What are Maraschino Cherries?

They’re a cocktail staple, but what are they exactly?


Most commercially available maraschino cherries are highly processed and loaded with artificial colors and flavors.

Maraschino cherries are a staple at just about every bar, garnishing everything from Manhattans to Shirley Temples. They’re also a popular sundae topper; when we say “pretty please with a cherry on top,” that’s the cherry we’re talking about. But what are Maraschino cherries, exactly? And where does that name come from?

First, let’s talk about the standard maraschinos, the ones we’re used to seeing on ice cream and in Shirley Temples and fruit cocktails. These actually start off as light cherries, usually of the Rainier variety, with yellow flesh. They’re first preserved in a briny solution of sulfur dioxide and calcium chloride to bleach them completely white, then they’re soaked in food coloring, artificial coloring, and artificial flavoring (including a little almond extract). They actually came about in the early days of the twentieth century, when cherries were scarce and bars needed ways to preserve them.

As for the name, maraschino cherries actually originated in Croatia, with the marasca cherry and the maraschino liqueur made from them. Whole cherries were preserved in this liquor, which you can still find in most liquor stores today under the brand name Luxardo; lots of places even sell jars of Maraschino-branded cherries preserved in the liquor. We’d recommend replacing the mass-produced, artificially-flavored ones with these; not only are they tastier and far more natural, they’re a little boozy too. 

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