What is grenadine, you ask? Perhaps the question should be where is grenadine, because the grenadine you’ve known and loved for years is an impostor! Your Shirley Temples, your Roy Rogers-es, your Tequila Sunrises and Singapore Slings—all of them are built on a foundation of assumed identity and deceit! And the beverage mixer industry thought they could get away with this charade, but what they didn’t know is that one day we’d come along and start asking questions about this mysterious red syrup.
To learn the true identity of grenadine, you need only decipher its French name: grenade means pomegranate, and the suffix -ine is added to nouns to identify a substance that has been made from them. That’s right, folks, real grenadine is pomegranate syrup. You might even have some hiding around your house right now, living under the alias “pomegranate molasses.” Now that you know about grenadine’s double life (and you got a surprise etymology lesson to boot), it’s time to approach Big Beverage’s Throne of Lies.
If you’ve ever ordered a grenadine cocktail at a bar or restaurant, it was likely prepared with Rose’s, the leading brand of grenadine. And it’s quite tasty! I enjoy a nice splash of Rose’s in my ginger ale from time to time, because you’re never too old for a Shirley Temple. But just because it’s tasty doesn’t mean it’s legit. Rose’s (like many other commercially distributed grenadines) contains no pomegranate juice whatsoever; it’s made from high fructose corn syrup, water, citric acid, sodium citrate, sodium benzoate, Red #40, Blue #1, and a combination of natural and artificial flavors. So how is it allowed to call itself grenadine? Because of a landmark verdict handed down by a Massachusetts federal court in 1912: United States v. Thirty Cases Purporting to be Grenadine Syrup. Yes, that was a real court case, and yes, reading about it is as exciting as it sounds. Over 100 years ago, a federal judge ruled that as long as an artificial syrup has the proper flavor and color, it’s allowed to call itself grenadine.
Does this mean that all grenadine on the market is devoid of its namesake ingredient? It does not. There are plenty of small batch food manufacturers making proper grenadine from pomegranate juice, natural sugars, and signature infusions of spices and botanicals. If you enjoy treating yourself to a high-quality cocktail now and again, try to find a bottle of the good stuff either online or through your local spirits shop, or thin out a little pomegranate molasses with water. As for the “fake” grenadine, though it may just be sugar water, there’s really nothing wrong with it. After all, Americans have been enjoying it with absolutely no quarrel for more than a century.