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Unsung Ingredient: Juniper Berries

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Inspired by conversations on the FOOD52 Hotline, we're sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun. 

Today: We show you a few ways to use up that jar of juniper berries.

If you're anything like us, you probably bought a jar of juniper berries to make this genius cranberry-port gelée. But now that Thanksgiving is over, has it been gathering dust, languishing in the back of your cabinet? Prepare to dust it off: we're going to show you how to make use of those juniper berries, all year round.

What are juniper berries?

Their scientific name is Juniperus communis, and the shrub can be found throughout the Northern Hemisphere. Beyond being more than just a bit boozy, juniper berries were used by Great Basin Native Americans as a blood tonic to alleviate symptoms of anemia and re-energize the body. For Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest, juniper berries were a cure-all for the common cold, flu, and other aches and pains. You probably associate their sharp, distinct flavor with gin, but they're known to also help cut and complement the taste of wild game. 

A Brief History:

The name "gin" is derived from the French and Dutch words for juniper: "genièvre" and "jenever," respectively. This spirit was created by Dutch physician Dr. Sylvius, who redistilled pure alcohol with juniper berries in hopes that the berries' therapeutic oil would manifest in a low-cost medicine. The medicinal project was a success, though it came at the price (or gain, if you look at it that way) of a spirit with a flavor that effectively hid the harsh taste of alcohol. If you've ever used the phrase "Dutch courage," or liquid courage, you can thank Dr. Sylvius -- before charging into battle, British soldiers would down a shot (or two, or three) of gin.

Make a tinture:

Gabriella Mlynarczyk, a head bartender at INK based in Los Angeles, is an avid user of juniper berries beyond its presence in gin -- it adds a "floral and piney quality" to her cocktails. If you're looking to add that clear juniper flavor to your drinks while keeping the alcohol content low, try making her tincture.

Enjoy gin-less gin:

For those adverse to the taste or overall idea of gin, Mlynarczyk also has a variation on a ginless Negroni featuring her tincture that's topped off with a Pilsner of your choice, adding "a bit of fizz" as well as that light flavor of hops. You can also enjoy the flavors of this tincture alcohol-free by substituting Everclear spirit with simple syrup -- add it to some soda water and fresh lemon juice and you've got quite the refreshing dry soda.


Preservation is all the rage these days, so make like Sandor Katz and flavor your sauerkraut with crushed juniper berries.


Cure with it:

Juniper berries may be used for taming the flavor of meats, but they're also commonly used in Scandinavian cuisine. Richard Kuo, formerly of popular Scandinavian pop-up restaurant Frej and now of Pearl & Ash, incorporates ground dried juniper berries with ground Earl Grey tea in a curing mix for salmon. This curing mix serves as a great companion to a seared salmon, elevating the clear and refreshing taste of the berries and the bergamot found in Earl Grey.

Bake with it:

Finally (it's still the season, after all!), why not make a juniper berry glaze for gingerbread cookies before the holidays pass us by?

What are your best uses for juniper berries?

Tags: Gin, DIY Food, How-To & Diy