You can not find a lot of spices that can grow in the chilly part of the world. Juniper berries fit into that profile; they thrive in the northern hemisphere and can grow as far north as the Arctic.
What are juniper berries? These small beauties do not belong to the same class berries come from, but they bear a striking resemblance to berries.
Juniper berries are conifers, not actual berries. In the layman’s tongue, they are female seed cones of Juniper trees. There are a lot of things you can make from juniper berries, but you need to exercise caution if you come across them.
What do juniper berries taste like? The flavor of juniper berries is associated with pine (woody) and the taste can be described as deeply sweet and aromatic. However, it comes with a hint of bitterness and a citrusy feel. Juniper berries have a taste that just needs exploring. It is very unique, if you have had a taste of gin, then you can very much relate to what it tastes like.
One needs to exercise caution when harvesting juniper berries because harvesting the wrong kind of juniper berries could lead to serious harm. Some varieties of juniper berries cannot be regarded as safe to eat. However, this doesn’t mean that the unharmful ones do not come with health benefits.
Nutritional Benefits of Juniper Berries
Very little is known about the nutritional content of juniper berries but the little that is known weighs quite a lot. Juniper berries are a great source of powerful plant compounds; antioxidants, flavonoids, volatile oils, and coumarin.
Juniper berries are also a great source of vitamin C. The value of vitamin C in juniper berries amounts to 10 percent of the Daily Value (DV). Vitamin C is necessary to help improve immune health, optimize blood vessel function, and collagen synthesis.
Antioxidants are great for the body; they protect cells in the body from damage by free radicals. These free radicals are unstable molecules in the body. The other plant compounds also have their roles and protective functions in the body.
The volatile oils in juniper berries contain substances like camphor, limonene, and beta-pinene. These substances have been known to have anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, and anti-microbial properties.
Juniper berries might be able to offer a treatment for diabetes. Recent studies carried out on them have shown that they might possess anti-diabetic properties. The study, which was carried out using rats, showed that the consumption of juniper berries reduced the blood sugar levels and increased HDL cholesterol (The good kind of cholesterol) in the body.
Juniper berries have powerful antifungal and antimicrobial properties. They can effectively inhibit the bacteria responsible for the most serious kinds of infection in humans. They can also prove to be effective towards bacteria that can cause food poisoning and skin-related issues. Juniper berries also help to promote heart health by increasing the production of HDL cholesterol in the body.
Culinary Uses of Juniper Berries
What do you do with berries that are not even berries? They have a unique taste but could be very toxic if you pick the wrong species. All these questions and assumptions just bring about skepticism and give you excuses for not trying out juniper berries.
There are a lot of things you can use juniper berries for, let’s start by mentioning that they are one of the most exotic spices that you have out there. So, you can use them as a spice in your kitchen.
Juniper berries will blend right into a chicken dish or any game dish. Game dishes are dishes made up of game (meat from animals that were hunted down). More precautions need to be taken into account at this point. Pregnant women should try to consume juniper berries sparingly if they cannot do without them. It can cause uterine contractions and lead to complications with the pregnancy if such care is not taken.
If you are not pregnant or cooking for a pregnant woman, juniper berries can be paired with prunes and enjoyed with roast duck. This adaptation comes from a recipe in the Bon Appetit Magazine.
Juniper berries can also be stewed with venison in the fashion of the British and Navajo. Choucroute garnie is a dish that is popular in a French province right at the border of Germany. It is a hot sauerkraut dish that contains meat, and sausages and is very popular during the winter; juniper berries can also be used in the preparation of this dish.
Where are Juniper Berries Grown? How to Procure Them?
The edible species of juniper berries are Juniperus communis, Juniperus drupacea, Juniperus californica, Juniperus deppeana, and Juniperus phoenicea. Juniperus sabina falls under the category of inedible juniper berries and consumption is unadvisable.
Juniper trees can grow up to 20 feet in height, and the berries are usually about 4 to 12 millimeters in diameter. When young and unripe, the berries have a green color that morphs into a purple-black color as they ripen. The ripe juniper berries are used in the kitchen, while the unripe ones are usually used to flavor gin.
Juniper berries have been found in Egyptian tombs even though they haven’t been known to grow in Egypt. There are speculations that they were probably imported from Greece, as Greeks were fond of using juniper berries because they believed it increased their stamina as athletes in the Olympic games. Juniper berries grow throughout the entire northern hemisphere of the world.
Juniper berries can be planted in your garden and harvested from there, or harvested from the wild if you come across them. It is a great idea to always verify what species of juniper berries you have in your possession before you eat them.
What Spice is Similar to Juniper Berries?
Although it doesn’t seem like it, Rosemary serves to replace juniper berries in dishes or recipes that require their usage. Technically rosemary is a herb and not a spice but it would work just fine and even add medicinal properties to the mix.
Facts You Don’t Know About Juniper Berries
- Capers and Juniper berries are not the same. They bear a striking physical resemblance that makes them to be confused with each other frequently, but they come from different plants.
- It is said that Juniper berries can help fight off herpes virus flares and could serve as a treatment for gonorrhea and syphilis.
- Juniper berries can be used to treat Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) because they increase urine production.