The Best Juniper Berry Substitutes
If you’ve been experimenting with new recipes and exploring new foods, you may have come across a recipe or two that lists juniper berries in the ingredients.
It’s a particularly common flavor in European cuisines, where the trees grow natively, though not as readily accessible in North America.
So what are the best substitutes for juniper berries? Juniper berries can easily be substituted using similarly flavored herbs such as caraway seeds, cardamom, rosemary, and bay leaves, or even gin, which is a spirit primarily flavored with juniper berries.
Different applications may require different substitutes for juniper berries, but we’ve explored all the options and created a simple, straightforward guide to replacing juniper berries in any recipe.
What Are Juniper Berries?
Juniper trees are in the cypress family. They are an evergreen tree but, instead of having pine needles, they have flat, scale-like, feathery fronds, occasionally punctuated with very sharp needles.
They typically act as ground cover, growing only as large as small shrubs or bushes.
Every type of juniper tree produces seed cones that look very similar to blueberries when they’re ripe. They are not true berries, despite their name.
The most commonly consumed type of juniper berry is the Juniperus communis, or common juniper, which is the berry we’ll focus on throughout the rest of this article.
What Does a Juniper Berry Taste Like?
To substitute for juniper berries accurately, you’ll have to understand what they taste like. The initial flavor is pine, which makes sense given that they’re the fruit of a pine tree.
A lot of that flavor is enhanced by the aroma, so as the taste develops in your mouth, it becomes more savory, spicy, and refreshing, similar to mint.
Juniper berries are primarily used for flavoring alcoholic beverages, brine, or rich meat dishes.
If you’ve ever enjoyed a glass of gin, you’ll immediately recognize the aroma of juniper berries. They have a woody, piney fragrance that has floral and citrus notes.
Are Juniper Berries Safe to Eat?
There are many different types of juniper trees, each producing similar yet different berries, or cones.
The majority of this article is dedicated to finding a substitute for the berries of the Juniperus communis tree, but it is worth mentioning that not all juniper berries are palatable or safe to eat.
If you’ve found juniper berries for sale at a farmer’s market, grocery store, or other location commonly selling food items, they will be a variety that is safe to consume.
There are some types of juniper berries, however, that are toxic. A good example of this is the Juniperus sabina tree, which grows in the mountains of Eurasia.
If you’re not an expert, it’s best not to forage for juniper berries, but rather purchase them from a reliable source or use one of the substitutes on our list.
What Are Juniper Berries Used For?
The most common use for juniper berries is as the flavoring agent in gin.
If you’re not looking to distill your own spirits, they’re also used to add flavor to a variety of other beverages, as well as recipes for cooking and baking.
Juniper berries are also frequently converted into essential oils and used medicinally or as aromatherapy scents.
However you were hoping to use juniper berries, if you don’t have any on hand, there are just as many wonderful substitutes for you to choose from.
Juniper Berry Lookalikes
As you’re shopping the spice or condiment aisles of your local grocery store, you may notice that there are a few similar looking berries that may have you wondering if you’ve finally found a source for juniper berries after all.
Unfortunately, some of the most visually similar berries have nothing in common when it comes to flavor.
Some of the most commonly confused items are blueberries, allspice berries, and capers.
Blueberries Vs Juniper Berries
Juniper berries are berries that are blue, and they look strikingly similar to the common blueberry that you may find on a leisurely hike through the wilderness, but they are very different fruits.
First of all, juniper berries aren’t technically berries, but rather cones that happen to look like blueberries.
Also, though the plants both grow mainly as shrubs and ground cover, blueberry bushes have bright green leaves, whereas juniper trees or shrubs have dusty, forest green-colored fronds and needles.
They should be easy to tell apart by the plant, if not the berries themselves.
Blueberries are sweet and mild in flavor, whereas juniper berries are quite pungent and strongly flavored of pine and spice. Blueberries are also larger and plumper than juniper berries.
Juniper berries also have the potential to be toxic, so it’s important not to confuse the two. Blueberries are not a good substitute for juniper berries.
Allspice Vs Juniper Berries
Allspice berries are similar to juniper berries in many ways but they are not the same thing.
Allspice are the berries of an evergreen tree that is native to Latin American and Caribbean countries.
When dried, they are small, hard, brown seeds slightly smaller than juniper berries. Juniper berries will always retain their blue color, though it darkens when dried, and they tend to be softer than allspice berries.
In terms of flavor, there’s an even greater difference.
Allspice is named because the flavor profile is so complex. It tastes like a combination of many spices, such as cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg, with peppery notes and sometimes pine-like undertones.
Allspice is a delicious spice to add to a variety of recipes, but it is much warmer than the refreshingly powerful flavor of juniper berries and doesn’t make a great substitution.
Capers Vs Juniper Berries
Capers and juniper berries are probably the least similar in looks, but still commonly mistaken for each other.
Capers are small green flower buds that haven’t opened yet, specific to the caper bush, which grows across Southern Eurasia and in some parts of Australia.
The bush flowers prettily and looks nothing like the frondy pine bush that is juniper, but the berries are approximately the same size.
Capers are green where juniper berries are dark blue. They look more like green olives or peas. Juniper berries are usually sold dried, whereas capers are almost always sold in a salty brine.
They create tiny bursts of salty, almost seaweed-like flavor that is nothing like the pungency of juniper berries. These two spices do not make a good substitution for each other.
Best Juniper Berry Substitutes
Throughout this article, we’ll explain in more detail how each substitute is best applied.
For quick reference, here is a conversion chart that includes all our top alternatives for juniper berries:
|Ingredient||Best Used For||Conversion Rate|
|Gin||Drinks, marinades, sauces, and even brine||1 teaspoon per 2 berries|
|Caraway Seeds||Brines and ferments||1 teaspoon per 2 berries|
|Cardamom||Strongly flavored meat dishes, such as game, mutton, pork, or beef||1 cardamom pod per 1 berry|
|Rosemary||Light meat, pasta, or vegetable dishes with bright flavors||1 sprig per 4 berries|
|Bay Leaves||Braised or roasted dishes||1 crushed leave per 4 berries|
|Juniper extract||Flavoring all kinds of foods in place of juniper berries||Flavor to taste|
Each of these substitutes has its time to shine depending on the recipe you are intending to make.
Juniper Berries and Gin
Most adults who enjoy an alcoholic beverage now and again have a favorite spirit that they gravitate toward.
Gin has an almost cult-like following. Those who love it drink it almost exclusively. Those who don’t love it compare it to drinking a forest of Christmas trees.
The flavor is juniper berries.
Many gins also include complimentary spices and herbs, so in addition to the juniper berries, there may be any combination of the following in gin:
- Citrus peel, usually lemon
- Fennel seeds
You may even find a home-made gin recipe that calls for a pinch of dried rose petals. Generally, the added flavors in gin tend to have herbaceous, citrusy, or floral qualities.
Is All Gin Made With Juniper Berries?
Most spirits have strict definition and recipe guidelines to follow, but gin is unique in that the flavor varies wildly across distillers. The most basic rule, however, is that the predominant flavor must be that of juniper.
As we’ve just discussed, juniper berries provide the strongest flavor profile found in gin, but they’re backed up by an entire cast of supporting botanicals.
All true gin must be made with juniper berries, or at least gin extract, but gin liqueurs and sloe gin do not have to have juniper as the main flavor, nor do they have to follow the same guidelines for what can be defined as gin.
Gin liqueurs are much thicker and more syrupy than the conventional spirit. Some modern gin alternatives bring all the supporting flavors commonly found in gin to the forefront and leave out the juniper berries entirely.
Each distiller will use its own unique recipe for making gin, but the average 700ml of gin requires approximately 2 tablespoons of juniper berries to get the signature flavor gin drinkers love.
Substitutes for Juniper Berries in Gin
If you are infusing a bottle of vodka or another neutral spirit in the hopes of creating your own style of gin, if you don’t use juniper berries it will never be true gin. That doesn’t mean you can’t come close and concoct a beautiful beverage.
To achieve a similar flavor profile, you could start with a food-grade extract of juniper berries, pine, spruce, or cypress.
Your ability to get these extracts may be based on your location. You may also be able to find synthetic flavorings, but always make sure that anything you purchase is food-grade.
If that’s not an option, you can infuse your liquor with alternatively refreshing, zingy herbs like mint, licorice, or basil. The flavor will not be the same, but some of the experience will be recovered.
Beyond the base flavor, you can use any combination of the botanicals listed in the sections above or below to round out the flavor of your alcohol.
Start with flavors you’re familiar with and know you enjoy and experiment with different small-batch infusions.
Can You Substitute Gin for Juniper Berries?
Since gin is traditionally flavored with juniper berries, it makes an ideal substitute for the berries themselves in terms of flavor.
Of course, gin is a liquid whereas berries are solids, so it may alter the measurements of your ingredients slightly.
To get the flavor of 2 fresh berries, use 1tsp of gin.
This is best used in beverages, marinades, or sauces where a little extra liquid won’t be a problem, but the flavor will be soaked up perfectly. There are even recipes for gin brining out there as well.
Be sure to use a high-quality gin that is actually made with juniper berries and no synthetic or altered flavorings.
Substitutes for Juniper Berries in Cooking
Juniper berries are used commonly in European cuisine, particularly in Scandinavian countries. The flavor and fragrance are wonderfully refreshing, and they cut through the gaminess of wild meat that is popular in these countries.
They are also used to bring a pine-fresh, almost citrus flavor profile to a number of other types of recipes as well.
Some common uses for juniper berries in cooking include:
- Heavy meat dishes
- Braised, roasted, or stewed vegetables
- Brines, marinades, and fermented foods
1. Caraway Seeds
Juniper berries add a lot of flavor to brines, marinated meats such as sauerbraten, and fermented foods such as sauerkraut.
Caraway seeds have more of a nutty flavor than the pine taste of juniper berries, but they also share notes of citrus and pepper.
Caraways seeds also have an undertone of anise or licorice, which brings in some of the refreshing, stimulating properties of juniper.
When soaked, caraway seeds release their flavor well, very similar to juniper berries, which is why they are a great substitute for any recipe that requires extended periods of marinating.
If you don’t have caraway seeds, anise seeds will also be a fair match. Use 1 teaspoon of caraway or anise seeds for every 2 berries called for.
You can round out the flavors by adding complementary spices such as coriander, fennel, and thyme.
One of the reasons juniper berries are so popular in Scandinavian cuisine is because the flavor compliments robust, gamey meats very well.
Juniper berries also complement the flavors of beef and pork well, so may be used in a wide variety of meat dishes.
The best substitute for juniper berries in meat-centered recipes is cardamom, which isn’t nearly as strongly flavored as juniper berries but has a similarly complex flavor profile with pine as one of the most dominant notes.
There are hints of mint and fruitiness, though cardamom is slightly sweet, where juniper berries err on the side of citrus.
Remove the seeds from 1 pod of cardamom for each juniper berry, and grind them before using.
Juniper berries are commonly used in harmony with other spices such as thyme, rosemary, and, of course, garlic, so don’t forget to include these in your recipes for a more well-rounded flavor profile.
Though juniper berries aren’t as commonly used in recipes as a spice, recipe developers who love the flavor of juniper may put these berries in everything they can think of.
To some extent, it’s easiest to replace juniper berries when they are used as a spice in more common dishes because, while the flavor might not be exact, your experience will be more familiar and seemingly appropriate.
Rosemary is one of the closest flavor matches for juniper berries and will work well in any savory recipe, especially lighter meat dishes, like chicken, or in vegetable roasts and stews.
Rosemary tastes like a combination of pine and evergreen, with notes of citrus, mint, lavender, and sage.
Fresh rosemary works best as a substitute for juniper berries, as it will have the brightest, most refreshing flavor.
As rosemary dries, the deeper flavors of sage and even pepper come through more strongly than the cooling mint and pine notes. However, rosemary is more versatile than juniper berries, as the flavor blends better with a variety of foods.
Use 1 fresh sprig of rosemary to replace 4 juniper berries.
3. Bay Leaves
If you’re supposed to be using juniper berries as a flavor enhancer for braised or roasted dishes, a crushed bay leaf can be a good alternative.
Bay leaves are usually used to flavor broth or sauces, soaking in the cooking liquid to allow the flavor to leech out, and then removed before the dish is served.
Bay leaves have a subtle minty flavor with notes of pine and pepper and a bitter edge. When used in soup, the flavor is dispersed evenly and isn’t overpowering.
If you crush a dried bay leaf and rub it into a meat for braising or roasting, the flavor will be more concentrated, which is expected of juniper berries.
Crush 1 dried bay leaf as an alternative to 4 juniper berries.
4. Juniper Berry Extract
If you find yourself with a one-time supply of juniper berries and don’t want to risk being caught without this flavor again in the future, you may consider creating an extract that will remain safe to use for years.
It should be noted here that essential oils are not the same as extract and should not be consumed.
Although some companies claim they are safe to eat simply because they are “natural,” it is best not to eat essential oils, as they can be toxic and are made for aromatic and external use.
You can, however, find specifically food-grade certified essential oils.
Making homemade extract is relatively easy, as long as you have all the materials you need:
- Juniper berries
- 60 proof neutral alcohol
- Mason jar with an airtight seal
- Dark glass jar with an airtight seal
A sieve and some cheesecloth will also come in handy.
You will need a 1:5 ratio of juniper berries to alcohol to achieve a strong enough flavor to last over time.
Crush your juniper berries right before using them to get the most flavor and transfer them immediately into the mason jar containing your alcohol. Seal the jar tight and allow it to marinate for at least 2 weeks, stirring every few days.
After 2 weeks, you can test the extract by smell or by mixing it with a small amount of water to taste. Don’t be afraid to let the concoction brew for as long as 6 weeks to get optimal flavor.
When it’s ready, line a sieve with a layer or two of cheesecloth and position it over a funnel, ready to transfer your extract to your dark bottle.
Pour the contents of your mason jar over the cheesecloth and give it a very good squeeze to extract all the liquid and flavor.
Seal the dark jar when it’s full and store it in a cool, dry location away from direct light or heat exposure.
Are Juniper Berries Safe for Pregnant or Breastfeeding Women?
There is some conflicting information about consuming juniper berries or products that use juniper berries as a flavoring agent during pregnancy or breastfeeding.
Erring on the side of caution is advisable under these circumstances. Juniper has a history of affecting a uterus in a way that may be harmful or even toxic for a growing fetus.
There is substantial evidence suggesting that this is only the case when toxic juniper berries are consumed, such as from the Juniperus sabina plant, but it never hurts to be extraordinarily careful under certain circumstances.
There is not enough research to come to any conclusions about the safety of juniper on breastfeeding infants, so again, it is best to avoid it entirely.
If you’ve got a recipe that you’re excited to try but you’re not comfortable using juniper berries, try one of our substitutes instead!
How Many Juniper Berries Are in a Tablespoon?
No two berries are exactly the same, so this measurement is always going to be approximate, but it generally takes about 8 berries to make 1tsp of crushed fruit.
There are 3tsps in a tablespoon, so if your recipe calls for 1tbsp of crushed berries, you’ll need about 24 berries to get the right flavor.
Where Do Juniper Berries Grow?
There are more than 40 species of juniper trees, all of which produce berries but few of which are safe to eat. This type of tree is native to Europe and Asia but also grows throughout North America.
The berries that are most frequently used for consumption come from the Juniperus communis species, which is also the most common tree.
Though they’re easy to forage, it’s best not to harvest these berries yourself unless you are 100% certain of the species.
Eating the berries of the wrong juniper tree can be extremely toxic.
Do Juniper Berries Go Bad?
Juniper berries are an extremely unique fruit, taking up to 3 years simply to ripen fully. They’re typically handpicked because they’re delicate and easily bruised. If the berries are crushed or damaged in any way, they will deteriorate quickly.
If they’re stored properly, dried juniper berries can have a shelf life of up to 3 years. The most likely way they will go bad is simply by becoming less flavorful.
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