Passionola/Fassionola and Hawaiian Punch

The last several weeks of working with Beachbum Berry on some content for Total Tiki exposed me to research on Passionola, Fassionola and Hawaiian Punch, much of it done by Wit Ashbrook. The following is one (my) summation based on the evidence I’ve seen to this point.

Passionola is one of a few brands of passion fruit products that emerged in the 1930s and 1940s amidst a boom in passion fruit cultivation in the San Diego area. Tropical fruit, and passion fruit in particular, is challenging to distribute over long distances, so capturing the flavor in a shelf-stable, processed form was a compelling commercial solution. These syrups initially targeted the wholesale soda fountain market, and not long after, the drinks market, too. The brand Passionola seems to date to 1931, and was created by one of the main figures in the passion fruit boom: Victor Kremer, an industrious German immigrant.

Another significant agricultural boom was already underway in the territory of Hawaii. The main Hawaiian crop was pineapple, but other tropical fruits were grown there, too, and exported in various forms to California ports.

One company bridging both the California passion fruit market and the Hawaiian imports was Pacific Citrus Products Company of Fullerton. They developed a syrup that attempted a composite of tropical fruit flavors: pineapple, guava, papaya and passion fruit. They dyed it red and called it Leo’s Hawaiian Punch. Their syrup debuted in 1934. They were not alone: Passionola also developed a red syrup (and a green one). A short-lived also-ran was called Tropical Mystery. Which of these red tropical syrups came first is not yet clear, but there’s no question which best succeeded: in a matter of years, Leo’s Hawaiian Punch made a leap from ice cream topping to beverage syrup concentrate, and became so ubiquitous that its flavor profile became known as “fruit punch” and by the generic trademark Hawaiian Punch.

Meanwhile, Passionola had its ups and downs, and the picture becomes blurry in the 1940s and 1950s. The brand was changing hands, perhaps multiple times (as was Hawaiian Punch, and as comparable products were prone to do). When this sort of manufactured product changes hands, the product changes: it’s adapted to the new supply chains, facilities and priorities of the purchaser. Indeed, Passionola had already changed: when the initial market target was the soda fountain, Passionola was probably a pulpier sort of mixture suitable for spooning on ice cream. When Passionola was adapted for beverage use, the original straight passionfruit syrup was simplified to a smooth, more artificial syrup, and called “gold”. The quality trajectory for a product across these sorts of changes is almost always downward: more artificial, more compromised for the sake of efficiency and profit. The flavor profile inevitably drifts. One component is swapped for another here and there, and eventually, less of the original character remains.

Circa 1956, a new producer is selling gold, red and green syrups, clearly recycling the marketing materials of the old Passionola products, but now calling the products Fassionola, because the “F” was less sexualized to mid-Century Americans. And sooner or later, other companies are also selling Fassionola, because Fassionola was never trademarked, not to mention other syrups that tasted more or less similar that weren’t called Fassionola, because these are just fruit-flavored syrups, after all. Several steps removed from specific San Diego agriculture and the original Passionola, all these later syrups were likely degenerate to some extent or another. Still they found enough of a market that some have survived to today.

Hawaiian Punch is still a flavor profile seared into the minds of generations that grew up in the 50s, 60s, 70s, and 80s. The brand seems to have lost considerable ground in more recent decades. The culinary revolution has diversified interest in flavor, and even tricky fresh tropical fruits like passion fruit are available in many grocery stores. Today, the nondescript, anodyne fruit punch flavor profile is just not that interesting outside flights of nostalgia.

Perhaps more importantly, high quality frozen tropical fruit pulp is available in many markets. This pulp can be easily transformed into “juice” and syrups that possess vastly better flavor and texture than the artificial syrups of the past.

Some specific points:

  • I haven’t seen any evidence the Don the Beachcomber had anything to do with the creation of Passionola or Fassionola; although he was surely aware of it, I haven’t seen any evidence of him using it prior to the 1970s (which is the era of the recipes in the Phoebe Beach book)

  • Trader Vic mentions the stuff in the glossary of his some of his books, but I haven’t seen any evidence of him actually deploying it

  • It’s pretty likely that nobody knows what Passionola or even the 1950s Fassionola actually tasted like, so the claims of anyone marketing the stuff today should be taken with a grain of salt


Ah yes, the charm of unprovoked violence!


I heard the same it has the flavor profile of Hawaiian Punch. One recipe called for boiling it down, and I don’t know what they make that stuff out of, but it does not boil down well, and in the end its too thick and way too strong. So many cocktails, so little time, so not sure I would waste too much time on it. However, there was recently someone on my IG feed that had a GoFundMe campaign to recreate it. Again, not sure its worth it.

There’s a lot of “I heard” surrounding fassionola, most of it malarky, parroted over and over on the interwebs, and it’s functioning as a form of hype for something that—in my opinion—just doesn’t deserve the attention. I believe some individuals are even trying publish an entire book on the topic and relaunch the Passionola brand. This is on top of the ersatz fassionolas from Fee Brothers, B G Reynolds, et al, let alone the current Jonathan English syrup. These are all shortcut syrups, like sour mix. It’s a race to mediocrity.

Beachbum Berry just published (on Total Tiki/Total Tiki Online) his own intepretation of what the Fassionola (red) syrup could be, today. It’s a PITA to make, because you need three frozen fruit purees (if you don’t live in a tropical place where all the tropical fruit is available ripe and fresh), but it’s probably wildly better than any form of Passionola or fassionola ever was. We’re in a different era.

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I updated the App last night and read Beachbum’s entry, thhis is one thing I love about this app, it automatically updates and adds new cocktails. Thanks!

Field report: Jonathan English Fassionola Red

A proprietary, secret blend of amazing fruits and flavors. Developed in 1916, in use now for over 100 years, produced with the original flavors by Jonathan English for over 25 years. Very concentrated, shake before using to make your own secret formula cocktails! Refrigerate after opening.

Contains: Sugar, Water, Orange Juice Concentrate, Citric Acid, Xantham Gum, Natural and Artificial Flavors, Sodium Benzoate as a preservative, Red #40.

In theory, this product is the strongest remaining link to historical red Passionola/Fassionola, since it’s believed that the Jonathan English brand started making a red Fassionola around 1956. It’s also known that this product is in use, today, in various bar programs where tropical drinks are made. (Despite the claims on the label, there’s no guarantee today’s product resembles that of 1956, let alone anything from 1916.)

It’s definitely red. Out of the bottle, it smells to me like a bag of strawberry and cherry Jolly Ranchers. Strawberry and cherry, plus orange, is also more or less how I would describe the taste of the syrup on its own, but it’s a little vague.

I mixed some into club soda, which yielded a simple soft drink that tastes quite a bit like canned cherry pie filling—something inoffensive a child might enjoy.

Next, I squeezed lime juice into the soft drink. The lime juice immediately moved to the forefront in terms of aromatics and flavor, with the syrup’s flavors filling in the background. Now it tasted like cherry-lime soda (albeit with fresh lime juice, rather than lime cordial).

Next, I combined it with pineapple juice and lime juice. And eventually even added some rum. Yeah, I’ve definitely been here before.

So there’s nothing tropical about this syrup that I can identify. (Nor is there anything “amazing”, or even interesting, about it.) This product is an artifact from the decline and “dark age” of drinking. It belongs side-by-side with sour mix.


The things I put myself through for y’all. :expressionless:

Definitely does not taste like Jonathan English Fassionola.

Definitely does not taste like cherry, but doesn’t not taste like cherries, either (in the sense of the taste of a mouthful of chewed up fresh Bings).

Really doesn’t taste—or smell—like anything in particular. It’s “fruity”. There’s not really enough distinctive to even make it generically tropical.

Maybe part of the problem is the apple juice they’re putting in it, now? And maybe the apricot?

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Your sacrifice is appreciated.

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The other evening, I got together with Joe Desmond and Adam Kolesar and we auditioned a few fassionola drinks, comparing the commercial Jonathan English product to a compounded syrup recipe developed by Beachbum Berry.

Don the Beachcomber’s 1970s-era Cherry Blossom Punch (yes, served as a cocktail):

The 1956 Hurricane recipe from Pat O’Brien’s:

The Ace Pilot, an unpublished recipe in the Jet Pilot/Test Pilot vein that we’ll soon be publishing on Total Tiki/Total Tiki Online:

None of these drinks were particularly compelling to me, although the ones with the Jonathan English syrup were pretty terrible, whereas the the ones with our compounded syrup were… OK? The Cherry Blossom Punch just feels like a degraded version of an earlier drink with different ingredients—and that’s probably exactly what it is, but we don’t (yet) have an earlier recipe to go by. The Hurricane is just not a very good drink, period. At it’s worst, it’s quite nasty. At its best, it’s merely pleasant. The Ace Pilot—at least using our compounded tropical fruit syrup—is a proper drink, but it’s built around 151-proof puerto rican rum, which isn’t delicious. So, the Ace Pilot is a very strong punch, but there are better ones.

The real brutal takeaway is that none of these drinks did anything to make fassionola more compelling as an ingredient.