8 Substitutes For Juniper Berries [In Baking, Meats, Sauerkraut, & Essential Oils]

Did you know that juniper berries are not even berry? It’s true! The juniper berry is technically a seed and come from a variety of conifer trees (think evergreens and Christmas trees). Juniper brings a bright, floral, and Christmassy vibe to many recipes, and are very popular in a lot of European cooking recipes. But they can be pretty tricky to find in the U.S.! 

Whether you’re trying your hand at some old-fashioned sauerkraut, a lovely cake, or some nourishing soup, there are a variety of similar spices and tricks you can substitute to get that wonderful “pop” of flavor that juniper brings to recipes. Most of them you probably already have in your spice cabinet (or liquor cabinet!)

If you’re looking to make cakes or other baking projects, a splash of gin is the way to go, while cardamom seeds can also be a great substitution. Rosemary and bay leaf makes a great substitute for sauerbraten and essential oils, while caraway is excellent in sauerkraut.

If you’re looking to make soups, sauerbraten, or roasts, bay leaf is an excellent substitution, and black pepper or peppercorns can replace juniper in a pinch in many savory dishes.

While an unusual choice, hickory spice can be a great swap in roasts if you have it on hand! While there is no true substitute for juniper berries to make gin, swapping vodka for gin can be an easy replacement in cocktails. 

Juniper Berries Substitutes 

For Baking/Cakes

1. Gin – Best Substitute For Baking

Time to get your drink on! In all seriousness, gin is an excellent substitute for juniper berries. Why? Because it is actually made with juniper berries! Substituting gin for juniper berries is very similar to substituting vanilla extract for vanilla beans or paste.

If you are looking for a true juniper flavor, try to stick to a simple, unflavored gin, that way you will only be imparting the flavor of the juniper berries. 

Substitution is very easy with gin, simply use one teaspoon of gin for every teaspoon of juniper berries the recipe calls for. The alcohol will evaporate during the cooking process, leaving only the juniper flavor. It’s important to note that if you use this substitution, you will need to adjust the liquid amount your recipe calls for, especially if it calls for a lot of juniper.gin

2. Cardamom – Great Substitution For Cakes

If you enjoy Indian cuisine you have likely had cardamom in many recipes. Delightfully green and woody, cardamom brings a warm, earthy flavor to dishes. It’s popular in a number of savory dishes such as Indian curries and biryanis but also makes for a great addition to cakes and other bakes.

Cardamom is a bit more expensive than some of the other entries on this list, but if you make a nice Indian curry from time to time, it might already be in your cabinet. 

You can find ground cardamom at many supermarkets, which is the easiest way to use it as a substitution for juniper berries in cake recipes. This is another super simple substation, simply replace 1:1 cardamom for juniper berries (for example, 1 teaspoon of crushed cardamom for 1 teaspoon of juniper berries).

In Meats

3. Rosemary – Best Substitute For Sauerbraten 

Rosemary is originally a Mediterranean herb. As a woody evergreen herb, its hearty texture and floral notes will add a distinctive flavor to your recipes that call for juniper berries. Rosemary is a very popular choice for cooking a variety of meat-based dishes such as steaks and roasts, and as such it’s the perfect choice as a substitute if you are making sauerbraten, a traditional German dish that literally translates to “sour roasted meat.” 

Rosemary is a great substitution for juniper berries because of its similar earthy and floral notes, and also the ease of finding it -it’s in nearly every home cook’s kitchen. To use rosemary as a juniper berry replacement in sauerbraten, simply add one sprig of fresh rosemary or ½ a teaspoon of dried rosemary for every teaspoon of juniper berries in the recipe.

Note that rosemary flavor blooms in oil and can intensify the longer it is heated, so be careful not to add too much to a recipe unless that is the main flavor you want to come through.

4. Hickory Spice – Best Substitute For Roasts

Hickory spice is a spice mix commonly sold in grocery stores. It’s a heady mixture that typically includes chiles, salt, cumin, garlic, onion, and hickory smoke powder. The combination of all of these herbs and spices makes it very aromatic and brings a lovely earthy, smokey flavor to many recipes. Because it is a spice mix, hickory spice works great on roasts, adding body and flavor to all parts of the dish. 

Because hickory smoke often contains salt, you may need to adjust your salt levels in recipes where you use this mixture as a replacement for juniper berries. To substitute, simply use 1.5 teaspoons of hickory spice for every teaspoon of juniper berries. Feel free to adjust the taste from there based on your palate.

5. Black Pepper – Great Substitution For Soups and Brines

The unassuming black pepper is probably one of the simplest replacements that you can use for juniper berries because it is in every home kitchen. Black pepper (or peppercorns) offer a robust flavor with a kick that brightens up many dishes and can highlight complementary flavors like lemon or other spices. Pepper or peppercorns is a very versatile spice, making it a great addition to soups, roasts, sauerkraut, and other savory dishes that call for juniper berries.

When using black pepper as a substitution for juniper berries, replace at a 1:1 ratio. You can use ground black pepper or whole peppercorns, depending on your preference. The ground black pepper will penetrate the dish more fully, while the peppercorns will give more of an aroma rather than spicing the entire dish.black and white pepper

In Sauerkraut

6. Caraway Seeds -Best Swap For Sauerkraut

This seed is also known as meridian fennel or Persian cumin comes from the same family as anise and cumin. Caraway is best known for its use in Jewish rye bread, but it has a variety of medicinal and culinary uses. It has a complex flavor profile with notes of citrus, licorice, and pepper, which makes it a great substitute for juniper berries in many types of recipes, including sauerkraut.

Many sauerkraut recipes already call for caraway seeds, in which case you can also add a bay leaf if you’d like to round out the flavor. 

Because of its similarity to juniper, substitution is very simple with caraway. A simple 1:1 substitution will work great for caraway seeds. Depending on the recipe you can crush the seeds first, toast them, or just throw them in whole. Caraway seeds added to your sauerkraut will give a wonderful bite and nuttiness to your recipe. 

In Essential Oils

7. Bay Leaves -Best Substitution For Essential Oils

Bay leaves are in almost every home cook’s spice rack. A small, brownish-greenish leaf; some people wonder if bay leaves are necessary in dishes. But rest assured, bay leaf packs an incredible amount of flavor into such an unassuming leaf. 

If you are looking to make your own essential oils mix and we’re hoping for the scent of juniper berries, bay leaf will work great. Its citrusy, woody and astringent notes impart similar flavors to juniper berries and make for a lovely essential oil. Replace one bay leaf for each teaspoon of juniper berries in your recipe. 

When making essential oils out of bay leaf, you can use a simple 1:1 replacement ratio for juniper berries to bay leaf.

Best Substitute Instead Of Gin

8. Vodka

There’s no great substitute for juniper berries in gin. This is because gin is simply grain-based alcohol that is flavored with juniper berries. In fact, for an alcohol to legally be labeled as gin it MUST contain a certain percentage of juniper berries.

However, if you are seeking to replace gin in a cocktail, vodka is the best choice because it is flavorless and does not have any added enhancers or flavoring agents. You can also use a citrus or berry-flavored vodka, which will give you a similar flavor to gin.Vodka

Frequently Asked Questions

What Are Juniper Berries? 

Juniper berries are the female seed cone from the juniper tree. They are technically a pinecone, but the scales and flesh have merged to create a berry-like shape. Juniper berries have been used in European cooking for centuries, typically to flavor roasts and game.

They are also used to create a number of drinks, including gin, a Finnish beer known as sahti, and julmust, a Swedish soft drink with juniper flavor. They are also used to make essential oils, which is often used in aroma and massage therapy. 

What Is The Flavor Of Juniper Berries?

Juniper berries have a bright, sharp flavor. Many people describe them as having floral, earthy, citrusy, or astringent notes as well. Juniper berries are used in cooking as both a fresh or dried ingredient. 

Is Allspice the Same as Juniper Berries?

Allspice may look very similar to juniper berries but they are not the same thing! Juniper berries will retain their blue hue even when dried, though the blue is much more concentrated and will appear darker. Allspice will appear brown when dried. Like juniper berries, allspice does come from evergreen trees, but it is native to the Caribbean and South America, not Europe.

And while allspice may look similar to juniper berries, it doesn’t make for a great substitution. Allspice is a very warm spice, and has notes of cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and even black pepper in its profile. 

Where Can I Get Juniper Berries?

Juniper berries can be a little hard to find, but if you go to a well-stocked grocery store with an extensive spice aisle, you should be able to find a decent supply of dried juniper berries. They are also carried with a number of online providers such as Amazon.

Some natural food stores may also carry fresh or semi-dried juniper berries that you can purchase in larger quantities. Check with your local grocers, as availability may differ based on your location. 

Are Juniper Berries Safe To Eat? 

While juniper berries are relatively harmless, they can have some side effects that have not been well studied yet. There are reports that they may affect pregnant or breastfeeding women, may interfere with bleeding disorders especially after surgery, and can also have a negative impact on diabetes.

Historically, juniper berries have been used by some people as natural birth control. Pregnant or breastfeeding women would be advised to avoid juniper berries as a precaution. 

In Conclusion 

There are many wonderful spices out there that make great substitutions for juniper berries, including gin, rosemary, caraway, bay leaf, and many others. The choice you make might depend on the recipe that you are using and what element of the juniper flavor that you want to emphasize. Experiment and don’t be afraid to try mixing a couple of the herbs or spices together to create your own unique spice mixture!

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