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Maraschino cherries in your typical grocery store are a mess. They’re full of bright red dye. Their flavor is one dimensional. They’re cloyingly sweet. When you use them in your drinks or desserts, the sharp flavor overpowers everything.
Upgrading your Maraschinos to something natural and artisanal can transform your desserts and cocktails from a campy 1970s era cookbook to a posh, crowd-pleasing recipe. We’ve put together a list of our favorite Maraschino cherries. Stop settling.
Meet the Best Maraschino Cherries Worthy of Your Cocktails
Our picks for best Maraschino cherries are complex, full, and just the right amount of sweet. No red dye 40 in sight.
1. Luxardo Maraschino Cherries
2. Tillen Farms Cherries, Merry Maraschino
3. Royal Harvest Nature’s Maraschino Cherries
4. Sable & Rosenfeld Whiskey Tipsy Cherries
Luxardo is the ultimate craft cocktail cherry. The company has been making them since the turn of the 20th century and making the liquor well before that. They use Marasca cherries grown in one particular region of Italy and use a combination of cherries and cherry juice instead of water.
Luxardo cherries are intense. They have a rich flavor and a beautiful, natural coloring. They contain approximately equal amounts of cherry and syrup, so you’ve got plenty for both kinds of garnish. There are no thickening agents and no artificial flavors.
They’re excellent in cocktails such as a Manhattan because of the complex flavor. The texture is pleasing, and the cherries are whole with very few broken ones.
- Visual: dark red cherries with no stems
- Ingredients: cherries, sugar, Marasca cherry juice, glucose and citric acid with natural colors and Maraschino flavor.
Tillen’s cherries are a bright, sweet cherry with plenty of sugar. They’re crowdpleasers in a home bar because they most resemble an upgraded store-brand Maraschino (without the dyes).
They’re made from Pacific Northwest-grown cherries and use no corn syrup, red dye 40, or artificial flavors. They have no sour or tart flavor, so they’re best for cocktails that call for something all sweet, but they may be a little too sweet for your desserts.
You could easily substitute the juice for simple syrup in your drinks if you don’t want to use more than one cherry as a garnish. This a will deepen the flavor without being too much.
- Visual: bright red cherries with stems attached
- Ingredients: cherries, water, and sugar with vegetable and fruit-based coloring. Natural flavors.
Royal Harvest’s cherries are a subtly sweet cherry picked when cherries are completely ripe. They use simple ingredients for the flavor with no red dye 40 or artificial flavoring.
They aren’t as sweet as some other Maraschinos on the list, and the syrup is much thinner. They’re good for drinks or deserts where you want to taste the natural cherry flavor behind the sugar. The juice is excellent for splashing into water or other beverages as a slight flavoring.
The juice doesn’t crystallize in the fridge, but they have no artificial preservatives. The sugar keeps them fine in the fridge for a little while, but make sure you use them fairly quickly.
- Visual: dark red cherries with long stems still attached
- Ingredients: cherries, water, cane sugar with fruit and vegetable-based colorings and natural flavors.
Sable & Rosenfeld’s cherries are a bold cocktail cherry spiked with malt whiskey. They’re a great alternative to the cloyingly sweet cocktail cherry of your garden-variety store brand.
They’re excellent for cocktails, but they also work well on desserts where you want more depth to the flavor. We love the depth these bring to the classic Manhattan (along with a splash of the juice itself).
They’re considered cocktail ready, and they last a while after you refrigerate them. For home bars needing some garnish variety, these are a good choice (and check out our review of other cocktail cherries here). They do contain some unnatural ingredients, but they’re an economical alternative to some of the natural varieties for when you want something that lasts a longer time in the fridge.
- Visual: deep red long-stemmed cherries
- Ingredients: cocktail cherries, water, high fructose corn syrup, sugar, natural whiskey flavor, bourbon flavor, citric acid, potassium sorbate (preservative) and red dye 40 for coloring.
Why Should I Buy Maraschino Cherries?
Investing in good Maraschino cherries not only upgrades your cocktails but your desserts as well. Really, your whole life (or so we think).
You can use the fruit in desserts or as garnishes for hors-d’oeuvres. The juice is excellent to flavor cocktails or even in seltzer water for an Italian style soda. Keeping them stocked in your bar gives you the chance to create wonder cocktails such as the Manhattan, Old Fashioned, or Vogue Martini.
Do I Need Stems?
If you’re garnishing a drink or an hors-d’oeuvre, a stem is handy because you don’t have to get your fingers all in what you’re consuming to get the cherry. Most drinks use cherries with stems for that exact reason.
If you’re using the cherries for desserts, it may be a pain to have stems because you’ll have to keep putting your fork down to eat the cherries. Not so convenient. It may be best if you have both types available if you use the cherries for a variety of dishes and drinks.
What’s So Bad About Red Dye 40?
Like all things, moderation won’t kill you. However, red dye is in a lot of things so if you’re sensitive, you’ll want to avoid Maraschino cherries with the dye. Red dye 40 is made from petroleum distillates or coal tars, so manufacturers are required to list it in ingredient lists. Dyes made from natural sources such as plants are exempt from these requirements. If you don’t see it listed, it isn’t there.
Red food coloring is one of the most commonly used dyes in the United States. It’s thought to cause light sensitivity in adults and possibly trigger hyperactivity in children. Your body secretes most dyes, so a small bit isn’t that big of a deal.
Do They Contain Alcohol?
Many cocktail cherries are infused with different types of liqueurs to get their flavors, but they aren’t packaged soaked in alcohol. For most, the alcohol content is nonexistent by the time they get to your table.
If you want true infused cherries, you can make your own using fresh, natural cherries and your liquor of choice. There are many different recipes you can use with different types and varying strengths. Make sure you keep them away from your children.
You may have an entirely different opinion of Maraschino cherries after trying some of the ones on our list. They’re complex, have varying sweetness that should satisfy even the most discerning cocktail maker, and won’t overload you with artificial flavors.
Your Manhattan is ready for an upgrade that won’t overpower the flavor. That dessert you make could use a garnish. Your water is getting really boring, but you don’t want to switch to soda. There are so many uses for quality Maraschino cherries, and we think you won’t ever get tired of experimenting with ways to use them. Raise a glass to the power of a tasty garnish and embrace your backyard bartending!
What’s your favorite Maraschino cherry garnish? Do you prefer something sweet or something a little more natural? Let us know in the comments below.