Maraschino cherries contain artificial colors, lots of added sugar, and offer very few nutrients compared to unpreserved and unprocessed cherries.

Maraschino cherries are cherries that have been heavily preserved and sweetened.

They originated in Croatia in the 1800s, but commercial varieties have since changed significantly in both their manufacturing process and uses.

Maraschino cherries are a popular topping for ice cream sundaes and used in certain cocktails or as garnishes for foods like glazed ham, parfaits, milkshakes, cakes, and pastries. They’re also often found in canned fruit mixes.

This article reviews commercial maraschino cherries and 6 reasons why you should avoid eating them regularly.

What are maraschino cherries?

Today’s maraschino cherries are sweet cherries that have been artificially colored to be very bright red.

However, when they were first invented, a dark and sour variety called Marasca cherries was used (1).

Marasca cherries were brined using sea water and preserved in a maraschino liqueur. They were considered a delicacy, intended for fine dining and hotel restaurants.

Luxardo Maraschino Cherries were first produced in 1905 and are still made in Italy using Marasca cherries and liqueur. They’re also made without artificial colorings, thickeners, or preservatives. You may find them in certain wine and spirits stores, but they’re rare.

The process of preserving cherries was eventually further developed in 1919 by Dr. E. H. Wiegand of Oregon State University. Instead of alcohol, he began using a brine solution made of water and a high concentration of salt (2).

As Marasca cherries were not widely available, other countries began making imitation products, calling them maraschino cherries.

Today, the majority of commercial maraschino cherries begin as regular cherries. Usually, varieties that are lighter in color, such as Gold, Rainier, or Royal Ann cherries, are used.

The cherries are first soaked in a brine solution that typically contains calcium chloride and sulfur dioxide. This bleaches the cherries, removing their natural red pigment and flavor. The cherries are left in the brine solution for four to six weeks (3).

After bleaching, they’re soaked in another solution for about one month. This solution contains red food dye, sugar, and oil of bitter almonds or an oil with a similar flavor. The end result are bright red, very sweet cherries (4).

At this point, they’re pitted and have their stems removed. They’re then covered in a sugar-sweetened liquid with added preservatives.

Summary Today’s maraschino
cherries are regular cherries that have undergone a major transformation.
They’re preserved, bleached, dyed, and sweetened with sugar.

1. Low in nutrients

Maraschino cherries lose many vitamins and minerals during the bleaching and brining process.

Here’s how 1 cup (155–160 grams) of maraschino cherries and sweet cherries compare (5, 6):

Maraschino cherriesSweet cherries
Carbs67 grams25 grams
Added sugars42 grams0 grams
Fiber5 grams3 grams
Fat0.3 grams0.3 grams
Protein0.4 grams1.6 grams
Vitamin C0% of the RDI13% of the RDI
Vitamin B6Less than 1% of the RDI6% of the RDI
MagnesiumLess than 1% of the RDI5% of the RDI
PhosphorusLess than 1% of the RDI5% of the RDI
PotassiumLess than 1% of the RDI7% of the RDI

Maraschino cherries pack nearly three times as many calories and grams of sugar than regular cherries — a result of being soaked in the sugar solution. They also contain far less protein than regular cherries.

What’s more, when regular cherries are turned into maraschino cherries, nearly every micronutrient is notably reduced or in some cases lost altogether.

That being said, the calcium content of maraschino cherries is 6% higher than that of regular cherries, as calcium chloride is added to their brining solution.

Summary Much of the nutritional
value of cherries is lost during the bleaching and brining process that turns
them into maraschino cherries.

2. Processing destroys antioxidants

Anthocyanins are powerful antioxidants in cherries, known to prevent conditions like heart disease, certain cancers, and type 2 diabetes (7, 8, 9, 10).

They’re also found in other red, blue, and purple foods, such as blueberries, red cabbage, and pomegranates (7).

Research shows that eating regular cherries can reduce inflammation, oxidative stress, and blood pressure. They may also improve arthritis symptoms, sleep, and brain function (11, 12, 13, 14).

Many of the benefits of regular cherries are linked to their anthocyanin content (11, 12, 13, 15).

Maraschino cherries lose their natural, antioxidant-rich pigments through the bleaching and brining process. This makes them a neutral yellow color before they’re dyed.

Removing the anthocyanins also means that the cherries lose many of their natural health benefits.

Summary The process of making
maraschino cherries removes the natural pigments of cherries that are known to
have antioxidant properties. This significantly reduces their health benefits.

3. High in added sugar

One maraschino cherry contains 2 grams of sugar, compared to 1 gram of natural sugars in a regular sweet cherry (5, 6).

This means that each maraschino cherry contains 1 gram of added sugar, which comes from being soaked in sugar and sold in a high-sugar solution.

Still, most people don’t just eat one maraschino cherry at a time.

One ounce (28 grams), or approximately 5 maraschino cherries, packs 5.5 grams of added sugar, which is about 4 1/4 teaspoons. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 9 teaspoons of added sugar per day for men or 6 per day for women (16).

Since maraschino cherries are often used to garnish high-sugar foods like ice cream, milkshakes, cakes, and cocktails, you could easily surpass these recommendations.

Summary Maraschino cherries are
loaded with added sugar, with a 1-ounce (28-gram) serving containing roughly 4
teaspoons (5.5 grams) of sugar.

4. Generally packed in syrup

Maraschino cherries are very sweet because they’re soaked in and loaded with sugar.

They’re also typically sold suspended in a high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) solution. HFCS is a sweetener made from corn syrup that’s composed of fructose and glucose. It’s often found in sweetened beverages, candy, and processed foods.

HFCS has been linked to metabolic disorders, obesity, and related chronic conditions like type 2 diabetes and heart disease (17, 18, 19).

Plus, overconsumption of HFCS is associated with developing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (20, 21, 22, 23).

HFCS is typically listed as one of the first few ingredients in maraschino cherries. This is important, as ingredients are given from the highest to lowest amount on product labels (24).

Summary Making maraschino
cherries involves a lot of sugar. The cherries are soaked in sugar during
processing and then sold in a solution of high-fructose corn syrup, which has
been linked to various chronic diseases.

5. May cause allergic reactions or behavioral changes

Red 40, also called Allura Red, is the most common food dye used in making maraschino cherries.

It’s derived from petroleum distillates or coal tars and regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) (25).

Red 40 has been shown to cause allergic reactions and hyperactivity in people with food dye sensitivities. True allergies to food dyes are considered rare, though they may contribute to certain cases of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) (26, 27).

Many presumed symptoms of Red 40 sensitivity are anecdotal and often include hyperactivity. However, hyperactivity appears to be more common among some children after consuming foods that contain this dye.

Though Red 40 has not been established as a cause of hyperactivity, studies indicate that removing artificial colorings from the diet of children prone to hyperactivity can reduce symptoms (26, 28, 29, 30).

This has led to much more research on the potential association.

For instance, research shows that removing dyes and a preservative called sodium benzoate from children’s diets, significantly lowers symptoms of hyperactivity (26, 31, 32, 33).

For this reason, the use of Red 40 is banned in many countries outside of the United States.

Summary Maraschino cherries are
sometimes dyed with Red 40, a food dye that has been shown to cause
hyperactivity and allergic reactions in sensitive individuals.

6. May increase your risk of bladder cancer

Maraschino cherries are artificially dyed with Red 40 to make them very bright red. This dye contains small amounts of the known carcinogen benzidine (34, 35).

Observational studies show that people exposed to benzidine have a higher risk of bladder cancer.

Much of the research is on the effects of occupational exposure to benzidine, which is found in many substances made with industrial chemicals and colorings, like hair dye, paint, plastics, metals, fungicide, cigarette smoke, car exhaust, and foods (36, 37, 38).

Red 40 is found in a variety of foods in the United States, such as beverages, candies, jams, cereals, and yogurt. This makes it difficult to quantify how much of it people are consuming.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), benzidine is no longer produced in the United States. Still, benzidine-containing dyes are imported for use in various products, including foods (39).

Note that some maraschino cherries are dyed with beet juice instead of Red 40. These are typically labeled “natural.” Nonetheless, these varieties are usually still high in sugar.

Summary Maraschino cherries are
frequently dyed with Red 40, which contains benzidine, a known carcinogen.

The bottom line

Maraschino cherries have many downsides and offer little to no nutritional benefit.

Added sugar and artificial ingredients far outweigh any nutrients that remain after processing.

Instead of using maraschino cherries, try regular cherries in your cocktail or as a garnish. Not only is this healthier, but it still adds plenty of color and flavor to your drink or dessert.