What Are Maraschino Cherries?
Maraschino cherries are any type of cherry that has been dyed red, impregnated with sugar, and preserved in a sugar syrup. This syrup is frequently flavored with almond extract, or mint extract in the case of green maraschino cherries.
Typically, maraschino cherries are made from Royal Ann cherries, though nearly any type of cherry can be used. They are extremely sweet and are used most frequently as garnishes in cocktails, for cake embellishments, with baked ham, or on top of an ice cream sundae.
The modern process of making maraschino cherries involves soaking the cherries in a salt solution of sulfur dioxide and calcium chloride in order to bleach the cherries and remove most of the natural flavor. After this, they are moved to sugar syrup to absorb the desired flavor and become intensely sweet. This mixture also contains red dye to impart a nearly neon red color to the cherries. Other colors such as blue, pink, and green are sometimes used as well, each paired with additional flavorings in the brine.
Maraschino cherries were invented in Croatia by soaking marasca cherries in salt water and then preserving them in a liqueur made from the juice of these cherries. Their popularity grew widely through Europe and were often eaten by royalty and the wealthy. These cherries first came to the United States in the late 1800’s and grew rapidly in popularity. Ernest H. Wiegand of Oregon State University started working on a project during prohibition to make a nonalcoholic brine to help farmers in the area preserve their Queen Anne Cherries. Prior to his work, maraschino cherries were almost exclusively preserved in alcoholic brines. He says that his work with a nonalcoholic brine had nothing to do with prohibition, and that it was merely coincidence that he perfected it during that period of time. After his work, the Food and Drug Administration established that maraschino cherries are any that are impregnated with sugar, dyed, and preserved in sugar syrup. There was some controversy over the dye used in maraschino cherries that lead to a decline in popularity in the United States. However, the FDA considers red dye #40, which is used for these cherries, safe. Even so, some companies have gone to making the cherries with beat juices or other forms of red dye.