A juniper berry is the female seed cone produced by the various species of junipers. It is not a true berry but a cone with unusually fleshy and merged scales, which give it a berry-like appearance. The cones from a handful of species, especially Juniperus communis, are used as a spice, particularly in European cuisine, and also give gin its distinctive flavour. Juniper berries may be the only spice derived from conifers. However, tar and bark from pine trees are sometimes thought of as spices, too.
The flavor profile of young, green berries is dominated by pinene; as they mature this piney, resinous backdrop is joined by "green-fresh" and citrus notes. The outer scales of the berries are relatively flavourless, so the berries are almost always at least lightly crushed before being used as a spice. They are used both fresh and dried, but their flavour and odour are at their strongest immediately after harvest and decline during drying and storage.
Juniper berries are used in northern European and particularly Scandinavian cuisine to "impart a sharp, clear flavor" to meat dishes, especially wild birds and game meats (including boar and venison). They also season pork, cabbage, and sauerkraut dishes.
Traditional recipes for choucroute garnie, an Alsatian dish of sauerkraut and meats, universally include juniper berries. Besides Norwegian and Swedish dishes, juniper berries are also sometimes used in German, Austrian, Czech, Polish and Hungarian cuisine, often with roasts (such as German sauerbraten). Northern Italian cuisine, especially that of the South Tyrol, also incorporates juniper berries.
Juniper, typically Juniperus communis, is used to flavor gin, a liquor developed in the 17th century in the Netherlands. The name gin itself is derived from either the French genièvre or the Dutch jenever, which both mean "juniper". Other juniper-flavoured beverages include the Finnish rye-and-juniper beer known as sahti, which is flavored with both juniper berries and branches. Another drink made from the berries is a Julmust, a soft drink made in Sweden mainly sold during Christmas. The brand Dry Soda produces a juniper-berry soda as part of its lineup. Recently, some American distilleries have begun using 'New World' varieties of juniper such as Juniperus occidentalis.
A few North American juniper species produce a seed cone with a sweeter, less resinous flavor than those typically used as a spice. Such species have been used not just as a seasoning but as a nutritive food by some Native Americans. In addition to medical and culinary purposes, Native Americans have also used the seeds inside juniper berries as beads for jewellery and decoration.
Images for kids
Dried juniper berries at a market in Syracuse, Sicily
Juniper berry Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.