Alchermes (from the Arabical-qirmiz, meaning cochineal, from Persiankirmist: bloody, red, cochineal, carmine) is a type of Italian liqueur (especially in Tuscany, Emilia-Romagna and Sicily) prepared by infusing neutral spirits with sugar, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and vanilla, and other herbs and flavoring agents. Its most striking characteristic is its scarlet color, obtained by the addition of Kermes, a small parasitic insect from which the drink derives its name. The drink fell out of favor around the turn of the 20th century because people discovered that its colour came from insects. Several proprietary variants are commercially available, with alcoholic contents ranging from 21 to 32%. Its chief use is in coloring pastry, although a quick dessert is sometimes made by adding it to mascarpone and sugar. In the Italian pudding Zuppa Inglese, sponge cake or ladyfingers soaked in this liqueur are a major ingredient.
Alkermes was a modification of an 8th-century tonic confectio alchermes. The tonic included raw silk, apple juice, ground pearls, musk, ambergris, gold leaf, rose water, cinnamon, sugar and honey. In pre-modern medicine, it was ranked among the best cardiacs, and was frequently used for the palpitation of the heart, or syncope, sometimes for smallpox and measles and a general restorative.