You Don't Want to Know How Maraschino Cherries Are Made

By: Alia Hoyt  | 
cherry on whipped cream sundae
For many folks, the best part of the sundae is the maraschino cherry on top of the whipped cream. DNY59/Getty Images

Anyone who's ever indulged in an ice cream sundae or a Manhattan cocktail is more than familiar with the ubiquitous maraschino cherry. It may not even seem to have much relationship to a "real" cherry, but make no mistake: Maraschinos start off as cherries off a tree. Usually, Gold, Rainier, or Royal Ann varieties are used.

But originally, the cherries of choice were marasca cherries, a sour type that grows in coastal Croatia. In the mid-19th century, these were brined using local ocean water and then soaked in a liqueur for preservation. This liqueur was made using the leaves, ground-up pits and juices of the fruit.


Marasca cherries were considered a delicacy and are quite expensive. So, companies started to make the knock-off maraschino cherries you see garnishing all kinds of things.

How Maraschino Cherries Are Made Today

Whether you're pro or con this bright-red confection, there's little debate that the process of making a maraschino cherry is indeed complex – and reading about it may put you off eating them.

First, the harvested fruits are soaked in a brine solution. Instead of the traditional sea water, the solution is made with sulfur dioxide and calcium chloride, or a mix of sodium metabisulfite, citric acid and calcium chloride. The cherries are soaked in the concoction for four to six weeks. This effectively erases their original flavor and color. The cherries are then separated from the brine.


Next, the cherries are soaked in a solution made up of sugar syrup, red dye No. 40 and almond flavoring for another month. Then, the cherries are pitted and their stems removed (not always — people do love to tie those stems in knots with their tongues).

Finally, the transformed cherries are bottled, along with the syrup. The jars are sealed and pasteurized by heating them for 20 minutes or so to 185 degrees F (85 degrees C). This process allows the cherries to be shelf stable for months, even years, after the jars are opened.

So, is any nutrition left after all that brining and bleaching? Very little: Maraschino cherries have a lot more sugar and calories than regular cherries and far fewer antioxidants. Antioxidants have been shown to reduce the risk of some cancers, type 2 diabetes and even heart disease.