DIY Food

Unsung Ingredient: Juniper Berries

December 25, 2012

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.

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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?

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • goldilocks
  • Anja
  • marydtoombs
  • Diana B
    Diana B
  • Vivi B.
    Vivi B.

Written by: gheanna

My two (current) favorite foods start with the letter D: doughnuts, and dumplings. If a dish has bacon in it, I will most likely eat it. If I could marry honey butter, I would.


goldilocks September 29, 2020
#Are blue/black juniper berries good to use after they turn red and are soft?
goldilocks September 29, 2020
Are blue/black juniper berries good to use after they turn red and are soft?
Anja August 26, 2017
I haven't used it since I lived in Sweden 22 years ago. There I used it often in a sauce for reindeer meat. No reindeer here, so I just never thought about it. Thanks for the reminder!
marydtoombs November 7, 2016
This is a fantastic recipe:
It was the first (and only) time I used juniper berries. What a fantastic payoff!
Diana B. January 5, 2013
Oh, and you forgot one of your own recipes!
Diana B. January 5, 2013
Punk Domestics has a few recipes using juniper berries:
Vivi B. December 27, 2012
I like to make a short rib braise with juniper berries and a red current jelly glaze. Kinda magical and mysterious!
Chef C. December 26, 2012
Thickening stewed meat gravies
EmilyC December 26, 2012
I agree with pierino -- I love juniper berries with pork. A good/easy way to use them is in brines (dry rubs or wet brines) for lean cuts of pork.
pierino December 26, 2012
Could I just add that I love juniper berries with pork as well as wild boar.
nutcakes December 25, 2012
I've used Juniper berries for brine for Turkey and Pork, like the Chez Panisse brine I link a copy of here, from Michael Bauer's Secrets of Success cookbook. I suppose that is one of the more common uses for Juniper Berries, but worth trying if you haven't yet.