Oftentimes confused for a berry due to its appearance and name, juniper berries are in fact a type of plant outgrowth called cones.
Juniper berries are primarily utilized in the flavoring of alcoholic beverages like gin, as well as occasionally used as a spice in certain types of cuisines, though their utilization has so far been primarily seen in northern European cuisines, wherein the berries impart a distinct and clear flavor.
The best alcoholic beverage substitutes for Juniper berry-based gin include Tequila, botanical infused vodka, and Akvavit. The best cocktail ingredient substitutes for juniper berries are gin, caraway seeds, anise, and dill. The best spice substitutes to juniper berries are cardamom, fennel, and bay leaves.
Why Should Juniper Berries be Substituted?
Though juniper berries may be harvested in large volumes quite easily, they are less common in countries with warmer and more humid climates, of which are primarily outside of their habitual area.
By extension, this makes the price of juniper berries rather high due to the required storage procedures and importation costs involved in bringing them to other countries.
Apart from availability and relative expenses acting as obstacles to the utilization of juniper berries, there are also certain individuals with allergies towards juniper berries or the entirety of the juniper plant itself, making substituting these juniper cones vitally important in a recipe.
Also relating to health, though it is established juniper berries are considered generally safe so long as the specific edible species of juniper are used, there is a small amount of evidence claiming that even small doses of juniper berries may induce certain negative health effects in some individuals.
Among these are an increased incidence of miscarriage in pregnant women, as well as exogenous compound induced bleeding disorders in post-operative surgery patients.
On a far lighter note, another reason behind the substitution of juniper berries may be due to simple personal preference, as freshly cracked and scaled juniper berries are considered quite sharp in flavor, of which may be rather intense for individuals with sensitive taste palates.
Alcoholic Beverage Substitutes for Juniper Berry-based Gin
Considering the fact that one of the primary uses for juniper berries is its incorporation into gin wherein it acts as a flavoring agent, substitution of products containing juniper berries would obviously rule out the use of gin in recipes and beverages.
Fortunately, several types of alcohol may recreate both the alcoholic percentage, function and flavor of gin without the direct incorporation of juniper berries in its ingredient list.
Distilled from blue agave plant tissue, tequila possesses a similarly fruity and somewhat astringent flavor profile to gin, making it one of the best substitute alcoholic drinks with no presence of juniper berries or its subsequent extracts.
An additional benefit to utilizing tequila as a gin substitute is their similarity in alcohol percentage, both of which are considered quite high and are most often diluted through the addition of cocktail ingredients so as to weaken their relative ABV%.
This is further compounded by the similarity in appearance between most common types of tequila and gin, both of which present a clear and smooth visual effect, making them nearly unnoticeable in cocktails from an appearance standpoint.
Botanical Infused Vodka
Though vodka itself is considered neutrally flavored in its pure form with none of the usual taste notes gin normally has, certain infusions of herbs and spices in a vodka body can help recreate and supplant gin, especially in cocktail recipes or similar drinks.
It is important to determine the similarity of any particular brand of infused vodka to gin, as the term infused vodka can equate to a variety of different flavor profiles, the majority of which most likely taste nothing like juniper berry-based gin itself.
Akvavit or Aquavit
Sharing its birthplace with juniper berries in parts of Northern Europe, akvavit is a type of grain and potato alcohol traditionally infused with various flavoring herbs and spices with its most distinct taste being that of caraway.
Depending on the particular mix of herbs and spices, akvavit may come quite close to the flavors of gin, though it is likely that its particular flavor will eclipse that of most types of gin owing to the intensity of the herbs and spices that are infused into the akvavit.
Akvavit is best used as a one to one replacement of gin, either when consumed straight or in a cocktail, owing to the similarity in their alcohol percentages and flavor profile intensities.
Cocktail Ingredient Substitutes for Juniper Berries
Whether muddled, cracked, or infused into various types of liquors, juniper berries are a mainstay of any cocktail bar and their subsequent recipes, oftentimes incorporating a sharp and aromatic taste that pairs quite well in a variety of other flavors.
Fortunately, if no juniper berries are available or some other reason exists behind the need to substitute them, quite a few alternative ingredients exist, the majority of which are likely already present in a nearby spice cabinet or liquor bottle.
In the event that the recipe calls for hints of juniper berries but there are none available, the majority of gin brands can present much the same flavors, especially in their more concentrated forms.
Gin may work as a liquid substitute to juniper berries in practically any cocktail that requires it, with the primary drawback being the additional alcohol being added to the cocktail by doing so, potentially overpowering or unbalancing its flavor profile.
Owing to its liquid nature however, gin cannot work as a garnish, as juniper berries are occasionally used as.
Referred to as seeds but in actuality are considered fruits, caraway seeds are an aromatic and rather flavorful addition to any recipe or cocktail, with a distinctly herbal and cloying taste that can replicate the effect of juniper berries.
However, the finer notes of flavor between caraway seeds and juniper berries may be somewhat different, especially if imbibed directly instead of being mixed with other cocktail ingredients, and as such it is best to use caraway in conjunction with other alternative ingredients so as to best substitute juniper berries.
Extremely popular in certain types of distilled liquors, anise and anise stars are used to flavor a variety of alcoholic beverages, from the Greek ouzo to the ever controversial absinthe.
This is due to the fact that anise imparts an excellent herbal and slightly flowery taste, especially useful when used to accent the natural flavors present in certain types of alcohol.
In terms of cocktail substitution, anise can be used in much the same way juniper berries are, with their relative taste intensities being quite similar and with the only caveat to doing so being the fact that anise oftentimes needs slightly longer time stepped in the liquor to impart its particular flavors.
Whether in leaf or seed form, dill is yet another substitute for juniper berries that can impart a distinct aromatic and herbal flavor to liquors that may require it.
When choosing to substitute juniper berries with dill seeds or leaves, it is best to use absolutely fresh specimens owing to the fact that dill leaves and seeds lose their flavor rather quickly when exposed to a dehydrating environment.
Dill is best stepped in liquors prior to its usage in cocktails or similar alcoholic beverages, wherein it will be removed prior to serving.
Spice Substitutes to Juniper Berries
Another use apart from a liquor flavoring agent, juniper berries are also utilized either in their fresh or ground form as a spice to various different types of food, such as cured meats, sauerkraut, cabbage dishes and even certain types of game meats.
This capacity as an aromatic spice is not reserved to just juniper berries, however, and can be replicated or approximated by a variety of other spices and herbs, most of which are likely easier to acquire and cheaper than juniper berries themselves.
Cultivated in a variety of types and appearances, cardamom pods are an essential staple to any aromatic spice cabinet, more often paired with juniper berries themselves instead of being used as a potential substitute.
However, this is not to say that cardamom cannot recreate the same cloying and slightly resinous flavor in recipes, with cardamom being significantly more aromatic and intense in taste than juniper berries.
This equates to cardamom only requiring a fraction of the volume in comparison to juniper berries when incorporated into drinks and food seasonings, which may be a benefit or drawback depending on the physical nature of the food product.
Tangentially related to carrots and other spices listed on this article, fennel is another plant prized for its aromatic and flavorful characteristics, oftentimes being incorporated into alcoholic beverages and meals so as to impart a certain level of sophistication and earthiness to its flavor profile.
Fennel may be used as a juniper berry substitute in practically any recipe or method, with various parts of the fennel plant being able to fulfill any physical role that may be required, such as the fruit and bulbs being capable of flavoring stews and beverages, and the dried fennel leaves acting as a seasoning powder.
Perhaps the most common aromatic spice listed on this article, bay leaves are a spice ingredient derived from several differing plant species that all produce much the same flavor profile.
Much like juniper berries, bay leaves are best ground up or stewed so as to prevent consumers from directly consuming whole pieces of the spice, as this will often impart a bitter and unpleasant flavor.
Bay leaves are best used as a juniper berry substitute in recipes like sauerkraut or stews wherein their flavoring compounds are allowed to be leached out by the surrounding fluid, a reaction of which is best catalyzed by the presence of heat or acidity.
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2. Lichine, Alexis. Alexis Lichine’s New Encyclopedia of Wines & Spirits (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1987), pp. 80–81. ISBN 0394562623
3. Parthasarathy, V. A.; Chempakam, Bhageerathy; Zachariah, T. John (2008). Chemistry of Spices. CABI. ISBN 978-1-84593-420-0.