Maraschino cherries (pronounced mair uh SKEE noh or mair uh SHEE noh) are a specially prepared type of cherry, a fruit that grows on a tree and has a single pit. The word cherry comes from the name of a Turkish town, Cerasus, and cherries have been known for over 2,000 years.
There are two basic types of cherries, sweet and sour. Although maraschino cherries can be made from any of the many kinds of cherry, they are usually made with the sweet cherry known as a Royal Ann. Most cherries that are made into maraschinos come from Oregon and Michigan.
Maraschino cherries take the first part of their name from the cordial with which it used to be flavored. The cordial is made from the marasca cherry, so a maraschino cherry was originally a cherry flavored with cherry cordial.
Today, the maraschino liqueur is too expensive, and maraschino cherries are produced by being macerated in flavored sugar syrup. Sometimes almond is added for red cherries and mint added for green cherries, but they are not dyed until after the flavoring process is complete.
At one time, the dye used for maraschino cherries was a harmful substance, but the FDA has now banned its use. An experiment in the 1990's worked on the idea of using radish pigment as coloring to create these cherries. And the Eola Cherry Company developed a wider range of colors, including orange, electric blue, and pink. The company was purchased by the Oregon Cherry Growers in 2006.
Traditional uses of maraschino cherries include:
• decorating the center of the pineapple slices in pineapple upside-down cake,
• topping off ice cream sundaes, banana splits, and hot fudge sundaes,
• in fruit salads,
• as a decoration on baked ham,
• as a garnish for a number of alcoholic beverages, for example, whiskey sours, and
• as a cupcake garnish.
You can purchase them with or without stems, depending on your intended use. Although the maraschino cherry undergoes a preservative process, it should be stored in the refrigerator, once the packaging has been opened.