Juniper berries are a spice cooks use to prepare European cuisines. Most chefs use them when cooking meat, especially the meat of wild birds, to give the dish an unmistakable flavor.
You most probably have tasted or come across gin. If you have tasted gin, you know what juniper berries are. They are the ones that give gin the distinctive taste it has.
Juniper berries are not real berries. They are the seeds that grow in juniper plants, and they look like cones. You can use them as a spice, whether dried or not.
It is crucial to note that they have the most robust flavor when freshly harvested. The taste and smell reduce as they are dried and stored.
Juniper Berry Origins
This berry is commonly used in Europe more than in the United States. This fact doesn't, however, mean that you can't find it. It is available although scarcely.
In America, we commonly come across juniper berry in gin drinks. The juniper berry used in the gin is not well ripened. If you want to use it as a spice, you must use well-ripened juniper berries.
Personally, the berry is not among my favorite spices. I do not cook lots of game dishes. The first time I tried juniper berry, I overused it and, as you have guessed, did not go well for me.
I had used it severally since, but only when I had to. I would instead use a substitute if I could.
So, what are the substitutes for juniper berry? These substitutes to juniper berry are gin, caraway seeds, rosemary, black cardamom, bay leaves, and hickory spice.
This list will look at spices that you can use when you don’t have juniper berry and your recipe demands you use them.
I will lean mainly on the flavor side since we are looking for spice with a similar or close taste. Let us dive in.
Gin is easy to find. If you are a gin fan, you might probably have it in your fridge already. If not, you can quickly get it in the grocery store, provided you are not underage.
This alcoholic drink has juniper berries as the main ingredients used in making it. The berries give gin its distinct taste.
You can substitute juniper berry spice with gin. You, however, have to be careful not to use more than necessary. It can quickly spoil your recipe.
Avoid using flavored gin. It contains additional ingredients that may not go well with your dish. Even a cheap and local pure gin will do the trick.
2. Caraway Seeds
Caraway seeds are fruits that yield in the caraway plant. The common culinary term is caraway seeds.
They have an established anise smell, with an earthy flavor that has touches of pepper and citrus. This flavor is what makes these seeds an excellent alternative to juniper berry. They have am almost similar taste.
These seeds are more common as compared to juniper berry. Therefore, they are easier and cheaper to find. If you are looking for an affordable yet effective alternative to juniper berry, caraway seed is a good option.
I prefer using caraway seeds when they are whole, not ground. I once had friends come over and had to throw in a dish. One of my friends said she preferred ground caraway seeds, and that is the first time I used caraway seeds when ground.
The results are almost identical, but I learned that I had to reduce the ratio by half if I used the powder form. Note this fact to avoid using too much spice if you insist on using the powder form.
Rosemary is a common spice, and I bet you already know it, unless, of course, you are starting your cooking journey currently. If that is the case, do not worry because soon you will be using it a lot.
I am telling you this because, like most people, I use rosemary in most of my dishes. I use it for cooking all types of meat, casserole, soups, and vegetables. If you do not know about rosemary already, you will have to because most recipes require it.
So, what is rosemary? It is a herb that has needle-like leaves and is green in color. You mainly use the leaves as the spice. As mentioned, people use it to add flavor to various dishes.
It has a shard citric smell and flavor and is a suitable replacement for juniper berry if you don't have any. It is not as strong in scent and taste as juniper berry, but it will do the magic if you use the right amount.
Like any spice in this list, I will caution you not to use excess. Too much will make your dish unattractive or inedible.
4. Black Cardamom
I have to be honest with you. I did not know of this spice until I researched what I could use instead of juniper berry. As you recall, I did not have an outstanding first experience with juniper berry, which made me develop negativity towards it.
It has an acrid smell with a flavor of a combination of eucalyptus and citrus. This spice is quite expensive and can prove hard to find. So, only use it if you can afford it.
It is common in Asia, with India producing approximately fifty percent of the harvest. In India, most people use it to make savory dishes like pilafs, while in China, people use it to make meat dishes and noodles.
Black cardamom is in seeds form. You can use them as whole seeds or crush them to release the flavor better. However, some recipes might require you to use them in powder form. You have to remember that the powder form is more concentrated, and a little will suffice.
Black cardamom is in many ways like juniper berry. In terms of sharpness and flavor, they align. It is an excellent substitute, only that it is expensive.
5. Bay Leaf
Bay leaf is another common spice in the kitchen. It is a leaf with an aroma like mint and menthol. If you are keen, you can taste the flavor of pine and black pepper from afar.
Cooks use the bay leaf to spice up various dishes in the culinary world. I use it when making risotto, meat dishes, soups, and braises, to name a few.
Due to its somewhat bitter and mint flavor, you can use bay leaf instead of juniper berry. The overall taste might change, but you will still have that earthy citric taste.
Juniper berry can be scarce to find at times. If you are looking for an alternative spice because you don't have it, you can use bay leaf. It is cheap and available in most grocery stores.
6. Hickory Spice
Hickory spice is a combination of spices and herbs. The mix comes with an intense but smoky flavor, like a crisp. It is a bit sharp, and you should avoid overusing it.
I don't use hickory spice seasoning unless I have to. I find it to have too many items in it.
However, it is a good substitute for juniper berry because of its flavor. Like juniper berry, cooks primarily use it in meat dishes.
Juniper Berry Frequently Asked Questions.
Are Juniper Berries Safe to Eat?
Yes, they are. But the berries are known to cause uterus contraction in pregnant mothers, so expecting women should avoid it.
Can I Eat Juniper Berries Raw?
They are safe to eat without cooking. Juniper berries are known to contain a variety of nutrients. If you have drunk gin martinis ever, you have already tasted raw juniper berries.
Are Juniper Berries Medicinal?
Yes! Other than cooks using them as a spice in the kitchen, they are also known for their health benefits. They are known to prevent diabetes and a variety of other diseases.
Juniper berry is a spice used in meat dishes to give them an unmistakable taste. They have a solid, sharp citric aroma, earthy and pepper-like flavor.
They are not that common and are a bit expensive; hence, you might look for a spice to substitute them. Or, you might be like me, and you don't like the berries a lot, so you are looking for an alternative.
I have discussed in detail the six best alternatives that I believe you can use in place of juniper berry to get similar or close results. Most of them are cheap and easy to find in grocery stores so that it won't be a hustle.
These alternatives will end your relentless search for juniper berry substitutes. The next time you make a dish that requires you to have juniper berry, you don't have it. Use either of them as an alternative and see how you like it.