alchermes [al–kur-meez] noun
A brilliant red Italian liqueur with a spicy flavor profile combining cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, vanilla and other herbs and spices. It is highly alcoholic, usually between 21% and 32%. The deep, rich red color is derived from the kermes insect – a small parasite that feeds on the Mediterranean oak – and is used not only to color liqueurs and pastries, but cloth as well. Some resources say it is the female insect only that provides the color. Alchermes liqueur was used as far back as the Neolithic age and has been heralded for its medicinal properties, particularly for the heart. Some Italian sweets and confections get their color and flavor from this beverage. The image shows Italian custard pastries with their top colored and flavored with alchermes.