You can use juniper, blueberry-like balls, not only when preparing game!

Juniper is best known in the world as the key aromatic component of gin.

However, these balls were used in the kitchen and in medicine already in ancient Egypt, Greece and Rome.

Did you know that juniper berries aren’t actually berries?

What kind of meat does this distinctive spice go best with?

What health problems can juniper help you with?

Follow the footsteps of these interesting fruits with us.

What is juniper?

It is the aromatic fruit of the common juniper conifer. Although we all think of these fruits as berries, botanically they are not, as they are small cones in a fleshy shell. From a culinary point of view, however, the small blue-violet to blue-black balls are often referred to as juniper berries.

Dried juniper, less often also fresh, is used as a flavoring in Northern European cuisine, especially in Scandinavia, Germany and the French region of Alsace. The whole world otherwise encounters it mainly in the form of gin, the name of which comes from the Dutch word for juniper. In addition to being a popular spice, juniper has long been used for its medicinal properties in many cultures.

The difference between fresh and dried juniper.

How to recognize juniper?

Common juniper (Juniperus communis) is an evergreen coniferous shrub or lower tree of the cypress family that grows in many parts of the Northern Hemisphere, both in Europe, North America and Asia. It produces seed cones which are commonly known as juniper berries or hemlocks.

The bark is scaly, very thin, fibrous and reddish brown. The needles are lanceolate, about 5-12 mm long, whitish silvery above and dark green below, arranged in whorls of three. The fruit is a spherical berry with a diameter of 6-12 mm, which is green when young and turns dark blue to blue-black when ripe.

Juniper plant with ripe and unripe fruits.

When is juniper harvested?

Each berry contains two to three seeds. The plant can have both unripe and fully ripe berries, as it takes several years for the berries to fully ripen. Fully ripe berries, those that are intensely blue-black, are usually picked at the end of October. Keep in mind that there are many types of junipers, but not all of them are edible.

What does juniper taste like?

Juniper has an intensely spicy, pungent flavor with a slight hint of pine and citrus. It leaves a slightly bitter, burning sensation in the mouth. Sometimes its taste is also compared to rosemary.

It is appropriate to combine juniper with rosemary or marjoram when preparing various dishes. It is also generally true that the intensity of its taste and aroma depends on the country of origin, spices originating from southern Europe generally have a milder taste and a more pronounced aroma.

Fresh vs. dried juniper

If you want your dish to acquire a distinct juniper aroma and taste, it is advisable to use fresh berries and crush them before adding them to the sauce or marinade. You can roast the juniper for a milder taste, but be careful not to burn them or they will taste bitter.

To crush the berries, place about a tablespoon in a ziplock bag and lightly smash them with a meat mallet, hammer, or wine bottle. Once the balls are flattened, turn them out onto a cutting board and finely chop them with a chef’s knife before adding them to the dish.

Dried crushed juniper.

Juniper in the kitchen

Before adding it to your own dishes, juniper is usually crushed to release its aroma. Crushed juniper berries can be rubbed into selected meat or marinades before baking. In most cases, it is recommended to add a maximum of 8 balls to the dish.

To enhance the light citrus flavor of juniper berries, most recipes recommend adding other fruit, such as apples or prunes. For a spicy taste, add a little ginger or garlic to the fry.

  • Juniper is most commonly used in recipes for lamb or mutton, but you can also add it and rub it in crushed form into pork or beef.

  • You can also add juniper balls to a pot with chili con carne, they will give the dish a rustic taste.

  • Juniper berries are also a good seasoning when baking festive duck , whether on oranges, apples or honey.

  • You can add whole juniper balls to soup broths, it will have a more intense spicy taste.

  • Last but not least, you can make the stuffing special with juniper, which you will later use for duck, turkey or chicken. Do you know how to prepare the best stuffed chicken ? Use as many spices and herbs as possible in it, which will penetrate the meat and give it flavor.

  • The use of juniper when cooking sauerkraut is interesting. Shukrut is a very popular dish in Alsace. It contains sauerkraut with sausage or smoked meat and potatoes, seasoned with pepper and juniper berries.
A plate with duck prepared on plums and juniper.

What to replace juniper with?

What do you do when you’re in the middle of cooking and you suddenly realize you’re out of juniper? You can try to replace it in several different ways. Rosemary, which has a similar flavor, is most often used as a substitute. Rosemary is mainly used in the preparation of venison and other types of meat.

When preparing various stews, it is better to replace the juniper with a mixture of cumin and bay leaves. Use cumin as a substitute for juniper berries when preparing sauerkraut.

Juniper storage

Store juniper balls in an airtight container away from moisture in a dark place. If necessary, simply crush them before adding to dishes.

What is made of juniper?

This spice has other uses than just preparing a number of tasty dishes:

  • In addition to traditional gin, juniper is also an important part of other alcoholic beverages. Juniper berries are used to make Slovakian pine , Finnish beer Sahti, and in Sweden, juniper is part of Christmas cider Julmust.

  • For medical preparations , essential oils are often obtained from the berries, which are used in aromatherapy for their relaxing properties. Juniper oil can also be added to a hot steam bath to help with respiratory infections.

  • In addition, you can buy juniper tea , which can also be easily prepared at home from crushed berries.

How to prepare juniper tea?

One teaspoon of dried crushed fruit is enough to prepare one cup of juniper tea. Boil the crushed berries in a pot with 300 ml of water. Boil for 3 minutes and then let it steep for about 15 minutes. Then strain the tea and flavor it with honey. The maximum recommended amount is two cups a day.

Preparation of juniper tea.

Medicinal effects of juniper

Juniper is known for its many beneficial effects on our organism.

  • Antioxidant and Antibacterial Effects – Juniper berries contain many plant compounds, including flavonoid antioxidants and coumarins, which are chemical compounds with various protective properties. The volatile essential oils in juniper berries contain substances known as monoterpenes, which have been shown to have anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, antioxidant and antibacterial effects.

  • Anti-inflammatory effects – proven in various inflammatory conditions, including rheumatism, gout and arthritis, as the diuretic effect helps reduce fluid retention around the joints.

  • Anti-diabetic effects – juniper berries have been used in traditional medicine to treat diabetes, and recent studies confirm that they may have anti-diabetic properties. Administration of juniper berry extract significantly lowered blood sugar levels and increased heart-protective HDL cholesterol levels.

  • Diuretic effects – due to its diuretic effects along with urinary tract and kidney diseases such as urethritis and cystitis.

  • Digestive system – berries are used for indigestion, flatulence, belching, heartburn, flatulence. Juniper increases stomach acid production by warming the digestive system, which helps stimulate the appetite, relieve gas and settle the stomach.

  • They support heart health – Juniper helps heart health by improving HDL (good) cholesterol and lowering high triglycerides, as well as LDL and total cholesterol.

  • Skin diseases – infusions of juniper berries were used in the past to treat various skin diseases, including psoriasis, eczema, warts, dandruff and acne.

  • Hemorrhoids – a decoction prepared from young twigs and fruits can be used for soothing baths.

Nutritional values, vitamins and minerals in juniper

Although information on the nutritional value of juniper is limited, it is known to provide certain very valuable nutrients. 28 grams of juniper contains:

Calorie Proteins Fats Carbohydrates Fiber
87 kcal 3 g 2 g 11 g 8 g

Like most other “berries”, juniper balls are a good source of vitamin C, which is essential for immune system health, collagen synthesis and blood vessel function. It also acts as a powerful antioxidant. Among the minerals, we can find calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium and iron in it.

Milan & Ondra

We are both fans of good food and enjoy cooking. On this website, we want to inspire you with traditional, but also less common recipes. We will be happy if you try our recipes and let us know how you liked them. Bon appetite! :)