Though not necessarily as popular as other fruits and berries, the juniper berry is pretty unique – and has quite a few uses!
Not Quite A Berry
Though most references and the name itself suggest that juniper berries are berries, they’re actually seed cones. Because of the fleshy appearance, these unique berry-like seed cones earned their name.
Juniper berries come from a few different species but are most commonly found attached to Juniperus communis bushes.
Interestingly enough, all juniper bushes end up growing berries. However, some are simply too bitter to eat or use. Others are even poisonous.
Those that are good to eat include:
- Juniperus communis
- Juniperus drupacea
- Juniperus phoenicea
- Juniperus deppeana
- Juniperus californica
Berries such as those found on Juniperus sabina, however, are poisonous.
Though most are around the same size, Juniperus drupacea is typically larger. The berries mature between 8 and 18 months, depending on the species. Once matured, the berries have a variety of uses.
From Food To Gin
These berries are often used as spices in different European cuisines. With notes of citrus and pine, the berries are used both dried and fresh in different meat dishes. Traditional dishes from the following countries are often found to include juniper berries:
- Northern Italy
Of course, the most popular use of the juniper berry is in gin. Usually made with Juniperus communis, the liquor was invented in the Netherlands during the 1600s.
The name “gin” actually comes from the French “genèvre” or Dutch “jenever”, both of which mean juniper.
Gin isn’t the only drink that juniper berries contribute to, though. In fact, Julmust is a Swedish soft drink made from the berries and is typically sold around the Christmas holidays.
Great With Chocolate
Due to the bitter nature of juniper berries, they end up being great with sweeter chocolate dessert treats.
Whether dried, crushed, or simply used fresh, there are multiple ways to take your dessert to the next level with these little berries.
One way is with a delicious chocolate-juniper cake! Sound like heaven? Take a look at the recipe to learn more.
A Winter Spice
Though not a very popular berry, people have been coming around to the idea of using juniper berries in winter-themed dishes.
Additionally, the berry is gaining prominence in places like Sweden, particularly with the creation of the Julmust soft drink.
Historical Relevance And Uses
Throughout history, juniper berries have actually had a number of uses. They were traditionally used as female birth control and were even produced as a Roman substitute for pepper.
Some variations of juniper berries have been found in tombs in ancient Egypt, though the juniper plant isn’t native to Egypt. It’s thought that these plants actually came from Greece.
As it turns out, the ancient Greeks used juniper berries in several of their Olympic events, believing that they helped increase the physical stamina and success of athletes.
Give Juniper Berries A Try
Though they may not be your first pick when at the market or grocery store, juniper berries really can be a great way to spice up your dishes!