Juniper is a common shrub that grows in many parts of the world. It produces seed cones, better known as juniper berries, which can range from deep blue to light green depending on their age.
The fruits are eaten by various animals and even humans. Still, it contains toxic alkaloids (such as alpha-pinene), which protect them against predators and spoilage due to an unpleasant taste.
What Do Juniper Berries Taste Like?
The flavour of these berries is often described as woodsy or spicy. They have a tart, pine-like taste and are commonly used in small amounts as a spice or flavouring agent.
The juniper berry has a pungent flavour, which is pleasant to some people. A hint of spice can be detected in the taste, and there might also be a fruity citrus note.
Taste testers have often described this fragrance as “medicinal” or even reminiscent of gin due to its piney flavor profile; however, it’s said that many more prefer the flavour with time.
These berries have been used for culinary and medicinal purposes since ancient times due to their interesting blend of flavours that can be both sweet and sour at the same time.
How to Use Juniper Berries
As the name suggests, juniper berries are a stone fruit found in the juniper family.
People often wonder how juniper berries can be incorporated into general day to day cuisine, so here are some uses for the juniper berries:
Teas, Tonics and Tinctures
Juniper berries are commonly used in teas and tonics with high antioxidants, especially when combined with black tea. They are also used to make herbal teas, herbal oils, and tinctures.
When used in tinctures, the berries are infused into alcohol for several weeks to infuse the herbs in the alcohol.
Marinades and Sauces
Crushing the fresh berries before adding them to a sauce or marinade gives any dish an intense juniper aroma and flavour.
Alternatively, you can toast these berries with care not to burn them, which will result in a more subtle taste.
Juniper is flavourful and goes well with intensely flavoured meats such as lamb or venison and wild boar and even pork.
You can also use it simply to spice up a dry rub for meats prior to roasting by adding some ground smoked chilli peppers to juniper with some seasoning!
Juniper is also great for adding flavour when roasting a whole duck or on meats to be barbequed.
Vodka can take on robust flavours, and juniper is one of them!
Place the juniper berries in a Kilner jar and pour the vodka over it. Cap tightly and let infuse for 12 hours or overnight, then add a variety of herbs and spices to the finished product.
Let the jar sit for 36 more hours until ready to strain out solids.
How to Store Juniper Berries
Juniper berries tend to come in two forms, either fresh or dried. So, how do you go about storing each of these forms?
Storing Fresh Berries
Once you pick juniper berries, they will start to perish; however, if they are kept cool and dry, they will have the same shelf life as fresh fruit and berries, which can be 5-7 days.
Storing Dried Berries
The most common way to preserve juniper berries to make them last longer is to fry them thoroughly and ground them into a powder or leave them whole for future use.
When stored in an airtight container, away from harsh light and humidity, the dried version can last 3-9 months.
You can also freeze fresh juniper berries for future use, only taking out what you need at a time, and if berries are frozen without risk of freeze burn, they can last 12 months or more.
Substitutes for Juniper Berries
If you cannot get juniper berries, here are some clever substitutes to consider using instead:
- Caraway Seeds – This is because caraway seeds have a very potent flavour that will not be lost when mixed with other ingredients and because of their potent essential oils. Caraway can help replace juniper berries in many recipes where you would use them, such as meat dishes or stuffing.
- Cardamom – Cardamom is a common spice that can be found in Indian cooking and European sweets. Just when you think it can’t do anything else without juniper berries, cardamom has a similar taste and aroma, so they’re great substitutes for each other.
- Bay Leaves – Bay Leaf is a very aromatic and intense spice that can do some magic with only one leaf. You can get this in ground leaves or whole dried leaves, depending on your preference. Bay Leaves are not really edible, but they have a distinctive aroma and flavour which can substitute in place of juniper berries where needed.
- Rosemary – Rosemary has many uses and is a sustainable resource as it grows abundantly and quickly. You can buy it dried or buy the whole plant from grocery stores to cook with in your kitchen- perfect as a substitute for juniper berries for searing meat dishes like steak!
Where to Buy Juniper Berries
Fortunately, juniper berries are becoming easier and easier to come across. There are a number of places you can pick them up:
- Supermarket – You can find juniper berries in their dried or ground format in leading supermarkets all over the country, usually found in the condiments and spices section,
- Farm Shops and Markets – You may be able to buy fresh and frozen juniper berries from farm shops or fresh food markets. However, the fresh varieties may only be available seasonally, if at all.
- Online Retailers – Online retailers in the spice arena may hold dried and ground juniper berries, so that’s always worth popping into google.
- Health Food Stores – As juniper berries are said to have many health benefits, you are likely to find a variation of juniper berries in health food stores either on the high street or online.
Juniper Berry FAQs
If you’ve got other specific questions about juniper berries and how to use them, then these might help:
Yes, junoper berries are edible but they are particular strong in flavour which is why they are usually used to infuse flavour into dishes as opposed to eaten whole as you would eaten other berries.
Yes, all gin contains juniper. In fact, it is a legal requirement for gin to contain the botantical of juniper.
Juniper berry plants can be found in a range of places across the globe including in the UK and US. They are found in chalk downlands, along roadsides, in quarries, moutains, moorlands, open woodlands, cliffs and more!
Got more questions about juniper berries? Then ask away in the comments section at the bottom of this page and we’ll help out as much as possible!
Stacy is a UK Based lifestyle writer who writes in the food and nutrition niches, as well as within the health and wellness sectors. She is a mum of 4 and married to a musician, so sustainability and a pinch of humour are absolutely essential to get over every one of life’s obstacles!