A Brief History of Maraschino Cherries and our Favorite Preserved Cherries
A Short History of These Cherries
For hundreds of years, the only notable candied cherries were made by Croatia and there monopoly of Marasca Cherry Trees. Due to their expense, they were considered a luxury good reserved for the wealthy. However, they were also extremely popular. American counterfeiters from all over came trying to cash in on this industry by using coal tar “aniline”, “full of sugar”, and almond flavoring. They very rarely had any quality control, but would just add more chemicals in order to replicate their richer European competitors. In 1912, the FDA issued Food Inspection Decision 141, an order stating that Maraschino Cherries had to be made from Marasca cherries and preserved in a Marasca syrup, to prevent the quality.
But it didn’t. And in 1939 a Maraschino cherry was any canned cherry that was “dyed red, impregnated with sugar and flavored with oil of bitter almonds or a similar flavor.”
The counterfeits were wildly successful and whole industries were created to imitate the Marasca cherries. However, there were serious issues. The cherries weren’t as firm. They also didn't preserve shape or look consistent. And of course, the production of cherries weren’t codified as well as it could be.
To improve on the concerns of consumers eating the counterfeits, Ernest Wiegand, a professor in Oregon University, devoted his life in order to make the perfect Maraschino cherry. In 1925 when Ernest Wiegand found a way of keeping firm cherries while making the candied cherries affordable for everyone.
This new version of a Maraschino cherry process started with a Rainier or another yellow tinted cherry. Then those cherries were traditionally brined for forty-five days in a solution of preservatives and would lose most of their red coloring becoming yellow. The point of the brining process was so that they could maintain their texture for years.
While this brining process is the traditional way that gave rise to the popularity of Maraschino cherries, there has been some modernization to them as well. In 1969, a paper was released about the merits of using Sulfur Dioxide as a preservative due to its antimicrobial properties. This process, mixed with calcium salts, bleached cherries white, took days instead of weeks, and created a more consistent product.
Some Preserved Cherries on the Market That We Love:
1. Luxardo Maraschino Cherries
Bartenders praise Luxardo Cherries, but if you asked a hundred bartenders what makes Luxardo Cherries special, most would say they have no idea, just that they are good and a standard of quality.
Luxardo Maraschino cherries are one of the oldest and most brands of preserved cherries on the market today. During World War 2, Croatia was devastated by Nazis and the Luxardo family took a sapling seed in order to keep these trees in Italy. For hundreds of years, they’ve continued to make some of the most delicious Maraschino cherries, and for many, will be the only way to revisit one the greatest delicacies of the late 19th and early 20th century.
The key difference between Luxardo Maraschino Cherries and everyone else is that their brand focuses on having a consistently firm “crunchy” texture that is unique to everything else on the market. This is due to the fact they are picked as soon as they are ripened, and then quickly candied. After the candying process, they are coated in Maraschino syrup, a syrup which is typically darker and more viscous than most of what is out there on the market, and packaged into a jar. As a result of this production method, these cherries have a ton of crunch! They’re also very expensive with each cherry retailing for around 40 cents a piece.
It doesn't help that we go through a jar of these every week either!
2. Tillen Farm Bada Bing Cherries
Tillen Farm Bada Bing cherries are the perfect cherry for your friend who is on a diet and one of our go to recommendations for those who want to add a little bit of sweetness without breaking their bank of calories. These cherries are a little bit sweet, but not super sweet. They have no artificial dyes and are pitted with the stem on. These amazing cherries have a fresh taste, aren't expensive, and last for around a month. While they are low in sugar, they also still have a huge flavor behind them.
3. Amarena Fabbri Cherries
Amarena cherries are an amazing alternative to the more expensive Maraschino. They are a little less sweet and less crispy than their Maraschino counterparts, but they are very unique in their own right. These cherries are delicious and the brands Toschi and Fabbri can be found for half the price of their Luxardo counterparts while still having a similar flavor.