Cherries are a popular addition to chocolate, cola, and more of our favorite treats. Maraschino cherries are the neon red, candy-sweet cherries that top ice cream sundaes and classic mixed drinks.
But maraschino cherries don’t exactly grow on cherry trees. They’ve been through a lot of change throughout their history.
Origin of the Maraschino Cherry
Maraschino cherries originated in Yugoslavia and northern Italy about 200 years ago. Merchants in these regions used a sweet cherry called the Marasca cherry as the base. They let it soak in maraschino liqueur until it was ready to be used as a tasty treat.
These true maraschino cherries didn’t make it to the U.S. until the 1890s. It was an imported delicacy for the best hotels and restaurants in the country. They became a popular garnish on desserts and mixed drinks.
By 1896, U.S. cherry processors tried their own recipe using a local sweet cherry called the Royal Anne cherry and less maraschino liqueur.
They began replacing the maraschino liqueur with almond oil. Bitter almond oil is still used today as a flavoring and preservative for nonalcoholic maraschino cherries.
By 1912, the FDA stated that the name “maraschino cherries” describes one thing: Marasca cherries preserved in maraschino liqueur. Anything different was not true maraschino cherries.
The alternative nonalcoholic cherries, Royal Anne cherries soaked in almond oil and flavoring, should be labeled accordingly. Some labels include “Imitation Maraschino Cherries” or “preserved cherries with artificial color and flavor”.
By 1919, the idea of maraschino cherries changed entirely. A professor at Oregon State University was tasked with creating a cherry preservation method. The Royal Anne cherries were spoiling too quickly, so experts looked at maraschino cherries.
That same year, the 18th amendment passed. Alcohol was banned in the U.S., which means the traditional liqueur-preserved maraschino cherry needed reinvention.
The professor and cherry processors in Oregon reinvented the maraschino cherry brine and eliminated alcohol. This preservation method resembles the one used today. The sugary maraschino cherries replaced the alcoholic variation entirely in the U.S.
By 1939, the FDA declared that the term “maraschino cherry” was synonymous with the bright red, sugar-filled, preserved sweet cherry that everyone loved. Now, any sweet cherry that is produced and preserved this way can be labeled as maraschino cherries.
How to Make Maraschino Cherries
There are two main types: alcoholic and nonalcoholic. Both are easy to make at home with a bit of time and patience.
Boozy (traditional) maraschino cherries. This traditional method takes a bit more time. You’ll need:
- 1 pound of ripe cherries with stems and pits
- Luxardo Maraschino liqueur
- Mason jar or similar container
Wash the cherries and put them in the jar. Pour 2 to 3 cups of liqueur into the jars, fully immersing the cherries. Refrigerate with the lid on for 2 weeks. Swirl the jar every couple of days to immerse the cherries again.
Booze-free maraschino cherries. You can make your own maraschino cherries if you’re avoiding alcohol or just want to have a sweet treat. This method is a bit more complex. You need to cook a mixture of pitted sweet cherries, grape juice, lemon juice, sugar, water, almond oil, salt, and star anise.
You can eat them as soon as they’re cool, but the longer you steep them, the more flavorful they are.
How Healthy Are Maraschino Cherries?
Maraschino cherries are not as healthy as their raw counterparts. Raw, sweet cherries have natural sugar and fiber. Cherries are also a good source of potassium.
Canned maraschino cherries are preserved with corn syrup and chemical preservatives. They have almost three times as much sugar as raw cherries, most of which is added sugar.
Homemade maraschino cherries aren’t much better. They’re made with 1 cup of fruit juice and 1 cup of sugar. If you want to use them as a dessert or beverage topping, consider using raw sweet cherries instead to limit sugar intake.