How to Make a Vibrant Syrup From Cherry Pits

This easy no-cook syrup is based on whole cherry pits (not their inner kernels!), so it's simple and safe to prepare.


For those of us who have a thrifty streak and like to make the most of seasonal produce, there are any number of "hacks" to minimize food waste. My favorite is to take scraps most people would throw away and macerate them with sugar to create flavorful syrups, no added liquids or cooking required.

That includes using citrus that has already been juiced and zested to make a fresh, no-cook lemon syrup; dicing up pineapple cores to make a golden pineapple syrup; and even repurposing mango pits and peels for a fragrant mango syrup (for those who aren't allergic to mango peels, anyway).

This cherry pit syrup adds to that list, helping me wring out every drop of flavor that summer cherries have to offer, whether they're of the sour or sweet variety. It's a technique that draws out flavor from whole cherry pits and whatever wisps of fruit are still hanging on to them—not noyaux (the inner kernels obtained from cracking those pits open), so don't hit the panic button. We're not dealing with any advanced-level food-safety issues here.*

Not that I have a problem working with noyaux, aside from the hassle involved in hammering each individual pit open to pick out the kernel from the debris. The risks associated with them are widely misunderstood and easily avoided with cooking, which will neutralize the offending compound—namely amygdalin, a precursor of cyanide. At any rate, this is neither here nor there for purposes of this syrup, but our friends at the National Capital Poison Center can explain more about the risks of consuming amygdalin from stone fruits.

To most folks, cherry pits are an annoyance with no value of their own, but that needn't be the case. Though they may not look like much, those pits still have plenty of moisture and flavor that sugar can coax out into a bright and colorful syrup.

macerating cherry pits with sugar to draw out residual juices

If using sweet cherries, I'll sometimes include the empty husk of a juiced lime (cut into small pieces) as part of the weight listed for the pits, to furnish the syrup with a bit of acidity for balance. It's an entirely optional step, but it's helpful for bulking up the syrup when you're dealing with a low volume of cherry pits. Sour cherries don't require the extra acidity, but if you'd like to add a hint of lime or lemon flavor, it's still a nice touch.

With or without a citrus husk, the cherry pits and sugar will need at least three hours to macerate, but that window can be expanded up to 24 hours. The timing here is largely a matter of convenience, so let your own schedule guide you.

straining cherry pit syrup through a fine mesh sieve

When the cherry pits are swimming in syrup, strain the liquid through a fine-mesh sieve into a small bowl. I like to season the syrup with a pinch of salt, as well as a drop or two of rose flower water and almond extract.

A little goes a long way with these potent aromatics, so take care when measuring. While a few drops can bring out the full depth of cherry flavor and aroma, an excess will be nothing but a distraction. Subtlety is key here.

If you like, the pits can then be reused in a batch of cherry pit whipped cream, where they'll still have plenty of flavor left to impart. With cherry pit syrup and chantilly on hand, you're one scoop away from a really special summer sundae.

carafe of dark red cherry pit syrup

In an airtight container, the syrup will keep for up to a month in the fridge, and can be used as a stand-in for simple syrup in cocktails and iced tea, as well as a flavoring agent for homemade limeade or lemonade. Try it drizzled over stacks of French toast and pancakes, or just splash some into a glass of club soda.

A glass of cherry club soda

The next time you sit down to pit a million cherries for a cherry pie, or stand over the trash ready to discard the pits left over from roasted-cherry ice cream, think twice! A batch of this bright and fruity syrup is only a few steps away.