Circuses And Cinnamon Candy: The Weird Origins Of Pink Lemonade

An American classic. Synonymous with summer barbecues and sunny beach days. Pink Lemonade is a part of the US smorgasbord that everyone in the world wanted a taste of but Lemonade walked so Pink Lemonade could run. Every country had its own version of the OG citrus drink - including our own beloved Nimbu Pani - and since India, China and Myanmar were the first countries to grow lemons it’s likely the drink originated in the East. 

The first written record of Lemonade as a beverage is from 12th century Eygpt where it was called qatarmizat, lemon and water, sweetened with sugar. Not so different from the lemonade we know today. But it wasn’t until the 17th century that lemonade landed in the USA, along with the arrival of European immigrants. It wasn’t until a growing ice trade in the 19th century skyrocketed the popularity of chilled drinks that lemonade really hit its stride. Alongside the ice boom was a rise in travelling circuses and when people travelled from miles around to be entertained by death-defying acts and trained tigers, they expected their beverages to be equally exotic and hence, Pink Lemonade. 

The first mention of the drink was in an 1879 article in West Virginia’s Wheeling Register which explicitly linked it to the travelling circuses at the time. But although pink lemons do exist, as do grapefruit, both of which belong to the citrus family and have rosy pink flesh, the colour of pink lemonade actually has more obscure origins. 

The first is thought to be down to Chicago native Henry E. Allot who lived out his childhood fantasy and ran away with the circus. While there, he accidentally dropped a bag of cinnamon candies into a vat of regular lemonade and rather than waste the batch, they served it up to the circus-goers to widespread approval. The second theory is a little more outlandish and comes from the biography of a man called George Conklin, a professional lion tamer. He claims that in 1857, his brother Pete ran out of water while serving up lemonade and in a desperate move, used a tub of washing water in which performers had been wringing out their pink tights. He deemed it strawberry lemonade, doubled their sales and instantly solidified the cult status of Pink Lemonade.

Which version is true is unclear although according to the timeline, Conklin’s tale (perhaps, unfortunately) holds more weight. But either way, you spin it, the drink had direct ties to the circus. As time went on, consumers started to fashion their own pink drinks and in 1892 a recipe was printed that called for strawberries, raspberries, currants or cranberry juice to tinge lemonade while adding to the health benefits. Today’s version luckily has nothing to do with cinnamon or dirty laundry, but usually derives its pink colour from watermelon, raspberry, strawberry or grenadine.