Alchermes is a liquor made with spices (including clove, nutmeg, cinnamon, mace, bay leaves) and cochineal that is said to have its origins in Renaissance Florence. It was originally used to color textiles and, only later, as a food coloring. The name alchermes (or alkermes) probably derives from the Spanish alquermes, which came from an Arabic word that meant “scarlet.”
Alchermes is low in alcohol content and has a sweet, spicy flavor. It is usually served as an after-dinner drink and is used as an ingredient in several Tuscan preparations, including zuccotto, zuppa inglese and mortadella di Prato.