Cocktail Cherries – Maraschino Cherries
Candied, sweet cherries – better known as maraschino cherries – are the bartender’s most important drink garnish. Indeed, the bar’s not a bar without them.
You can put them directly into the drink or combine them with other fruit to make a visual and tasty treat.
You can find red and green maraschino cherries everywhere, normally vacuum-packed in a jar.
A maraschino 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 (common red food dye, FD&C Red 40), sugar syrup, and other components. Green maraschino cherries use a mint flavoring.
Maraschino cherries are an ingredient in many cocktails. As a garnish, they often are used to decorate frozen yogurt, baked ham, pork pies, cakes, pastry, parfaits, milkshakes, ice cream sundaes, and ice cream sodas. They are also used as an accompaniment to sweet paan. They are also sometimes put into a glass of Coca-Cola to make an old-fashioned or homemade “Cherry Coke”.
The name maraschino refers to the marasca cherry of Croatian origin and the maraschino liqueur made from it, in which maraschino cherries were crushed and sweetened. Whole cherries preserved in this liqueur were known as “maraschino cherries”. They were, at first, produced for and consumed as a delicacy by royalty and the wealthy. The cherries made their way to America and around Prohibition a controversy arose; with the ban of alcohol, so went these liquor-soaked cherries.
It was one Oregon State University professor by the name of Ernest H. Wiegand who spent 6 years in the 1920′s and 30′s developing the modern maraschino cherry. Wiegand’s goal was to aid cherry farmers in preserving their Queen Anne cherries in an alcohol-free way and compete in the growing maraschino market. He devised a process of soaking the fruit in a brine with calcium salts that worked perfectly. This ground breaking technique led to today’s techniques and notoriety of Oregon as a leader in advances of the “cherry,” including the blue, green, and other colored maraschinos.
The FDA’s definition of a maraschino cherry denotes this artificial process: “The term “Maraschino Cherries” is regarded as the common or usual name of an article consisting of cherries which have been dyed red, impregnated with sugar and packed in a sugar sirup flavored with oil of bitter almonds or a similar flavor.”
The realization for many consumers that their jars of maraschino cherries are put through a process that leaves them about as far from natural as possible has led to an interest in “real” maraschino cherries. The organic and natural foods market has fueled this and you can find “natural maraschino cherries” in more locations. These labels will clearly state that they have “no artificial coloring”, “no preservatives”, or “no red dye”.
Also, anyone can make their own maraschino cherries. They do take time, but are worth the effort.
From Manhattans to Pina Coladas, maraschino cherries are one of the most popular garnishes for cocktails. They are easy to add to the drink and that little red ball adds a finishing touch with just a splash of class that can dress up most drink, no matter the flavor.
If you are looking for a garnish with a true cherry flavor standard maraschinos are not the way to go. Instead, use another fresh cherry or go with one of the “natural” maraschinos. These are best for making “flags” with an orange, pineapple, or other slice of fruit.
Also, the different colored maraschino cherries (blue, green) are fun, though the flavor can be a little off from what you may expect. This is especially apparent with green maraschinos, which are rather minty.
Unless the cocktail calls for it specifically, always serve a cherry with the stem intact so the drinker can easily pop it in their mouth if they choose. The modern maraschino, due to its artificial sweeteners and coloring agents, are more candy than cherry and, while they do not add much flavor to a drink, drinkers often enjoy the sweet treat at the end of their cocktail.
Maraschino liqueur preserved maraschino cherries are still commercially available, though limited availability and a price that matches is an inhibitor for many bartenders.
The cherries were first introduced in the United States in the late 19th century, where they were served in fine bars and restaurants. By the turn of the century, American producers were experimenting with flavors such as almond extract and substituting Queen Anne cherries for marasca cherries. In 1912, the USDA defined “maraschino cherries” as “marasca cherries preserved in maraschino” under the authority of the Food and Drugs Act of 1906. The artificially-colored and sweetened Royal Anne variety were required to be called “Imitation Maraschino Cherries” instead. Food Inspection Decision 141, defined marasca cherries and maraschino themselves. It was signed on Feb. 17, 1912.
During Prohibition in the United States as of 1920, the decreasingly popular alcoholic variety was illegal as well. 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. Accordingly, most modern maraschino cherries have only a historical connection with maraschino liqueur.
According to Bob Cain, who worked with Wiegand 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. When Wiegand began his research, there were several ways to preserve maraschino cherries without alcohol, long before Prohibition went into effect. Wiegand took a process that people had their own recipes for—”and who knows what they were putting in there” (frequently not alcohol)—and turned it into a science, something replicable.
When Wiegand began his research, sodium metabisulfite was being used to preserve maraschino cherries. Some accounts indicate that this preservation method was being used long before Prohibition. Some manufacturers used maraschino or imitation liqueurs to flavor the cherries, but newspaper stories from the early part of the century suggest that many manufacturers stopped using alcohol before Prohibition.
After Prohibition was repealed in 1933 the Food and Drug Administration revisited federal policy toward canned cherries. It held a hearing in April 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 sirup flavored with oil of bitter almonds or a similar flavor”.
Red Numbers 1 and 4, and Yellow Numbers 1 through 4 were removed from the approved list in 1960. The ban on Red Number 4 was lifted in 1965 to allow the coloring of maraschino cherries, which is considered mainly decorative and not a foodstuff (Pavia, et al., Introduction to Organic Laboratory Techniques).
Homemade Maraschino Cherries Recipe:
If you knew how commercial maraschino cherries are made, you would jump at making your own at home. As with any canning project, it will take some time, mostly standing time, but the effort is well worth it.
Prep Time: 1 hour
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour, 15 minutes
* 2 quarts water
* 1 Tablespoon pickling salt
* 4-1/2 pounds pitted sweet cherries
* 4-1/2 pounds sugar
* 3 cups water
* Juice of one lemon
* 1 ounce red food coloring
* 1 ounce almond extract
Bring water and salt to a boil, stirring until salt is dissolved. Let cool for 10 minutes, then pour over pitted sweet cherries. Cover and let sit 12 hours or overnight.
Drain cherries, discarding brine, and rinse in cold water. Set aside.
In a medium saucepan, combine sugar, water, lemon juice, and red food coloring. Bring just to a boil, stirring to dissolve sugar, and remove from heat. Pour over cherries, cover, and let stand for 24 hours.
Drain cherries, reserving juice. Set cherries aside. Bring reserved juice to a boil again. Remove from heat and stir in almond extract. Pour juice over cherries.
Pack cherries with juice in hot sterilized jars and seal according to manufacturer’s recommendations. Place in a water bath canner and process 20 minutes for pint jars or 25 minutes for quart jars.