Adventures in Aftermarket Maraschino

In my far from complete text on distillation I have a recipe for making maraschino liqueur which is a sweetened distillate of fermented sour cherries and a percentage of their pits which contribute the distinct aroma of bitter almonds. The really simple recipe is supposed to be a solution to a problem for people that live in areas that cannot access maraschino liqueur or in some cases cannot afford it. The recipe is constructed from hiram walker’s kirschwasser and a re-distilled amaretto. The alcoholic proof and sugar content are shaped to fit historically derived proportions. Because the recipe uses very small volumes, different ratios of cherry to stone pit aroma (benzaldehyde) are created using a gram scale to maintain accuracy when blending the two volumes to your own aesthetic. The recipe is simple and fun and makes a mean aviation. The distilled amaretto is astounding on its own. It is crystal clear and the divergence of the aroma from the color is relentlessly amusing. If any producer starts making a crystal clear amaretto, they will be met with instant success.

[I used this maraschino cheater in my nine round TKO and Ciroc vodka was directly inspired and has just released clear amaretto.]

The other day I just unearthed some more information about the role of benzaldehyde in maraschino liqueur in a paper titled: The Determination of Benzaldehyde in Maraschino Cherries and Maraschino Liqueur by A. G. Woodman and Lewis Davis. It was published in the Journal of Industrial and Engineering Chemistry, August 1912. I think the research was done right down the road at M.I.T. in Boston.

The paper applies new testing methods to maraschino that can determine the quantity of small amounts of benzaldehyde (5mg) as opposed to previous methods that could only handle comparatively large amounts (0.1g). Newly refined methods of this sort were constantly being applied to product analysis to protect consumers from adulteration and fraud. I’m in no position to put the chemistry to use (some day!) but these papers sometimes give us a great glimpse of what was on the market and what people were drinking.  Their method is easy enough to follow that someone very ambitious or a small scale commercial producer could easily apply it. Even more refined methods have likely been created over the years and it should be known that there is a correction to one of their reagent figures in another article.

Okay so here is the good stuff; brands with numbers:

brand                                   alcohol content     benzaldehyde (Mg/100cc.)

G. Luxardo                                 32.60               3.57

Richelieux                                  25.94               17.02

Marie Brizard & Roger               28.97               0.0

Cusenier (cherry liqueur)           32.63              12.01

Cusenier (maraschino)             19.00               0.0

Nuyens et Cie                            24.78              1.78

H. Shufeldt & Co., Peoria Ill.       30.60              41.3

According to the authors: “Genuine Maraschino, apparently, has a very low content of benzaldehyde.” The sugar and alcohol content I used for my faux rendering match luxardo’s from 1920, though I don’t think they have ever changed.

So what does this all mean? For starters I see these products as being all over the map, some have far more almond aroma than others and were all these brands really available in Boston in 1912? Without knowing exact numbers, I think the ratio of benzaldehyde to cherry I put in my faux maraschino was probably far higher than the genuine stuff and might have compared to the very last one in the list. I don’t really know which maraschinos in this list were premium brands at the time. I think at least luxardo and brizard but not cusenier because of their very low alcohol content.

If limited to small concentration but significant to the aroma of maraschino, I think it would be cool to have a known concentration of benzaldehyde so that renderings of “genuine maraschino” could accurately be assembled from great american kirschwassers like clear creek’s. To my knowledge they do not offer a maraschino. Who knows, if some bartenders create a market for a product that doesn’t really exist, maybe they will start making one and they will have a deep enough level of involvement that they can hit all the historically accurate numbers we now know exist.

Closing thoughts: You gotta earn that mustache and suspenders. Make your Ensslin era Aviations with historically accurate levels of benzaldehyde in your maraschino.

7 thoughts on “Adventures in Aftermarket Maraschino

  1. Benzaldehyde is one of the more strange booze related compounds. From what I can tell it does get converted to cyanide in our acidic stomach. But, it also is the main flavor of amaretto. Further more, multiple sources say fruit pits are a cure for cancer. I have never been able to reconcile all this and just gave up, but I do remove the pits from anything that will be distilled. I asked a Ph.D. chemist about this and he mentioned that our bodies can process a certain amount of cyanide just fine, but once we break the metabolism threshold, we die quite quickly. So, everything in moderation I suppose.

  2. Hi Wino. What I know of benzaldehyde comes from Joseph Merory’s “Food Flavorings” (1960)

    It is a rare book and I re-typed an excerpt of it here:
    Managing the cyanide seems simple enough and distillation is enough to separate it. I don’t believe that benzaldahyde turns into cyanide so much as they are created along side each other when prunasin is hydrolyzed.

    I think a lot of distillers confuse the two compounds and do to know what properties are attributed to each. I’ve seen claims that copper sulfate can remove the almond aroma but I think that it turns the cyanide into an insoluble salt and leaves the benzaldehyde untouched which would mean the aroma would be unchanged.

    These distillers are applying the copper sulfate to distillates that probably contain no cyanide anyhow because it was separated by distillation.

    From “Food Flavorings” p. 24

    cherry and benzaldehyde flavor
    wild cherry bark.
    “… the chief constituent of the bark is d-mandelonitrile glucoside or prunasin, which has properties similar to the amygdalin of the almond seed. the other constituents are benzoic, trimethylgallic, and p-coumaric acids, tannin, and volatile oil. if ground or pulvergized wild cherry bark is treated with warm water of about 131F, enzyme emulsin will hydrolyze prunasin to benzaldehyde, glucose, and hydrocyanic acid. the latter is removed chemically or is lost during the distillation. distillation yields a flavor similar to kirschwasser…”

    bitter almond
    “… after removal of the fixed oil, the cake of the bitter almonds is mixed with warm water (131F) allowed to hydrolize and is then subjected to steam distillation. the distilled oil contains more than 80 per cent benzaldehyde, party in free state but mainly in combination in a small amount of hydrocyanic acid. the latter is removed chemically by heating the distilled oil with a sulfite, or a slaked lime and an iron salt, and then the mass is redistilled. oil of bitter almond is heavier than water.”

    “oil of bitter almond is also derived from the seeds of the apricot. the oil derived from the seeds of the almond tree is imported mainly from southern france, spain, and italy. it is obtainable in two varieties; of containing hydrocyanic acid besides benzaldehyde, the other being free from Prussic (hydrocyanic) acid, often labeled in abbreviated form– FFPA.”

    “kirschwasser.–Kirschwasser is made by fractional distillation of a fermented mash of cherries and crushed seeds. the increased temperature of the mash during the fermentation hydrolyzes the amygdalin of the seeds to benzaldehyde. a 50 to 55 per cent alcohol content of the distillate yields the best aroma of kirschwasser.”

  3. I had never seen any research as to when the amagdylin breaks down. As long as it breaks down pre-distillation there is very little reason to be concerned. I’ll keep that in mind as my loquat tree is almost ripe.

  4. Merory does not wrap it up as neatly as I’d like. I’d love to see an explanation that can scale to every what-if scenario.

    I’m really curious about making a cherry bark eau-de-vie and seeing what its like. The bark is cheap enough and I thought I could hydrolyze it in an immersion circulator for a day or two.

    The aroma can be so kirsch-like and I’m curious if you could safely distill it before or after hydrolysis to get more or less benzaldehyde relative to that glowing fruit aroma.

    I wonder if Hiram Walker processes the bark in a certain way to make such a fun kirschwasser for so cheap.

  5. I like the idea of this, but I wonder why you’d go through the effort of redistilling amaretto instead of just using regular old commercial distilled almond oil.

  6. a great point. I want to make a recipe based on almond oil. the reason primarily is because Amarettos are fairly more standard and then people could practice blending. I ran out of money before I could explore different almond oils. cheers! -Stephen

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