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In the United States, a maraschino cherry (// marr-ə-SKEE-noh or // marr-ə-SHEE-noh) is a preserved, sweetened cherry, typically made from light-colored sweet cherries such as the Royal Ann, Rainier, or Gold varieties. In their modern form, the cherries are first preserved in a brine solution usually containing sulfur dioxide and calcium chloride to bleach the fruit, then soaked in a suspension of food coloring (common red food dye, FD&C Red 40), sugar syrup, and other components.
Maraschino cherries are an ingredient in many cocktails, giving them the nickname: "Cocktail cherries." As a garnish, they often are used to decorate frozen yogurt, baked ham, cakes, pastry, parfaits, milkshakes, ice cream sundaes, and ice cream sodas. They are frequently included in canned fruit cocktail. They are also used as an accompaniment to sweet paan, and sometimes, along with some of the maraschino "juice," put into a glass of Coca-Cola to make an old-fashioned or homemade "Cherry Coke".
The name maraschino originates to the marasca cherry of Croatian origin and the maraschino liqueur made from it, in which marasca cherries were crushed and preserved after being pickled. Whole cherries preserved in this liqueur were known as "maraschino cherries". These had been a local means of preserving the fruit in Dalmatia.
In the 19th century, these became popular in the rest of Europe, but the supply in Dalmatia was too small for the whole continent, so they came to be seen as a delicacy for royalty and the wealthy.
Because of the relative scarcity of the marasca, other cherries came to be preserved in various ways and sold as "marascino".
The cherries were first introduced in the United States in the late 19th century, where they were served in fine bars and restaurants. Because they were scarce and expensive, by the turn of the century American producers were experimenting other processes for preserving cherries, with flavors such as almond extract and substitute fruit like Queen Anne cherries. Among these, alcohol was already becoming less common.
In response, the USDA in 1912 defined "maraschino cherries" as "marasca cherries preserved in maraschino" under the authority of the Food and Drugs Act of 1906. The artificially-colored and sweetened Royal Anne variety were required to be called "Imitation Maraschino Cherries" instead. Food Inspection Decision 141, defined marasca cherries and maraschino themselves. It was signed on Feb. 17, 1912.
During Prohibition in the United States as of 1920, the decreasingly popular alcoholic variety was illegal as well. Ernest H. Wiegand, a professor of horticulture at Oregon State University, developed the modern method of manufacturing maraschino cherries using a brine solution rather than alcohol. Accordingly, most modern maraschino cherries have only a historical connection with maraschino liqueur.
According to Bob Cain, Cliff Samuels and Hoya Yang, who worked with Wiegand at OSU, Prohibition had nothing to do with Wiegand's research: his intention was to develop a better brining process for cherries that would not soften them. When Wiegand began his research, there were several ways to preserve maraschino cherries without alcohol, long before Prohibition went into effect. Wiegand took a process that people had their own recipes for—"and who knows what they were putting in there" (frequently not alcohol)—and turned it into a science, something replicable.
When Wiegand began his research, sodium metabisulfite was being used to preserve maraschino cherries. Some accounts indicate that this preservation method was being used long before Prohibition. Some manufacturers used maraschino or imitation liqueurs to flavor the cherries, but newspaper stories from the early part of the century suggest that many manufacturers stopped using alcohol and artificial dyes before Prohibition.
After Prohibition was repealed lobbying by the non-alcoholic preserved cherry industry encouraged the Food and Drug Administration to revise federal policy toward canned cherries. It held a hearing in April 1939 to establish a new standard of identity. Since 1940, "maraschino cherries" have been defined as "cherries which have been dyed red, impregnated with sugar and packed in a sugar syrup flavored with oil of bitter almonds or a similar flavor".
FD&C Red Number 1 and 4, and FD&C Yellow Number 1 through 4 were removed from the approved list in 1960. The ban on Red Number 4 was lifted in 1965 to allow the coloring of maraschino cherries, which then are considered mainly decorative and not a foodstuff.
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