What is the pink in pink lemonade?

Pink lemonade is a beloved summertime drink, but have you ever wondered where its distinctive pink color comes from? Contrary to popular belief, the pink hue does not come from added fruit juices like strawberry or raspberry. In fact, the source of the pink pigment in pink lemonade is right in the name – lemons!

The Origin of Pink Lemonade

Pink lemonade dates back to the mid-1800s when circus worker Henry E. Allott first made and sold the unique beverage at circus concession stands across the United States. Back then, lemonade was an exciting new drink made possible by the burgeoning lemon trade. Lemons were rare and expensive before modern refrigeration and transportation made them readily available.

Allott capitalized on the lemon craze by conceiving pink lemonade, distinguishing his product from standard lemonade with the addition of red coloring. He used cochineal extract, a natural red dye derived from crushed cochineal insects, to transform ordinary lemonade into the blush-toned beverage we know today. The distinctive pink lemonade was an instant hit.

How Pink Lemonade Gets its Color

So how does pink lemonade get its signature rosy hue in modern times? While most commercial pink lemonade producers have switched to artificial coloring, it’s possible to replicate Henry Allott’s original pink lemonade recipe by extracting natural pigments from lemon peel.

The pink and red pigments are a type of carotenoid antioxidant called lycopene. Lycopene gives many red fruits and vegetables their vivid color, including tomatoes, watermelon, red grapefruit, and pink grapefruit. Turns out lemons have lycopene too, present in higher concentrations in the outermost skin.

To make natural pink lemonade, the lemon peel needs to be infused in simple syrup, which extracts and concentrates the lycopene. Combining just a small amount of this concentrated pink lemon syrup with fresh lemon juice results in the light pink hue.

Why Not Use Fruit Juice for Color?

You may be wondering why strawberry or raspberry juice isn’t used to color modern pink lemonade. After all, these red berry juices would surely tint the lemonade pink. While the fruit juices would work, they come with some drawbacks:

  • Adds flavor – Berry juices would alter the flavor, making it more like strawberry or raspberry lemonade, instead of pink lemonade.
  • Dilutes lemon flavor – Extra fruit juice dilutes the tart lemon flavor that should take center stage in lemonade.
  • Changes texture – Fruit pulp and seeds could result in a thicker, pulpy texture.
  • More expensive – Berry juices would raise ingredient costs.
  • Reduces shelf life – The vitamin C in berry juices causes faster degradation.

Extracting color from lemon peel avoids these issues, allowing the lemon flavor to shine. It also replicates Henry Allott’s original pink lemonade using only lemons.

Making Natural Pink Lemonade

Try making your own pink lemonade with natural colors from lemon peel:


  • 3-4 large lemons
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 4 cups water


  1. Wash and dry the lemons. Use a vegetable peeler or paring knife to remove wide strips of peel from the lemons, avoiding the bitter white pith underneath.
  2. Add the peeled lemon strips to a small saucepan with the sugar and 1 cup of water. Heat over medium, stirring frequently, until the sugar dissolves. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes.
  3. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely. Transfer the syrup and lemon peels to a lidded glass jar. Refrigerate overnight to allow the peel to infuse.
  4. The next day, strain the pink syrup into a bowl, pressing on the solids. Discard the spent lemon peels.
  5. Juice the lemons to yield 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice. Mix with 3 cups water and 1/4 cup of the pink lemon syrup. Add sugar to taste if desired. Serve over ice.

The resulting pink lemonade will have a lovely, natural pink blush from the lemon peel infusion. Adjust the amount of pink syrup to achieve your preferred pink hue. Try experimenting with other citrus like limes, grapefruit, or oranges too!

Nutrition of Pink Lemonade

Pink lemonade is a tasty treat, but how does it stack up nutritionally? Here is a nutrition comparison of 12 oz servings of homemade pink lemonade and store-bought pink lemonade:

Nutrition Facts Homemade Pink Lemonade Store-Bought Pink Lemonade
Calories 122 135
Total Fat 0g 0g
Sodium 9mg 37mg
Total Carbohydrates 30g 34g
Sugars 27g 33g
Protein 0g 0g

As the table illustrates, homemade pink lemonade made with natural ingredients has slightly fewer calories and carbs compared to the store-bought version. It has less added sugar, and minimal sodium as well.

While pink lemonade is high in sugars, the use of fresh lemon juice provides some beneficial nutrients like vitamin C, potassium, and antioxidants.

The Popularity of Pink Lemonade

Since its invention in the 1800s, pink lemonade has become an iconic summertime drink synonymous with fun, childhood, and refreshment. It rose to prominence at circuses, carnivals, and fairs as a crowd-pleasing novelty drink.

In the early 20th century, shrewd marketers capitalized on the visual appeal of the distinct color. Packaged pink lemonade concentrate like Minute Maid brought the drink into mainstream ubiquity in the 1950s as refrigeration became widespread in homes.

Today, pink lemonade remains a mainstay on restaurant menus, at concession stands, and on drink menus across America. Though artificially colored, it evokes nostalgia for old-fashioned summertime fun.

Pink lemonade accounts for over 80% of lemonade sales, with annual sales of over $121 million in the US. Its enduring popularity is evident by the proliferation of pink lemonade-flavored everything – candy, desserts, candles, beauty products, and more!

Fun Variations

One reason pink lemonade is so beloved is the many ways it can be transformed into new creations. A few ways to put a spin on classic pink lemonade:

  • Pink Lemonade with Herbs: Add a few sprigs of fresh mint, basil, rosemary, or lavender.
  • Sparkling Pink Lemonade: Use carbonated water and serve it bubbly.
  • Pink Lemonade Sorbet: Freeze into a refreshing frozen dessert.
  • Pink Lemonade with Vodka: Spike it for a fun cocktail.
  • Strawberry Pink Lemonade: Blend in strawberries for extra flavor.
  • Arnold Palmer: Mix with iced tea for a refreshing hybrid drink.

There are so many ways to customize pink lemonade to your tastes. Stay hydrated in style all summer long with this iconic beverage!


With its cheerful pink hue and tangy lemon zing, pink lemonade is the quintessential summer drink. Contrary to popular belief, its distinctive color does not come from fruit juices. In fact, pink lemonade gets its natural color from lycopene pigments in lemon peels.

Making your own pink lemonade with fresh lemons and peel infusion replicates the original recipe in a fun DIY beverage project. While store-bought versions rely on artificial colors and flavors, homemade allows you to control the ingredients resulting in a healthier, more natural beverage.

So next time you’re mixing up a pitcher of pink lemonade for a BBQ or picnic, think fondly of its origins. And consider crafting your own batch of old-fashioned pink lemonade just like great-great grandfather Henry Allott first concocted in 1857!

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