Juniper berry is used in making gin because of its piney flavor. That's why gin is a juniper berry substitute, but rosemary remains the best alternative for wet and dry dishes. Other great substitutes include caraway seeds, bay leaves, and grains of paradise.
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What is a juniper berry?
A juniper berry is a small dark purple-colored, rare flavoring spice commonly used in traditional dishes in European cuisines and as the main ingredient in making gin.
Juniper berries are pungent, mildly spicy or peppery, slightly bitter, tart, slightly citrusy, resinous, and strongly piney. They have a similar flavor as gin, one of the by-products of berries.
Although it looks a lot like blueberries, the juniper berry is not a true berry. Instead, it is the female seed cone of about 40 species of juniper plants. The cone’s outer surface is softer than other cones, hence the correlation with true berries.
What is the best substitute for juniper berries?
When replacing juniper berries, your best bet will be rosemary.
The Mediterranean herb has a deep, slightly minty flavor and aroma that is ideal for flavoring stews, soups, vegetables, and roasted meats. It’s also suitable for herbal teas, which makes it a great substitute for juniper berry tea.
The piney flavor of rosemary makes it the best juniper berry substitute in teas, pasta, meat dishes, and brightly flavored vegetables.
Rosemary’s minty aroma and pine-like flavor can be overwhelming, especially for long-cooking dishes. Use 2-3 fresh rosemary sprigs to replace one teaspoon of juniper berries. If you use dried rosemary, start with a 1:2 rosemary to juniper berry ratio and adjust to taste.
Are there more alternatives?
You may not always have rosemary in your pantry. These 11 juniper berry substitutes will save the day.
- Caraway seeds
- Bay leaves
- Hickory spice
- Black pepper
- Juniper extract
- Grains of paradise
|Caraway seeds||Slightly bitter taste and citrusy hints, ideal replacement for sauerkraut, brines, vegetable soups, and sausages|
|Gin||Has the same piney flavor characteristic of the berries, can spice up cocktail drinks|
|Cardamom||Has a piney, mildly bitter flavor, works well with dishes such as beef, mutton, pork, venison, and duck|
|Bay leaves||Have a sweet aroma, piney flavor, bitter taste, and slightly minty flavor, ideal for replacing juniper berries in refreshing teas, roasted or braised dishes, soups, sauces, fish, marinades for meat, and stews|
|Hickory spice||Has a delicate flavor profile compounded from spices such as hickory powder, cumin, garlic, salt, and onion, ideal for grilled vegetables, smoked meats, and desserts|
|Black pepper||Has earthy, slightly spicy flavor, great replacement in stir-fries, salad dressings, brines, fish, roasts, sauces, meats, soups, pasta, and vegetables|
|Pinewood||The piney flavor of pinewood matches the pine-like taste in juniper berries, this substitute works well for teas, soups, salad dressings, cocktails, meat, sauces, and fish marinades|
|Cranberries||An excellent substitute for juniper berries in teas|
|Lingonberries||Have a tart, sour, slightly sweet flavor, ideal for teas, baked goods, sauces, pickles, and cheesecakes|
|Juniper extract||Has a concentrated juniper berry flavor and is used to replace the actual berries in drinks.|
|Grains of paradise||Have a warm, herbal, woodsy, peppery flavor with notes of citrus, coriander, nutmeg, ginger, cardamom, and juniper, can add flavor to stews, curries, spice rubs, apple pie filling, soups, stir-fries, gingerbread, and salads|
1. Caraway Seeds
Juniper berries share the same slightly bitter taste and citrusy hints with caraway seeds.
Also called Persian cumin or Meridian fennel, caraway seeds are earthy and have the flavors of other spices, such as dill and anise seeds.
When using caraway seeds as a substitute for juniper berries, the dish ends up with a slightly sweet and subtly warm flavor with notes of licorice. Add some bay leaves to balance the taste.
Like juniper berries, caraway seeds are excellent at cutting through the fattiness and reducing the strong taste of game meats.
You can use caraway seeds to substitute juniper berries in sauerkraut, brines, vegetable soups, and sausages. Some spirits, such as Icelandic aquavit, are also primarily flavored with caraway seeds rather than juniper berries.
Use 1 teaspoon of caraway seeds to replace 1 teaspoon of crushed juniper berries.
As an alcoholic by-product of juniper berries, gin has the same piney flavor characteristic of the berries. It has an alcoholic burn or ‘spiciness.’
The alcohol in gin evaporates during cooking, leaving your food with the desired flavor of juniper berries.
Replace 2 teaspoons of juniper berries with 1 teaspoon of gin or every 2 juniper berries with 1 teaspoon of gin in cocktail drinks.
Whole and ground cardamom is a regular spice in savory dishes in Indian cuisine. The costly herb has a piney, mildly bitter flavor.
Green cardamom is ideal for adding flavor and aroma to savory dishes. In contrast, black cardamom is a great substitute for juniper berries for adding a smoky flavor to meat dishes such as beef, mutton, pork, venison, and duck.
You can also use cardamom in cake recipes that include juniper berries.
Use a 1:1 ratio when substituting juniper berries with cardamom.
4. Bay Leaves
Whole, dried, fresh, or ground bay leaves are another good substitute for juniper berries in cooking dishes. Combining bay leaf and caraway seeds makes the two replacements supplement each other in aroma, taste, and depth.
Bay leaves have a sweet aroma, piney flavor, bitter taste, and slightly minty flavor. They are ideal for replacing juniper berries in refreshing teas, roasted or braised dishes, soups, sauces, fish, marinades for meat, and stews.
Use a 1:1 ratio since bay leaves won’t overwhelm your dish. 1-2 whole bay leaves can replace 1 teaspoon of crushed juniper berries. Use 1 crushed bay leaf for every 4 whole juniper berries.
Remember that you must remove bay leaves from your dish before serving since they are a choking hazard.
5. Hickory spice
Hickory spice has a delicate flavor profile compounded from spices such as hickory powder, cumin, garlic, salt, and onion. The blend is mainly used to give dishes a smoky flavor, although it’s also woodsy and has a sweet vanilla flavor.
You can use the hickory spice instead of juniper berries in grilled vegetables, smoked meats, and desserts. Start small with a 1:1.5 teaspoon ratio of juniper berries to hickory spice.
6. Black pepper
Ground black pepper makes a great juniper berry substitute because of its earthy, slightly spicy flavor.
Use a 1:1 ground black pepper to crushed juniper berries substitution ratio in stir-fries, salad dressings, brines, fish, roasts, sauces, meats, soups, pasta, and vegetables.
The piney flavor of pinewood matches the pine-like taste in juniper berries. Pinewood also has a minty flavor.
Pine needles from the pine tree make an excellent substitute for juniper berries in spiced tea. Use a 1:1 pinewood-juniper berry substitution ratio in tea, soups, salad dressings, cocktails, meat, sauces, and fish marinades.
Crushed cranberry leaves are an excellent substitute for juniper berries in teas. You can also use fresh or dried cranberries in fruit salads, pies, muffins, jellies, cookies, and roasted poultry and meat.
A 1:1 ratio is ideal when replacing juniper berries with tart-flavored cranberries.
Lingonberries have a tart, sour, slightly sweet flavor. They are famous for lingonberry tea.
Besides substituting juniper berries in tea, lingonberries also replace them in baked goods, soups, cocktails, sauces, pickles, and cheesecakes. Use a 1:1 substitution ratio.
10. Juniper extract
Juniper extract has a concentrated juniper berry flavor and is used to replace the actual berries in drinks.
You can use the store-bought version or homemade juniper extract (made with water or 60% neutral alcohol).
Start with a few drops of the extract and keep adding to reach the ideal amount.
11. Grains of paradise
Grains of paradise are tiny red-brown spice seeds with a warm, herbal, woodsy, peppery flavor with notes of citrus, coriander, nutmeg, ginger, cardamom, and juniper.
Like bay leaves, you should remove whole grains of paradise from a dish before serving once they have added flavor and aroma.
Use grains of paradise to add pepperiness and juniper berry flavor to stews, curries, spice rubs, apple pie filling, soups, stir-fries, gingerbread, and salads. Use a 1:1 substitution ratio.
What about allspice?
Contrary to popular belief, allspice is a single-ingredient seasoning rather than a blend of spices. It is the dried, unripe berry fruit of Pimenta dioica, an evergreen tree native to Central America, the West Indies, and Southern Mexico.
The name ‘allspice’ derives from the fact that the berry has cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove flavors. These three flavors inform the use of ground cinnamon, ground cloves, and ground nutmeg in ‘human-made allspice.’ The spice also has a strong ginger flavor.
The pungency of allspice makes it a good substitute for juniper berries in flavoring game meats such as venison and wild hogs. However, it lacks the powerful pine flavor characteristic of juniper berries.
The intense flavor of allspice berries may overpower your dish, so use half the amount instead of juniper berries.
Where to buy juniper berries?
Juniper berries are rare, especially in their fresh form. They are present in Scandinavian and German cuisines but not as much in the US, where it’s hard to find them.
If you are lucky, you’ll find juniper berries in specialized grocery stores, big chain supermarkets, and retail outlets such as Walmart and Instacart. You can also buy them online on Amazon and various web-based spice retailers.
How to extend the shelf life of juniper berries?
Fleshy berries are tricky to store. Their juiciness makes them go bad quickly when not stored properly.
Store them in airtight containers or freezer bags and keep them in the fridge or freezer for a few months. The berries can stay in the pantry for a few days at room temperature.
To make juniper berries last longer, dry them and store them in dried form for 2-3 years in airtight containers or plastic bags in a cool, dry, dark place away from heat, direct sunlight, humidity, and fluorescent light. This helps preserve their color and flavor.
Alternatively, store dried juniper berries in airtight containers in the fridge for up to two years.
How (un)healthy are juniper berries?
A few juniper plants produce poisonous berries, but the common juniper or Juniperus communis is edible and often used to flavor dishes. Some of the main health benefits include improved sleep, and heart health.
Despite their correlation with good berries, juniper berries are unsafe for nursing mothers, pregnant women, or those trying to conceive. The effects of the berries on the uterus may cause fertility issues or miscarriages. They can also cause upset stomach or issues with blood sugar.