If you’ve ever had a gin and tonic, then you’ve tasted juniper berries. Although perhaps best known for lending gin its distinctive flavour, as well as its name ('gin’ is an abbreviation of 'genièvre’, the French word for 'juniper’), the spice is also used in a number of northern European cuisines, especially around Scandinavia and Germany.
By
Rachel Bartholomeusz

26 Aug 2012 - 6:01 PM  UPDATED 6 Sep 2013 - 9:31 AM

Contrary to both name and appearance, juniper berries are not a berry at all, but a cone of the juniperus communis. They are dark purple, resembling a small shrivelled blueberry, have a strong, pine-like taste, and take several years to ripen. While they can be used fresh when their flavour is sharpest, in Australia, they are mainly available dried, from selected supermarkets and delis. They can be used ground or whole as a spice, but they need to be lightly crushed to release their flavour.

As well as gin, juniper berries are used to make a number of other drinks, notably a brandy which is popular in northern Europe, as well as schnapps and even beer in Finland and Estonia. In terms of cooking, its sharp taste lends it to the rich, stronger flavours of game birds and meats such as venison, however, juniper berries are also often paired with pork and other meats for braises, and, in Germany, it is used to flavour sauerkraut. Juniper berries are added to sweet and savoury sauces and marinades, too, and we’ve used them in our dessert of pears poached in red wine.

Recipes
Roast venison with braised fennel
Poached pears with brown sugar creme anglaise

Photography by John Laurie.