Fruit punch has become an ubiquitous flavor, expanding beyond the classic drink to exist on its own, a totem of the beverage world. It’s sweet, fruity, red, and serves up a heaping dose of childhood memories. So where does this concoction come from and what goes into making the traditional fruit punch flavor?
What is fruit punch?
It is commonly believed that punch originated in India and, during the 1600s, was culturally exported to England and the rest of the European continent through the East India Company. The name is thought to derive from the Hindi word पाँच (panj), meaning five in reference to its five ingredients: spirit, sugar, spice, sour citrus, and water. Yes, fruit punch probably started out as spiked punch.
It served as a beer substitute for sailors on their long journeys home and soon became a popular drink with English aristocrats, thanks to the steep cost of its ingredients.
Punch went through many cultural transformations in the following centuries; as it spread throughout the world, each country put their own twist on it. It wasn’t until the early 20th century that the modern concept of fruit punch—the intensely red drink that stains your mouth—entered the public consciousness.
What fruits are in fruit punch?
Hawaiian Punch hit the market in 1934 as an ice cream topping. While it dropped the alcohol, it stuck to the five-ingredient formula and consisted of orange, pineapple, passion fruit, guava, and papaya. Quite a fancy list of fruits, if you ask me. And if you look at the label on a bottle of Hawaiian punch, all of those fruits are still listed as ingredients. Three cheers for consistency.
Other fruit punch brands will vary wildly. Cherry seems to be one of the more prominent flavors included, which makes sense. Other common fruits besides the ones listed above are pineapple, apple, grape, pear, strawberry, and cranberry. Pretty much any fruit can go into fruit punch.
What is fruit punch flavor?
Now we are going to get to the good stuff. When you think of fruit punch, you probably think of that generically sweet red drink, often made from powder or concentrate, that transports you back to lazy summers when you were a child. It’s an instantly recognizable flavor.
Like most of the best tasting foods that are commercially available, that fruit punch flavor is almost entirely artificial. If you have even a passing interest in the creation and regulation of food in the United States, there’s a fascinating, 132-page document from the FDA about the definitions of juice and punch. In answer to the question “does punch have to be made from fruit juice” the FDA says no. A punch can be any artificially flavored beverage, with or without natural flavorings.
When you look at the label of this gallon jug of fruit punch drink, there’s a whole list of non-fruit ingredients. The details tab even says “contains less than 1% juice.” But let’s not kid ourselves—this is the good stuff. So, what is fruit punch flavor? It’s red.