What is Grenadine Made From?
What would you say if I told you the literal translation of grenadine from French didn’t mean pomegranate in the context of the sweet red syrup called grenadine? What would you think if I said modern grenadine is an over-simplified corruption of a once complex and interesting product? I’m sure you would be curious, so let’s break this down because it may turn your Tequila Sunrise upside down.
Most people know the bright red, sweet and sticky syrup we call grenadine, and other than being sweet and red doesn’t offer much to the enterprising drink mixer. It is mostly used to add bright red colour and a wallop of sugar to a drink. But 120 years ago, it was more interesting.
During the 2000s cocktail renaissance, bartenders took a closer look at this syrup and concluded that it shouldn’t just be “red simple syrup.” Taking the name literally, they believe they should make it from pomegranate juice, so everyone headed in that direction, myself included. And that was considered another cocktail problem solved by the community. That is until I started writing Fix the Pumps in 2009 when I stumbled upon an odd recipe for grenadine in The Standard Manual of Soda (1901). Life was busy, so I put it to the side to focus on other projects.
Camper English wrote a detailed post in 2012 on grenadine and made note that courts considered grenadine to be pomegranate because that was what the word meant in French. Camper even notes the recipe from The Standard Manual of Soda but doesn’t take it any further.
In 1870, there was a trademarked syrup called Grenade (French), but the court overturned the trademark because the word grenade was just a common French word for pomegranate…and that is where things go wrong. The assumption seems to have always been that grenade or grenadine must mean pomegranate, which is incorrect.
The Standard Manual of Soda (1901) has a unique recipe for grenadine that seems out of place in modern times since it is complex. In the early days of bars, bartenders were prone to keeping their popular recipes secret, but it was vital for pharmacists and chemists to document their discoveries and get them published. Gaining recognition in pharmacy journals for medical discoveries was important, but credit for an interesting soda drink was also part of their career development. Though 1800s medicine may seem simple by today’s standards, publishing research was just as important back then as it is today. It’s through these centuries of documentation that we can track how something as simple as grenadine developed, and yes, grenadine was a well-known pharmacy ingredient.
At the turn of the 20th century, grenadine started to make its way into cocktails. The first references come from Cocktail Boothby’s American Bartender, and then by the 1910s becomes more common. Before that, raspberry syrup and Red Curacao were the cocktail colourants of choice. Some of the cocktails that used grenadine include the Clover Club, Jack Rose, Bacardi Cocktail and even the Monkey Gland, but which version did they use? Everyone assumes it’s the pomegranate version, with no consideration to the local pharmacy that dealt with soda, syrup, bitters and better drugs than any bar could supply.
When I posted on Twitter that I thought the cocktail community got grenadine wrong, it stirred up some discussion and Anita at Married with Dinner asked the key question: “How do you explain the name, then? It literally means “pomegranate-y.“
Literal translations are not the best method for solving historical mysteries. I’ve been known to spend a few hours here and there reading old dictionaries from the 17th and 18th centuries. That’s where you find cool words like ale-knight and pandoratrix, but you can also see how words evolve, and if you like to write, that is important.
The other thing is having multiple interests. I like chemistry, history and gardening. Though the last one doesn’t sound important, it was the key to this discovery. As I was l3
ooking for a plant with clove-like flavours, I stumbled upon Clove-Pinks, a variety of Carnation. One of the synonyms for this flower is Grenadines, and they are crimson red* and have a clove-type aroma with a pleasant bitterness. In the description for the seeds, it mentioned that historically they used them in drinks. Boom, instant connection back to the recipe for grenadine in The Standard Manual of Soda. When we get to the recipe, you will note it has Oil of Cloves as an ingredient.
* Why are they called “pinks” in they are crimson? Thanks to Alyson Brown, I learned that it is the frilly edge of the flower that gives them the name, think of pinking shears that give material a sawtooth edge, that’s pinking.