What Are Maraschino Cherries, Really?

What’s the one thing that goes great on top of an ice cream sundae and in a Manhattan cocktail? Probably anything if you’ve had enough Manhattans. Well, the one ingredient that is most acceptable to enjoy with both is a maraschino cherry! But what are maraschino cherries? Are maraschino cherries real cherries? And what are maraschino cherries soaked in? Can I drink it? I’m going to drink it. 

What are maraschino cherries? 

Maraschino cherries are regular cherries that have been preserved and sweetened. So, are maraschino cherries real cherries? Yes, kind of in the way that a zombie is a real person. There was a real cherry in there once, but it has been through some stuff and seen some real crap. What once was a simple cherry is now a delicious, ultra-sweet, bright red glob that hungry people reach over the bar and steal when the bartender’s back is turned. What happened to make them that way?

How are maraschino cherries made? 

Maraschino cherries have really changed over the years. Way back in olden times, in the 1800s on Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast, there was a type of cherry called a marasca cherry. These sour tasting cherries were brined in seawater and then preserved in a liqueur made from marasca cherries called maraschino. These were (and continue to be) fancy garnishes used in super classy restaurants. They became pretty expensive and scarce as their popularity grew. So, people began experimenting with other cherries, brining processes, and preservation techniques to make cheaper maraschino cherries. On top of that, America went through Prohibition, so those fancy cherries needed to be soaked in something non-alcoholic in the States. Oregon Agricultural College professor Ernest H. Wiegand developed a new way to make the cherries in 1920 and those basics are still used. So how are maraschino cherries made today?

Modern, neon red maraschino cherries are made with any old cherry, not just marascas. Usually they are Royal Ann, Rainier, or Gold cherries. The cherries are soaked in a calcium chloride and sulfur dioxide brine or a brine made of sodium metabisulfite, citric acid, and calcium chloride for four to six weeks. This makes the cherries colorless and flavorless. Yum. Then, the cherries go for a soak in red dye No. 40, a sugar syrup, and almond flavoring for another month. After that the pits are removed and sometimes the stems. No one wants pits in their maraschino cherries, but some folks like to tie those stems in knots to show off their mouth dexterity. Finally, those zombie cherries are bottled and canned along with that sugary syrup.

Nearly all the maraschino cherries you see at the store are the sugar syrup, preservative heavy zombie cherries. But there are still some artisanal maraschino cherries made closer to the original method, though they are pricey. 

Do maraschino cherries go bad?

Even though they are soaked in preservatives, maraschino cherries do go bad eventually. After opening the jar, they last for 1-2 months in a cool dry environment, or several months longer when stored in the fridge. They don’t last that long in my house though. I go through a jar a day. I only eat ice cream sundaes and drink nothing but Manhattans.

About the Author

Will Morgan

Will Morgan, a freelance contributor to Sporked, is an L.A. based writer, actor, and sketch comedy guy. Originally from Houston, TX, he strongly believes in the superiority of breakfast tacos to breakfast burritos. Will traveled the world as one of those people that did yoyo shows at elementary school assemblies, always making a point to find local and regional foods to explore in whatever place he was, even in rinky-dink towns like Tilsonberg, ON. Will spends his birthdays at Benihana’s. Let him know if can make it.

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