We all know that grenadine is supposed to be a syrup made of pomegranate juice and sugar, often with orange flower water added in. But most commercial grenadines are little more than red food coloring and sweetener.
We might think that artificially-flavored cocktail ingredients like grenadine all came to be in the post-war 1940s and 50s, or in the disco-drink 1970s, but it turns out that grenadine has been an artificially flavored syrup for over 100 years.
As we read in a previous post, pomegranates were brought to California by the Spanish in the late 1700s, and grown commercially before 1917. We've also seen how grenadine became a trendy cocktail ingredient in the 1910s, first showing up in drinks in the 1890s. But was the grenadine used from 1890s through the 1920s real grenadine?
Coincidentally I recently finished the book Drinking Boston: A History of the City and Its Spirits (2012), in which which author Stephanie Schorow does some deep research on the most famous classic cocktail to come out of the city (and that contains grenadine): the Ward Eight.
In trying to find a more specific date of creation of the Ward Eight, Schorow looks into grenadine availability in Boston. She notes that pomegranates were available in Boston in the 1890s, according to a market report in the Boston Globe.
But how about grenadine?
Grenadine Goes Bad
Did bartenders ever use real pomegranate grenadine in their cocktails? In the US, maybe, maybe not.
There was a New York State Supreme Court case in 1872 involving apparently one of the first persons to produce grenadine syrup (at least there in New York) from real pomegranates. He called his "grenadine" or "grenade syrup", then someone else started calling his syrup 'grenade syrup' and there was a suit over using the same words.
"THE plaintiff was engaged in the business of manufacturing from the juice of the pomegranate a syrup which he named Grenadine and Grenade Syrup and sold under those names. Subsequently the defendant commenced making a syrup which he sold under the name of Grenade Syrup. The plaintiff obtained an injunction order restraining the sale of any article under the name which he had thus previously appropriated. The defendant alleging that Grenade was a French word signifying pomegranate and that Grenade Syrup was sold in France by that name and denying that the plaintiff could acquire an exclusive right to use a foreign name by being the first to introduce it into this country moved to vacate the injunction order."
So it appears real grenadine from pomegranates was being made and sold in New York in 1872.
But it wasn't long before fake grenadine was on the market. I'm not sure when it was first manufactured without pomegranate, but it was quite early on.
In a book called The Standard Manual of Soda and Other Beverages: A Treatise Especially Adapted to the Requirements of Druggists and Confectioners (from 1906) the recipe for grenadine extract lists as ingredients clove oil, orange peel oil, ginger tincture, vanilla extract, diluted phosphoric acid, maraschino liqueur, cochineal (which we know is a red coloring made from bugs), water, and alcohol. Note the absence of pomegranate.
In 1912 there was a ruling in a case called U.S. v. Thirty Cases Purporting to be Grenadine Syrup. (This is covered in the book Drinking Boston.) The government seized the shipment because there was no pomegranate in this grenadine - it was made from sugar, citric and tartaric acids, and 'certain fruits.'
Interestingly though, the court ruled that because grenadine wasn't as familiar to Americans as lemon and oranges (and that it was only an article of commerce in the US in the last 10-15 years), there was no reason for consumers to expect to get pomegranates in their grenadine. (You can read the court case and decision here.)
A later court decision ruled that grenadine is not even a fruit syrup, as it's not made with fruit but with citric acid.
The Fake Grenadine Backlash
Did the first US bartenders to use grenadine ever use the real deal? I haven't found incidences in my books of bartenders specifying the word "pomegranate" when talking about grenadine, so perhaps they were always using commercialized artificial grenadine.
In later books, authors clearly spelled out their displeasure with the fake stuff, particularly the fake stuff from America.
In the fabulous book The Gentleman's Companion (aka Jigger, Beaker, and Flask) from 1939, Charles H. Baker, Jr. acknowledges the decline in grenadine quality. He says, "Don't be deceived by inferior American imitations of the real thing. Be sure and get the imported."
David Embury also warned against grenadine. In The Fine Art of Mixing Drinks (1948), he defines grenadine as, "A very sweet, reddish, non-alcoholic syrup mildly flavored with pomegranates. Used primarily for color rather than flavor."
In 1972, Kingsley Amis said grenadine was, "A non-alcoholic, sweetened sort of pomegranate juice, nice to look at, odd in flavour- I am never sure whether I like it or not. But quite a few recipes include it."
Rose's grenadine, the most popular brand, is made from "High Fructose Corn Syrup, Water, Citric Acid, Sodium Citrate, Sodium Benzoate (Preservative), Red 40, Natural and Artificial Flavors, Blue 1." Yum!
In Eric Felten's book How's Your Drink? from 2009, he says, "You can no more make a Bacardi Cocktail with red-dyed corn syrup than you can make a chicken salad sandwich with turkey."
But perhaps they'd been making Bacardi cocktails with turkey all along.
For the month of December I'll be looking at the pomegranate and its use in cocktails, including in grenadine and in PAMA pomegranate liqueur, the sponsor of the project. Check out the information developed just for bartenders at PamaPros.com.
Other posts in this series: