home. To find out what you need to make them, follow this link to the recipe for homemade Maraschino cherries.

Cocktails recipes with Maraschino garnish

I said it before. The list of cocktails featuring a Maraschino is long. The byname cocktail cherry, therefore, is well deserved. Here's a list of cocktails that usually feature a skewered Maraschino cherry:

Aviation Cocktail

Classic Gin-based cocktails that generally feature the cherry garnish are the purple-colored Aviation, the Last Word, the Bijou, or the Casino cocktail. Further, various members of the Collins cocktail family ask for the cocktail cherry on top.

Also, Tiki-style cocktails made with Rum often come with a Maraschino cherry. For instance, the Bahama Mama, the Hurricane, or the Rum Runner, to name a few.

If you're more into Whiskey, the Brooklyn Cocktail usually features a Maraschino cherry. And a delicious representative of Vodka cocktails would be the Alabama Slammer.

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