How to Choose a Cherry

How to Choose a Cherry

Chefs & Experts

How to Choose a Cherry


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Nothing is simple anymore.

If you’ve ever wanted to make a cherry pie, you may know what I mean. Just stand in the grocery aisle in the canned fruit or desserts sections and you’ll see.

There are sweet cherries. Dark sweet cherries. Tart cherries. Cherries packed in water, and cherries packed in syrup. There is cherry filling, maraschino cherries, fresh cherries and frozen cherries.

What’s a baker to do!

Here’s a quick breakdown of the types of cherries we’ve observed, and how to work with each one.

Maraschino – You can buy these in red or green, with stems or without. They are great dipped in a fondue chocolate (get the stemmed ones for that), or as an ice cream topping, but they are also good in cookies and other baked goods. They are sweet and meant to pretty well stand alone—these are not pie cherries.

Pie Filling – These are canned cherries that come packed in a heavy, sweet syrup. There are two kinds that work well right out of the can—the “regular” pie filling, which gives you a bright red cherry, and the dark sweet cherries, which are more of a burgundy color with a flavor that is just slightly sweeter and more intense. The dark cherries will give you the higher antioxidants, too, but be warned—they may not look like the cherry pie of your youth. Other cherries—canned, frozen, or fresh—can all be used in pie, of course, but just need to have thickening agents like cornstarch, as well as lots of sugar, added to the mix.

Royal Anne – These cherries are wonderful fresh, but are also now available canned. They are described as a “light sweet” cherry in syrup, but it’s not the heavy filling of a pie cherry. It’s more of a liquid, and makes a great sauce to go over chicken or pork.

Red Tart – These are closer to a sour cherry, packed in water, which is generally just drained. The cherries are then perfect to put with a sweet crust, as in our Cherry Cobbler.

Cake Filling – This is similar to an almond paste and is found in the baking aisle rather than with canned fruit. Use it to fill cannoli shells, or to spread between layers of pound cake for some added flavor and color, then top with whipped cream.

Cherries can be used in any combination, too, and your choices may be seasonal. During the summer, try using fresh cherries. But you can get great flavor from frozen or canned cherries, and whether you use tart or sweet, light or dark, is simply a matter of your own flavor preferences.

So, while there are lots of varieties and preparations from which to choose, cherries don’t have to be complicated. Buy a few and experiment, or just try one of our recipes.

Then watch your family empty the dish!


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