• August 14, 2020
  • Blog

What is a liqueur?

The range of liqueurs is enormous; many companies produce a wide range of brands, and different countries produce different national products, probably because of the different raw materials found in different countries. Thus, there are different possibilities to classify liqueurs, such as by strength, sugar content, origin (fruit, beans, or herbs, and type), color (color and colorless), appearance (clear or cloudy), manufacturing process (maceration or blending), etc. It is useful at this point to note the differences between similar products such as ‘Cream’ and ‘Crème’ liqueur.

Cream liqueur

‘Cream liqueurs’ are thick liqueurs made with cream, milk, or some other dairy product, and their strength is usually lower than that of other liqueurs. Owing to their ‘special’ composition, their shelf-life is shorter than that of other liqueurs, and after they have been opened, they should be kept refrigerated.

Creme liqueur

‘Crème’ (pronounced ‘Krem’) is a term that is followed by the name of a specific fruit or other vegetal material and is reserved only for liqueurs with a minimum sugar content of 250 g/litre. These liqueurs contain enough sugar to become thick and creamy in texture, but there is no actual cream in them.

According to European legislation, liqueurs that specify fruits or plant materials (including pictorial representation) must contain at least 90% of the cited materials, and only 100% natural products can be used in their elaboration. If the term ‘natural’ source of flavor is not specified in the label, artificial (synthetic) flavorings may be used. However, USA legislation allows the use of the term ‘boosted natural’ flavors, which may contain up to 0.1% of artificial flavor components. Some regulations of other countries may also specify different specifications, e.g., Spanish legislation determines that ‘juice liqueurs’ must contain at least 20% natural juice from the cited fruit.


Recently, ‘gelled liqueurs’ and ‘alcopops’ have appeared on the market. ‘Gelled liqueurs’ are characterized by their gel texture, and an alcohol-free beverage base is mixed with hydrocolloids (e.g., gellan and gelatin) at high temperature, followed by turbulent mixing with an alcohol/water mixture and homogenization to produce a solid gel. This gel is stable at ambient temperature and may be used for direct consumption or as a filling in wafers, chocolates, and other foods. The mouthfeel of the gelled product depends on the composition of the alcoholic beverages and the gelling agents used.

‘Alcopops’ are liqueurs, usually fruit liqueurs, of low alcoholic content, and have recently appeared on the UK market, being marketed primarily at young people.


Owing to the specific characteristics of certain liqueurs or their manufacturing processes, some liqueurs are protected under specific quality denominations, similar to spirits such as whiskies, brandies, and gins. The most common indication, especially for products elaborated in European countries, is PDO (Protected Designation of Origin).

However, because liqueurs are not a static medium, their composition and characteristics do not remain constant. Their minor constituents, especially pigments and flavoring, undergo a large number of changes, not only during manufacture but also during storage. These are mainly degradation reactions catalyzed by aqueous acidic medium, high temperature, and light (UV irradiation).

Such changes make it difficult to determine the authenticity of these products, and so, in the last decade, many papers on the determination of authentication parameters of different liqueurs have been published. In general, aroma compounds have been studied and described as useful parameters to determine the authentication of liqueurs. Isomers and isotopes studies are very useful, because their presence and relative amounts in natural flavor extracts and synthetic preparations are usually different.

Phenolic compounds and other pigments such as carotenoids have also been evaluated as characteristic parameters of natural liqueurs.

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