Most people see maraschino cherries as being a bit toxic but the point is that they are fun and usually used for decoration. The bright red color comes from food coloring and then being soaked in a sugar syrup. You can get Queen Anne cherries or sour cherries that are healthier but part of the joy of using these cherries is their neon red color. In the old days they were much healthier as they were soaked in maraschino liquor. Nowadays they are soaked in a salt broth.
The desert that the maraschino cherry is commonly found on is on top of a Black Forest Cake. This is a cake made of chocolate and cherry syrup that also has chocolate icing. Usually there is a whipped cream dollop and a maraschino cherry overlaying each serving.
Another popular decorative culinary use of the maraschino cherry is as a decoration for Pineapple Upside Down Cake. In this case the batter for the cake is made and then the pineapple rings and they are placed on top. The cherries are placed in the center of the pineapple rings. When the Pineapple Upside Down Cake bakes the fruit sinks to the bottom of the pan. When the cake is done the pan is turned over and the pineapple rings with the cherries in the center are revealed.
Maraschino cherries are also used to decorate a very special Mexican dessert that involves slicing a tres leche cake into even squares. The cake is soaked condensed milk and heavy cream until it is very dense. Then the cake is frosted with whipped cream and topped with a maraschino cherry.
Maraschino cherries are also used on top of whipped creamed points on Jell-o and puddings. It is common to find a maraschino cherry topping fruit cakes in various designs. Maraschino cherries are also typically used as the crowning glory on top of whipped cream mounds on chocolate sundaes.
Maraschino cherries are also used in cake and pastry decorating whenever a rich, red shiny effect is needed. For instance, if you are making a cake that is meant to symbolize Santa’s Hat you can use maraschino cherry slices as the red coloring for the hat.
A word to the unwise! Before you top a cake with a maraschino cherry it is a really good idea to drain it of excess liquid. Too much liquid in a cherry can drain into the cake and cause it to “bleed” and look discolored.