8 Excellent Substitutes For Juniper Berries You Must Know

For so many, the first time they have seen the words ‘Juniper Berry’ is on the ingredients label of a bottle of gin.

And more often than not, most people aren’t all too fascinated by that fact to be curious about it.

But if you’re like us, you may have asked these questions already:

What does the berry look like?

More importantly, what does it taste like?

Is it like tart cherries or sweet strawberries?

Can I cook with it? Will it be scrumptious in pies?

Is it even edible? Or is it just something used in gin manufacture?

The Flavor Profile

Good dry gin contains a whole lot of ingredients – Cassia, Almonds, Coriander, Lemon Peel, just to name a few.

But that sharp zest you taste in a good gin is mostly our featured ingredient.

Coming from the conifer shrub of the same name, this is not really a berry but a seed cone with soft and merged scales and pulpy flesh.

The misnomer stuck, even though it gives a different gastronomic sensation altogether.

It is quite tart, with a strong pine flavor, and compared to Bacchae (true berries), this does not have any sweetness at all.

As a spice, a little would go a long way.

Other Uses for The Conifer Seed

Even before it was used as a flavoring for liquor and seasoning in recipes, it has been used as a medicine a millennium ago in early civilizations.

Those findings from long ago are proven by modern science.

  • Anti-oxidative and anti-inflammatory effects: Essential oils made from this berry are said to reduce cellular damage, thanks to the monoterpenes that it contains.
  • Anti-bacterial and anti-fungal: It is proven to contain sabinene, limonene, and myrcene, among many others, all of which are effective in killing bacteria and yeasts which infect the skin.
  • Anti-diabetic properties: Although studies regarding this are still underway, its effects on reducing blood sugar, triglyceride, and cholesterol levels look promising.

Highlighting Juniper Berries in Dishes

These are usually available dried (whole or crushed) and are mixed in spice rubs and marinades just like other spices.

Here are some dishes you should try as soon as possible:

  • Juniper and Rhubarb Jam
  • Sweet Potato Cakes with Hazelnuts and Pine Fruit Syrup
  • Gin and Orange Chicken
  • Juniper-Cured Smoked Salmon
  • Gin and Tonic Lime Cake
  • Fermented Conifer Berry Juice

Foraging for Juniper Berries

You can find some shops selling fresh ones but most people who use this often scrounge the forest looking for this pungent tidbit.

The unripe variety is small and green. This is the type used to flavor gin.

The mature ones, which are used for cooking, are bigger and take on a purple to almost black color.

You’ll find both in a bunch because that’s just how this perennial shrub grows.

Get only the ripe ones, if that’s what you need, and leave the green ones so that the plant will continue to bear fruit.

But be warned: not all species of this evergreen are edible.

Some are too bitter while others are downright deadly.

Try to familiarize yourself with the different types before you go on a foraging expedition.

Can’t Find Juniper Berries Anywhere?

If your local grocer doesn’t have this or if you’re not too confident about adding those tiny pine fruits growing outside your garden to your dish, try some of these common substitutes:

Gin

✓ For savory dishes, sweet desserts, and hot and cold beverages

Believe it or not, this liquor is the best alternative to our featured ingredient.

Made from the irregular cones of this evergreen, it has the very same pungent, pine taste and fragrant, earthy smell.

Substitution Details (original ingredient to replacement): 2:1

For every cup required in the recipe, use half a cup of gin because the flavor of the latter is a bit more concentrated compared to the fresh variety.

But if you want the sharpness to come out especially in braised meats, go ahead and add more.

Don’t worry about the alcohol content because this often evaporates as you’re cooking the dish.

Finally, choose the right kind of gin for this because some are made from random chemicals.

Look for Dry or London Dry gin like Bombay Sapphire, Tanqueray, Beefeater, and Hayman’s, just to name a few.

Rosemary

✓ For savory dishes, hot and cold beverages, and essential oils

Botanically speaking, this is also an evergreen that originates in the Mediterranean because it can withstand the cold and even droughts.

It is, however, categorized under the mint family mainly because it has the same sharp, spicy flavor and fragrant smell.

All those are precisely the reasons why it’s the next best thing to our featured ingredient.

Substitution Details: 1:1

When the recipe asks for a teaspoon of our needed spice, use three to four sprigs of the fresh herb.

If you’ve got just the dry one, a teaspoon or a little less would work just as well.

Do be careful when cooking with this though because it tends to get more potent as you leave it in the pot under the heat.

Incredibly versatile, Rosemary can also be used as an essential oil when you ran out of Juniper berries.

Each has its benefits but both are effective for muscle aches.

The same proportion for substitution should be followed here as well.

Caraway Seeds

✓ For savory dishes, baked goods, and essential oils

This spice falls under the same family of anise seed and cumin so it also has that anise, licorice flavor although a tad milder than star anise.

But it makes for a good replacement because it also has a hint of pepper and citrus which will cut through fatty, intensely-flavored meats like lamb or veal.

Caraway is also used as a liquor flavoring, specifically Iceland’s aquavit. But that has a completely different zing from gin so it’s best not to use this for drinks.

Substitution Details: 1:1

Use a teaspoon of caraway if the same measure is required of our featured ingredient in dishes like potato salad, shortbreads, or any dishes which contain cabbages.

As an essential oil, the Caraway seed works in the same way as the pine fruit to relieve respiratory problems like sore throat, runny nose, and suppurative cough or cough with phlegm. Follow the same proportions noted above.

Black Cardamom

✓ For savory dishes, baked goods, hot beverages, and essential oil

This is a spice that comes from the seed pods of ginger-type plants so it will have that sharp, piney flavor, perfect for swapping with our featured ingredient.

But cardamom is one of the few which has a complex flavor profile – fruity, piney, with warm undertones, that’s why it tastes great in drinks as well like chai lattes.

Substitution Details: 1:1

Just use a teaspoon of cardamom for every teaspoon of pine fruit needed.

But if you like the licorice aroma, especially for sweet and spiced confections, go ahead and add a bit more.

Its essential oil has the same properties too, particularly for treating muscle spasms and digestive problems.

Bay Leaves

✓ For savory dishes, hot beverages, essential oil

These fragrant leaves come from the laurel tree, an evergreen that grows in warm places.

It was popular as an ornament in the past (yes, the very same leaves used as a head wreath by Greek Olympians) and as a spice, especially when it’s dried.

The hard, rough leaf can’t be eaten but, because of its flowery sweetness and very slight sharpness, it is added to a whole lot of flavorful dishes.

Substitution Details: 2:1

A pot of adobo will smell and taste wonderful with just a single leaf.

A little goes a long way with this spice so for every teaspoon of a Juniper berry, use just one or two pieces of bay leaves.

Bay leaf essential oil is as good as our featured ingredient especially in relieving muscle pains.

Lingonberry Juice

✓ As a tea and for cold juices

Lingonberry is tiny, red berries – quite similar to but smaller than cherries – which grow on a Scandinavian evergreen shrub.

Although this also has a slightly tart flavor, this makes for a good Juniper sub primarily because of its health benefits.

Many Northern Europeans take this to treat urinary infections.

Substitution Details: 1:1

Pinewood Tea

✓ As a tea

Made from the needles of pine trees, this has been considered by many outdoorsmen as a foraging treat because it is rich in Vitamin C.

Many expect the pine, earthy taste but are pleasantly surprised with its subtle citrus zest – very much like our featured ingredient!

Substitution Details: 1:1

Cranberry and Apple Cider

✓ For hot and cold beverages

Fresh cranberries are mostly sour but these do have a bitterness that is almost similar to the pine fruit.

The addition of the apple cider just balances the mixture with sweetness.

This isn’t the best substitute, to be honest, but it will work.

Substitution Details: 1:1

If you haven’t tried Juniper berries on your dishes before, go ahead and scour the closest park for fresh, ripe ones.

It’s always good to know what something tastes like, especially to spruce up your old recipes.

But if you really can’t find any, these substitutes will work just as well.

Last Updated on July 22, 2021 by Andy Wang

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My name is Andy Wang, and I'm a retired chef. I used to work at the City Vineyard restaurant in NYC. I also had a culinary degree from the Institute of Culinary Education in New York. And this blog is where I share my love for knives and cooking with people like you.