What is the syrup in maraschino cherries?

Maraschino cherries are a popular garnish and ingredient used around the world. Their distinct bright red color and sweet flavor make them a staple topping for ice cream sundaes, cocktails, cakes, and various desserts. But what gives maraschino cherries their unique look and taste? The answer lies in the syrup that the cherries are packed and preserved in.

The History of Maraschino Cherries

Maraschino cherries originate from the city of Zadar (formerly called Zara) on the Dalmatian coast of modern-day Croatia. Local cherry varieties grown in the area were renowned for their flavor and were preserved using marasca cherry juice and liqueur made from the marasca cherry pits. This method of preservation in a marasca cherry syrup led to the name “maraschino cherries.”

In the early 1900s, Italian immigrants brought maraschino cherries and production techniques to the United States. Overseas demand grew substantially during Prohibition due to the popularity of the cherries as a cocktail garnish. As mass production increased, maraschino cherry products evolved to use new preservation methods and different cherry varieties like the Royal Ann.

The Original Maraschino Cherry Process

The original Old World process for making maraschino cherries in Dalmatia used the following steps:

  • Pick fully ripe marasca cherries at peak sweetness
  • Wash and pit the cherries
  • Process the cherry juice and pits into a liqueur called maraschino
  • Preserve the cherries in large glass jars filled with maraschino liqueur
  • Store for several years to infuse the cherries with flavor

This time-honored process produced cherries with an intense cherry flavor and firm, juicy texture. However, the multiple years of preservation made them expensive to produce compared to modern maraschino cherry making techniques.

The Evolution of Maraschino Cherry Production

Around the 1900s, candy manufacturers in the United States began experimenting with new methods to mass produce maraschino cherries at a lower cost. These changes involved:

  • Using different cherry varieties like Royal Ann grown in the Pacific Northwest
  • Replacing maraschino liqueur with a sugar brine solution
  • Coloring the cherries red with dyes like FD&C Red No. 40
  • Flavoring the brine with almond extract and artificial cherry aromas
  • Using calcium salts or lye baths to firm the texture of the cherries

This modern process produced sweeter, brighter red cherries in a much shorter time. However, it came at the cost of the complex cherry flavor imparted by the original maraschino liqueur preservation.

The Syrup Used in Modern Maraschino Cherries

Today, most maraschino cherries are made using the following general steps:

  1. Harvest cherries at peak ripeness
  2. Wash and pit the cherries by machine
  3. Bleach the cherries in a lye solution to improve texture
  4. Soak in a flavored, dyed sugar syrup solution
  5. Package in the syrup in jars or cans

The syrup is what gives modern maraschino cherries their characteristic sweetness and preservation. It contains four main components:


The sugar syrup base is typically made by dissolving sucrose or corn syrup in water. This high concentration of sugar helps preserve the cherries and provides sweetness.


FD&C Red No. 40 is the most common red dye used to give maraschino cherries their bright color. Other dyes like Allura Red AC may also be used. Only a tiny amount of dye is needed to turn the cherries an intense red.

Flavors & Aromas

Almond extract, vanilla, and artificial cherry aromas are added to the syrup to give it a sweet, distinctive flavor profile. However, these are no substitute for the true marasca cherry flavor of original maraschinos.


The high sugar concentration helps preserve maraschino cherries. Additional preservatives like sulfur dioxide or potassium sorbate may be added to prevent mold, yeast, and bacterial growth.

Nutrition Facts of Maraschino Cherry Syrup

The main nutrients in maraschino cherry syrup come from the high sugar content used for preservation and flavoring. A typical 1/4 cup serving provides:

Nutrient Amount
Calories 330
Total Carbohydrates 84 g
Sugars 80 g
Calcium 14 mg
Iron 0.2 mg
Potassium 35 mg
Vitamin A 8 IU

As shown, a typical serving provides 330 calories, almost entirely from carbohydrates in the form of sugars. There are no significant protein, fiber, vitamin, or mineral levels. The high calorie and sugar content make maraschino syrup extremely high in sweetness and lacking in nutritional value.

Should You Be Concerned About FD&C Red No. 40 in Maraschino Cherries?

FD&C Red No. 40 is approved by the FDA for use in foods. However, there are some concerns around potential health risks:

  • May cause allergic reactions in some people
  • Hyperactivity in children
  • Possibly carcinogenic according to some animal studies

However, these risks appear quite low at normal food intake levels. The FDA has reviewed the safety research on Red No. 40 and has deemed it safe for use in the tiny amounts needed for coloring foods. But those with known sensitivities may want to avoid it.

Alternatives to FD&C Red No. 40

For those wanting to avoid synthetic dyes, there are alternatives on the market made from natural sources like beets, grapes, and algae. Brands like Sir Kensington’s use a beet-based red dye in their maraschino cherry products. However, natural dyes tend to be less vibrant than their artificial counterparts.

Are Modern Maraschino Cherries Safe to Eat?

While maraschino cherries don’t provide much nutritional value outside of carbohydrates and sugars, they are considered safe to eat in moderation for most people. The FDA closely regulates all additives used in the syrup including:

  • FD&C Red No. 40
  • Almond extract
  • Preservatives like sulfur dioxide

Proper manufacturing and canning procedures also prevent any risk of botulism that can occur from improperly preserved low-acid foods. Reputable brands use pasteurization and retort canning to eliminate any potential pathogen contamination.

The main concern is limiting intake for those looking to reduce sugar and empty calories in their diet. The American Heart Association recommends limiting added sugar intake to no more than:

  • Men: 36g or 9 teaspoons per day
  • Women: 25g or 6 teaspoons per day

With 80g of sugar per serving, maraschino cherry syrup can quickly exceed these limits. But enjoyed in moderation in a balanced diet, maraschino cherries are a safe and iconic condiment.

Can You Substitute Maraschino Cherry Juice or Syrup in Recipes?

Maraschino cherry syrup can not easily be replicated at home due to its specific dye and preservative content. However, in some recipes, acceptable substitutes include:


Grenadine is a commonly used replacement in cocktails. It provides vibrant red coloring and sweet fruit flavors. However, grenadine lacks the distinctive almond note of maraschino syrup.

Cherry Juice Concentrate

Look for unsweetened cherry juice concentrate. Combine with sugar and almond extract to taste. The color will be a deeper purple-red compared to maraschino.

Homemade Cherry Syrup

Simmer fresh or frozen cherries with sugar and water. Strain out solids. Add almond extract and food coloring as desired. Can be used as a topping syrup but not for preservation.

Other Sweet Red Syrups

Raspberry, strawberry, cranberry, or pomegranate syrups make tasty substitutes in desserts, but color and flavor will differ.

Where to Buy Maraschino Cherry Syrup

Maraschino cherry syrup can be purchased from the following sources:

  • Grocery stores – Look in the ice cream toppings aisle
  • Online – Amazon and Walmart sell maraschino syrup
  • Specialty stores – Check cocktail supply and barware stores
  • Commercial food suppliers
  • Directly from manufacturers like Luxardo

When buying, opt for brands that do not include high fructose corn syrup or artificial flavors. Luxardo brand is the highest quality and closest to the original marasca cherry syrup. But expect to pay higher prices for premium brands.

For larger volumes, commercial suppliers provide maraschino syrup in #10 cans, gallons, or larger packaging. This is ideal for restaurants, bakeries, and food manufacturers.

How Long Does Maraschino Syrup Last After Opening?

Properly stored and unopened, maraschino cherry syrup will last 1-2 years past its printed best by date. Once opened, it will stay fresh in the refrigerator for:

  • 6-8 months – Luxardo brand
  • 4-6 months – Other commercial brands

To maximize freshness after opening:

  • Refrigerate after opening
  • Keep air exposure to a minimum
  • Use clean and dry utensils when dispensing
  • Watch for any mold development

For optimal flavor and texture, use opened maraschino syrup within 6 months.

How to Tell if Maraschino Syrup Has Gone Bad

Signs that opened maraschino cherry syrup has gone bad include:

  • Mold growth
  • Fermentation bubbling
  • Off odors
  • Changed consistency
  • Loss of bright red color

Syrup that displays any of these signs of spoilage should be discarded. For unopened syrup, bulging cans or foul odors when the container is opened indicates spoilage.

Uses for Maraschino Cherry Syrup

Maraschino cherry syrup brings its characteristic color, flavor, and sweetness to both savory and sweet recipes. Common uses include:


  • Manhattans
  • Martinis
  • Whiskey sours
  • Margaritas
  • Cherry cola
  • Shirley Temples

Baked Goods

  • Cakes
  • Cookies
  • Donuts
  • Muffins
  • Rolls

Dessert Toppings

  • Ice cream sundaes
  • Cheesecake
  • Puddings
  • Pies
  • Pancakes

Other Uses

  • Yogurt parfaits
  • Fruit salads
  • Glazes for meat
  • Vinaigrettes
  • Cereals

A little maraschino syrup goes a long way to adding sweetness, moisture, and festive red color. Always stir before use as the sugar may separate out.

How to Make Candied Maraschino Cherries

While not the same as the brined jarred variety, you can make homemade candied maraschino cherries with fresh cherries, sugar, and maraschino liqueur. Follow these steps:

  1. Rinse and pit fresh cherries. Leave stems on.
  2. Place sugar and water in a saucepan. Heat to dissolve sugar.
  3. Add cherries and simmer until translucent, about 10 minutes.
  4. Remove cherries with a slotted spoon. Add maraschino liqueur to syrup.
  5. Return cherries to syrup and simmer 5 more minutes.
  6. Remove from heat and let cool completely.
  7. Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate up to 1 month.

You can also add food coloring to tint the syrup red. For the best flavor, use tart cherry varieties like Montmorency or Morello. Enjoy these homemade candied cherries on ice cream, cheese boards, and cocktails.


Maraschino cherries get their distinctive sweet, vibrantly red look and flavor from the specially formulated syrup they are packaged in. While modern commercial production methods differ from the historic maraschino liqueur brining process, the syrup continues to define these popular cherries. Understanding the ingredients in the syrup like sugar, FD&C Red No. 40, preservatives, and natural flavors allows consumers to make informed choices about including maraschino cherries in a healthy diet.

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