1historical The dried bodies of scale insects (females of Kermes ilicis and K. vermilio, family Kermesidae), found in the Mediterranean region on the kermes oak (Quercus coccifera) and formerly used medicinally and as a source of red dye; a medicinal preparation containing these insects, especially confection of alkermes. Compare "kermes".
The insect bodies were formerly referred to as berries or grains.
2An Italian alcoholic liqueur, coloured red with kermes or cochineal, and typically flavoured with herbs and spices including cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.
Mid 16th century; earliest use found in Andrew Borde (c1490–1549), physician and author. From Middle French, French alkermès scarlet grain formed by the dried bodies of scale insects found in the Mediterranean region on the kermes oak, medicinal preparation containing these insects, Italian liqueur coloured red with kermes, apparently from Spanish alquermes (although this is first attested slightly later: 1555) from Arabic al-qirmiz from al the + qirmiz.