Grenadine: Is it Worth Making Yourself?

Grenadine: Is it Worth Making Yourself?

Genadine is one of those mysterious ingredients in the cocktail world. We first learn about it as an additive in lemon-lime soda and cola for kid cocktails. Later, it’s red stuff that’s called for when the cocktails are supposed to be made red. One seldom asks: what is grenadine? What is it supposed to taste like? Do I have to have it? Is it just sweetened red dye?


A little research clears things up: grenadine is (or at least supposed to be) pomegranate syrup with a little something extra. So yes, it’s supposed to be red and it’s supposed to taste like a sweetened, tart pomegranate. It’s called “grenadine” for a couple of reasons. First, “pomegranate” translates into French as “grenade” (Latin punica granatum) while the Spanish city of Granada was actually named after the fruit. Pomegranate was introduced to the new world by the Spanish, particularly in the island country of Grenada and the island chain known as the Grenadines. According to our favorite of all cocktail books, Herbsts’ The Ultimate A-to-Z Bar Guide, it was originally made from pomegranate grown only in Grenada… so grenadine is a logical leap.

What is it today?

Alas, today the pomegranate syrup has evolved into quite something else. Serious Eats said, “… somewhere along the way, grenadine makers strayed away from using real pomegranate juice and instead used corn syrup and red dye #40. That's why a lot of us think of grenadine as ‘that sweet stuff that turns drinks red’ and avoid it like the technicolor plague.” A quick glance at commercial grenadine shows that they’re right: corn syrup, red dye, and the ever mysterious “natural and artificial flavors.” As it turns out, grenadine truly has turned into something that’s just sweetened red dye. Presumably, long-dead Grenadines from the Grenadine chain of Caribbean Islands roll in their graves every time this chemical red dye is served up in a cocktail.

Do it Yourself!

A quick Google search reveals a lot of grenadine recipes. And they look pretty easy. They also vary considerably: some use more or less sugar, some use orange blossom water or other exotica. So we tried a couple and taste-tested it against commercial brands. For our best recipe, we went with one of our personal heroes in Alton Brown and his offering from Good Eats. It calls for:

4 cups pomegranate juice

½ cup of sugar

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Combine and heat until sugar dissolves then simmer for 50 minutes to reduce. Cool. Serve. Stores for 6 months. Btw, various commenters on the Good Eats site mention that this is a pretty good additive for BBQ ribs and other grilled meats.

That looks really easy! Except the pomegranate part. Those damned fruits are really hard to juice and getting 4 cups of genuine pomegranate juice would be an all-day adventure and probably make a disastrous mess. Being street trained, we wanted to approximate as best we could what could be realistically reproduced. So we reduced each of the following in lieu of a real fruit:

  • Reduced R.W. Knudsen Just Pomegranate juice (from concentrate)… our 32oz container made a little more than 4 cups. Ingredients were filtered water, pomegranate juice from concentrate. This costs about $0.19 per ounce. We added cane sugar and the juice from one-half of a real lemon.
  • Ocean Spray 100% Cranberry Pomegranate not from concentrate. Why not cranberry? As it turns out, this was a fruit potpourri: apple juice concentrate, grape juice concentrate, plum juice concentrate, pear juice concentrate, cranberry juice concentrate, pomegranate juice concentrate, “natural flavors,” whater the hell Fumaric acid is, and ascetic acid so that they can kick their vitamin C up. At least there’s no Red #40. This costs about $0.11 per ounce. We added cane sugar and the juice from one-half of a real lemon.
  • Rose’s Grenadine. Yep, ingredients were: high fructose corn syrup, sodium benzoate, natural and artificial flavors, and good old Red #40. Here’s your industrial version but it’s the one everyone’s seen and is probably in just about 99% of all the bars. It comes in little bottles and costs about $0.23 per ounce. But no labor required.
  • So How Does it All Turn Out?

    Grenadine is very, very easy to make assuming you cheat like we did and buy the juice. That’s the good news. But it’s not as easy as buying it off the shelf at the store and it’s certainly inexpensive as hell to buy a bottle of Rose’s. Is it worth it? Here’s our comparison chart:


    Rose’s Grenadine

    DIY R.W. Knudsen

    DIY Ocean Spray






    One shouldn’t drink Grenadine straight but we did… for science.

    Sweet… smells of sugar and cotton candy… the pink kind at the county fair; also reminiscent of jolly ranchers.

    Smells like a big pomegranate; thick; more bite… all tart and no sugar; shock to the taste buds. Poor mouthfeel… texture is runny, gravelly oatmeal. Molasses-like.

    More of a sweet flavor… not as thick. Sweeter with much less of a tart bite. We prefer this one. A larger flavor profile.

    In plain soda water

    Because drinking straight Grenadine was a really dumb idea.

    Exactly like the red sodas that kids love to drink at campgrounds. Adults will hate it.

    Funky; unpleasant. The pomegranate needs some help.

    Turned it back into cranberry juice… but like a cranberry soda.

    Rum and Coke

    1 part rum to 3 parts Coca Cola with about a ½ ounce of grenadine.

    Boring; okay to bleh. Ended up tasting like Dr Pepper that’s gone flat. No fruit at all.

    Pomegranate flavor is there… in the nose and on the tongue. It’d be tough to drink more than one or two of these. Aftertaste is very strong and overpowering. The liquor vanished. Those who like the pomegranate find it very favorable.

    Third is smoother and tamer with still a hint of fruit. Has more of a commercial aspect but not as thick. Can take a lot more rum. No one would repurchase this drink but most would perhaps finish it.

    Tequila Sunrise

    1 oz of tequila mixed with the juice of 1 orange and a float of grenadine, which floats (or, in the homemade case, sinks like an anchor) down the drink like a sunset.

    Classic presentation… all pink (we stirred it up to make sure we got the grenadine flavor). Drink it at the pool; in Hawaii or Mexico; Cancun. The color is very nice. Some feel they can taste the red dye on the finish. That means it has a bad finish.

    Not good to some but others find it very smooth; no aftertaste whatever. Hardly any orange juice taste. It’s a frighteningly different drink… it’s a fruit margarita almost more than a Tequila Sunrise. Sadly it looks like mud. Really too bad about the color.

    A sweeter profile without any tequila taste of the commercial dye. Orange sings out much more… but it doesn’t blend. The orange and the cranberry are fighting.


    A vocal minority really like this drink.  

    El Salvador

    1 ½ ounce white rum, ½ oz lime juice, ½ oz of hazelnut liqueur (we used Frangelico), and a ½ ounce of grenadine.

    Dessert drink; a drink for a girls’ night. Guys would not drink the pink thing in front of friends. Guys would maybe drink it on Valentine’s Day. Many claim it’s too rich to have more than one; an old lady after-dinner drink.

    Where the commercial is pink, this comes a nice red. Not muddy at all. This doesn’t hide the pomegranate but the hazelnut is present… in fact, it’s more so than the Rose’s version. Split vote with dissenter likes it quite a bit—very nice, clean flavors.

    Worst yet because the hazelnut comes out too powerfully… the syrup isn’t masking the nut flavor at all. The fruit isn’t as potent… it’s mildly better than the commercial version. The homemade stuff is less old-lady-ee. But nobody would order these things.

    Mai Tai

    Classic method of 1 oz white rum; 1 oz dark rum; ½ oz lime juice; ½ oz orgeat syrup; ½ oz grenadine.

    Good drink to order your date in college… a “Darren Sharper.” In Mexico on the beach one could drink 2 or 3 of these in the sun. A little like cough syrupy. Very sweet.

    Split decision on wether this is better or worse than Rose’s with some declaring it the best drink so far. Thicker but the taste is far better. The texture might be a little off. Some find the thickness and pomegranate a little off-putting. This one’s causing lots of controversy… blends very well.

    Not bad… this is some others’ favorite. Also causing lots of dissent… many different opinions. We’re in a competition between the two homemade flavors, though some hate their lesser homemade option enough to like the commercial as a #2.


    What We Learned

    After all this, we know in principle what homemade, authentic grenadine should taste like. The aromas, the tastes… they’re all pomegranate and way different than the commercial red dye stuff. More importantly, the homemade stuff is far, far less sweet, which should appeal to the serious mixologist. However, and this is a big deal, It does not automatically elevate a drink… in fact, many people who we tested it with like the commercial brand better than their lesser favorite of the two homemade versions. That’s a clarion call to how different these different versions can taste and a serious warning shot at how finicky it is to work with. More to the point, ask this question out loud: who wants to make some granadine?

    Hear only the crickets? Yep… us too. No one feels like they’d go through the labor of making the grenadine just to have the variety of drinks we tried. It’s better in some drinks, not as good in others, and over all we just don’t feel like there’s enough of a difference to go through the bother. If you’re going to have a beach party and feature Mai Tai cocktails… well, then maybe. A special occasion… go for it. Occasions that call for serious planning like when you deep fry a turkey on Thanksgiving… well, that only happens once a year. That’s the kind of setting homemade grenadine is good for. But otherwise, buy the $2 Red #40 or shell out the extra $3 for the “authentic” snob-brand.  

    by Neal MacDonald, Editor

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