"Do you want a cherry on that?" I remember repeating this phrase countless times during my four-year stint as an ice cream scooper. After all, no sundae is complete without a cherry on top of all that fudgy, nutty goodness. And yet, after years of carefully placing the syrupy fruit on top of my whipped cream creations, I never stepped back and asked myself, "what are Maraschino cherries, anyway?" 

It seems like the world is divided into two parts: those who love Maraschino cherries and those who can't stand the sight of them. A long afternoon of Googling led me to some answers about these mysterious cherries.

What Are Maraschino Cherries?

Traditionally, Maraschino cherries were cherries that were preserved in Maraschino liqueur. This cherry liqueur is made from a specific kind of cherry called Marasca cherries, which are found on the coast of Croatia. 

The cherries made their way over to the US from Europe in the late 19th Century and they rose in notoriety from the 1900's through about 1920. Once the Prohibition started it was against the law to preserve them in alcohol, and the cherries were slowly forgotten.

The Maraschino cherries that we know and love (or hate) today are, however, quite different. The modern version of the preserved fruit was invented at Oregon State University by a professor who was seeking a better way to preserve the fruits and keep them plump. Typically this involves a sugary syrup.

How Are Modern Maraschino Cherries Made?

The process for making these cute little sundae toppers is a lot more complicated than you might think. First of all, the cherries that are typically used are not red, but light yellow. At the processing center, the fruits are usually brined in a solution of calcium chloride and sulfur dioxide until their color and flavor is pretty much gone.

Then they're marinated in a vat of high fructose corn syrup and red dye, which gives them their bright color and sweet flavor. In the end, what are Maraschino cherries? As Chemist and author Darcy O'Neill explained to the New York Times, the maraschino cherry is a "real cherry with the cherry flavor removed."

What Can You Do With these Cherries?

If you're wondering what purpose these garnishes serve, they are actually used in a variety of ways. They're a mainstay in most bars and they are integral parts of many popular desserts. Here are a few of my favorite recipes that involve these cherries.

The Whiskey Sour

sweet, cream, juice, cocktail, milk, ice
David Wu

The Whiskey Sour is probably the most classic drink you can get with a Maraschino cherry as a garnish. It also features whiskey (duh), lemon juice, maple syrup, and orange slices.

Chocolate-Covered Drunken Cherries

Name a better way to get drunk than by downing sweet little cherries covered in smooth chocolate. Couldn't think of one? I thought so.

Maraschino Shortbread Cookies

These cookies are NOT just for Christmas. They are little bites of chocolaty, cherry-flavored goodness and they are really easy to make ahead of time.

Pineapple Salad

cheese, sauce
April Purvis

This pineapple salad may seem unconventional, but it takes fruit salad to a whole new level. One Spoon Contributor suggests it as a Thanksgiving side dish.

Shirley Temple

cocktail, sweet, juice, ice, alcohol
Abigail Wilkins

The Shirley Temple is the non-alcoholic cocktail that we all secretly love. And would it be the same without the little cherries floating at the bottom that you try to stab with your straw?

What are Maraschino cherries? They're something that tons of cocktails and sundaes would feel absolutely naked without. Next time you visit the ice cream shop or the bar, remember all the history that's packed into those little round, sugary fruits.