How did food chemists get a bad rap?

A long time ago, I used to teach a course on food biochemistry. I thought food technology was an honest profession but then I did not know about Maraschino.

Maraschino is a liqueur obtained from the distillation of Marasca cherries, made in Zadar, now a Croatian city but then part of the Republic of Venice. Whole cherries preserved in this liqueur were called Maraschino cherries. Nothing wrong with that but here comes the infamous food technologist that invented what is now known in the USA as Maraschino cherries: the fruit is bleached with calcium chloride and sulfur dioxide until they turn yellow and lose their natural flavor, and at this stage they are re-colored using red color and sweetened with corn syrup.

In 1912 the USDA had defined Maraschino cherries as Marasca cherries preserved in maraschino, a very precise definition. That’s a problem if you wish to sell rubbish instead of the real thing. What do you do? You get the FDA to re-define the same word, and in 1942 they did just that and Maraschino cherries became “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”.

Let’s say that the food technologist needed the help of lobbyists and lawyers to transform a most delicious thing that was born in the Republic of Venice into stuff that defies definition (except in the FDA book).

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.