The Epic Hidden History of Maraschino Cherries

Join High Touch High Tech in celebrating
International Cherry Pit Spitting Day
July 3rd!

Image Source: Pixabay.com

Here in the glory days of summer, one of the best things about an already stellar season is the abundance of fruit, especially the abundance of CHERRIES!  Enjoyed right across the world from The U.S. to Japan, this beloved fruit has a flavor that is welcome in almost any confection you can imagine, from ice cream to sweet liqueurs.  The finest cherries of the harvest sell from upscale Japanese fruit retailers for 350 dollars a box.  Cherryheads can even participate in the National Cherry Festival in Traverse, Michigan, which attracts half a million people a year, or test their skills at the International Cherry Pit-Spitting Contest, also in Michigan.  (The world record for a spit pit is 30.6 meters, by the way!)

Cherry Pit Spitting Contest in Germany

It is true that cherries are an iconic and beloved fruit, so much so that they have given rise to colloquial sayings such as “the cherry on top,” which makes the red cherry garnish on top of sweet treats a metaphor for the final flourish that perfects something.  But where did that famous bright red cherry on top come from?  The story of the Maraschino cherry that completes the world’s deserts, and makes its cocktails extra tasty, is actually an epic story of persistence and devotion that spans seven generations!  Since 1823, the Luxardo family of Italy have put their name on the world’s most highly regarded brand of Maraschino cherries, still lovingly produced by the clan from blossom to bottle.

If it sounds strange to you that the bright red (or green) Maraschino cherries available at the supermarket, which are known to be bathed in 20th century concoctions such as sulfur dioxide, high fructose corn syrup, red dye # 40, and potassium sorbate, are so highly regarded, you are thinking of the wrong Maraschino cherry.  Cordials and preserves made of the Marasca cherry had been popular in Europe for thousands of years, but it was Girolamo Luxardo and his wife Maria who perfected the first version that was sold widely as a brand in 1823.  The original Luxardo recipe that continues to the present day boasts that “No thickening agents of any type and no preservatives are used, and the dark red color is all natural.”  Cocktail and café culture around the world was just beginning to evolve in the 19th century, and the Luxardo company became the world’s pre-eminent cherry on top from that time forward.  Sadly, 4 of the 5 Luxardo heirs were killed in WWII bombings, and the sole survivor escaped to Northern Italy with one single Marasca cherry sapling to continue the brand.  As that one sapling was slowly growing into the new Luxardo orchards, however, the post-war ethos of “better living through chemistry” had intervened and the mass produced, dye-infused version that we now know as Maraschinos took hold around the world.  Originally invented in the 1920’s as a cheaper version of Luxardo Maraschinos, the bright red, sugar-impregnated Maraschinos commonly bought today are really only chemically enhanced knockoffs of a much healthier, and by all accounts much more delicious, original recipe.  For an interesting cherry’s-eye-view at how much the technological world has changed in 200 years, have a look at the videos below about how the two dueling Maraschinos are produced, preferably while enjoying a seasonal bowl of the fresh stuff (and maybe spitting a pit or two)!

If the idea of testing your skill at launching cherry pits across the room sounds like a fun summertime challenge, look no further than our Catapult at-home experiment! Check out the lesson plan below, grab your supplies, and start experimenting with lift, force, gravity and more!

Catapult Lesson Plan: https://sciencemadefun.net/downloads/Catapult_EOTD_May%206th.pdf

Sources:

How 350 dollar per box Japanese Cherries are Grown:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xjWajrNcT0A

The National Cherry Festival in Traverse, MI:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a-LhcQIbqts

The International Cherry Pit Spitting Contest:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZrfOppxKTwc

The Creation of Luxardo Maraschinos:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LFONeb7bNH4

How Conventional Maraschinos are made:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q1brsg7h6gQ

Gourmet Mixology with Luxardo Cherries:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KNSMVA4tTpU

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