Don't Believe This Myth About Luxardo Cherries

First off, let's set the record straight: Luxardo cherries and your typical American maraschino cherries are not the same thing. While they may have both grace the top of your cocktail glass at some point in time, Luxardo cherries are a century-old Italian tradition of preserved, dark mascara variety cherries in a mascara cherry syrup (via Luxardo). Meanwhile, the neon-hued sundae-topping variety has evolved to be brined and bleached, then dyed bright red and repacked in sugar syrup (via Wine Enthusiast).

The two have a fascinating and intertwined history. They also include — and leave out — ingredients that may surprise you. Luxardo brand cherries are the OG cocktail cherry, originating in what was once Croatia in 1905 (via Food & Wine). After Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur established a successful following, the company decided to sell the liqueur's signature cherries preserved in cherry syrup as cocktail culture took off in America (via Food & Wine).

Italy's troubled past and today's ingredients

World War II destroyed the original Luxardo distillery, and knockoff preserved cherries emerged in the U.S. in what started as an effort to help farmers in Oregon preserve their crop (via Food & Wine). Eventually, their efforts culminated in a process that added calcium salts to cherries, and the bleaching of yellow cherries, so manufacturers could dye them red again (via Food & Wine). American Maraschino cherries were there to stay. According to Wine Enthusiast, Prohibition in America also hastened the popularity of an alcohol-free cocktail cherry, although there are varying accounts as to whether or not the original Luxardo's contained alcohol.

Years later in 1997, Luxardo rebuilt the business, and their cherries are enjoying a renaissance with the craft cocktail movement (via Food & Wine). Luxardo cherries sold today are dark, sour and — contrary popular belief — contain no alcohol (via New York Times and Mariano's). The cherries, along with their syrup, can be found in everything from a sour cherry gin fizz to a Manhattan (via Luxardo), but you're safe to enjoy Luxardos in alcohol-free mixed drinks or even on their own. American Marachino cherries, on the other hand, enjoy a place of nostalgic comfort on Shirley Temples, ice cream sundaes, and yes, also in cocktails (via New York Times).