The Special Italian Cherries Bobby Flay Uses Constantly

"The cherry on top" is a saying that means sweetening an already great deal, and we also say "life is a bowl of cherries" (per Cambridge Dictionary). We have cherry blossom festivals, flavor everything from candy to cough syrup with cherry, smoke barbecue over cherry wood (and build furniture with it), and we can't imagine ice cream sundaes without them. How did this festive little fruit become such a culinary darling? Britannica says cherries are edible tree fruits (not berries) in the Prunus genus — along with peaches, plums, apricots, nectarines, and almonds (per ScienceDirect). With their attractive color and appealing flavors that can be sweet, tart, or both, it was only a matter of time until humans started picking and eventually cultivating them (per Britannica).

There's science behind our love affair with cherries. According to Healthline, they contain tons of healthy antioxidants, including anthocyanin which gives them their color, plus protective phytochemicals, vitamins, and minerals. You don't even have to cook cherries to incorporate them into your diet, but as a culinary ingredient, they are quite versatile. Desserts like pie, fruit salad, and cobbler are obvious winners, but they shine in luscious sauces for pork, poultry, and more. Celebrity chefs like Bobby Flay enjoy using cherries in their cooking, and Flay himself is loyal to a particular gourmet cherry from Italy.

What are Amarena cherries?

In a "pantry tour" interview with People, Bobby Flay says he's a huge fan of Amarena cherries — a Southern Italian cherry. He uses them in cocktails and tops desserts like ice cream and gelato with them, he told People, calling them "Ridiculous. So good." So what are they? Eataly describes them as "sweet with an unmistakable tartness." They come in syrup and are packed in charming ornate ceramic jars that look enchanted. Gourmet Sleuth says they grow wild in the Bologna and Modena regions of Italy, also known for the famous sausage (per History Daily) and balsamic vinegar (via Italy Magazine).

Amarena cherries look like something contestants might use on "The Great British Baking Show." While Gourmet Sleuth adds that their name comes from the Italian word amaro, meaning "bitter," these special cherries have a strong fruity flavor and the bitter taste is mellowed by their soak in the syrup, which varies by brand but can contain sweeteners, cherry juice, and natural coloring. They're texturally different from mushier maraschino cherries, which PreGel notes are artificially dyed and flavored.

Where to find Amarena cherries

Amarena cherries are a delicacy that you can easily order online from fine food purveyors. They're also sold at some liquor stores like Total Wine & More. Trader Joe's sometimes stocks them, and Gourmet Sleuth recommends trying the cheese section of gourmet food purveyors such as Whole Foods Market. If you're unable to get your hands on a jar of Amarena cherries, high-end maraschinos like Luxardo may suffice. For luxury cherry goodness on a budget, you can make your own dessert cherries with a recipe such as the mock Amarena cherry recipe from Emily Fabulous.

Gourmet Sleuth calls Amarena cherries an essential ingredient in traditional cherry gelato. Put them to good use in Bobby Flay's cherry bellinis and cherry margaritas recipes, where the deep red color produces beautiful cocktails. Or use them as a garnish in his classic Manhattan or old fashioned (per Today). For a kid-friendly "mocktail," omit the liquor in Flay's sweet cherry slushy cups and treat them to a sophisticated sweet! Likewise, Eataly suggests blending them with yogurt, and they're perfect for baked goods like BBC Good Food's gorgeous Amarena cherry and almond tart and Food Network's cherry scones with whipped maple butter. Now that you know not all cherries are quite like the Amarena, it's time to find yourself a jar and make Chef Flay's sweet tooth proud.