Juniper berries are well known in Alpine European countries, not so much in the US. As a result, they are not necessarily the easiest spice to find in most grocery stores. They are a great spice if you want to follow classic recipes for game meats like venison and boar. If you do not see them in the spice aisle at your local store, consider one of the juniper berry alternatives below.
Your best bet: Gin
Gin is flavored with juniper berries, which means that it delivers the same piney flavor that you want from juniper berries. It does this in much the same way that vanilla extract offers the flavor of vanilla beans. When choosing a gin to replace juniper berries, it is a good idea to opt for one of the established brands like Tanqueray or Beefeater to ensure that you are getting only the flavor of juniper berries. Some gin manufacturers try to set themselves apart by adding other flavors to their product.
When using gin, it is important to note that cooking will get rid of most of the alcohol; therefore, there is no need to be concerned about gin giving your cooked dishes a boozy taste. Once the alcohol has evaporated, all that will be left is the flavor of juniper.
Use one teaspoon of gin for every 2 berries in your recipe. Note that this can affect how much liquid there is in your recipe, so adjust the proportions of other liquids accordingly.
A decent second choice: Rosemary
Rosemary is a Mediterranean herb and a member of the mint family, but has leaves similar to pine needles. It is highly fragrant and its fragrance is similar enough to that of juniper that it can make an excellent substitute. It has the pine-like notes accompanied by notes of mint. Like juniper, rosemary’s flavor and aroma are both strong enough to pair well with stronger flavored meats like venison and boar. It is also pungent in both fresh and dried forms.
Use a medium-sized sprig of rosemary for each teaspoon of crushed juniper berries that your recipe requires. Keep in mind that rosemary is one of those herbs that grows stronger the longer the dish cooks.
In a pinch: Caraway seeds
Caraway seeds are the traditional replacement for juniper berries in sauerkraut and other cabbage dishes. These seeds come from a plant in the Apiaceae family to which other spices like anise seeds and cumin also belong. Caraway seeds have a licorice flavor that can make them an excellent stand-in for juniper berries and the pine flavor that they provide. Caraway seeds have the same effect of cutting through the fattiness and strong flavors of game meats the way that juniper berries and rosemary do. Along with those benefits, caraway seeds do a good job of pairing with the set of spices that typically shows up in recipes requiring juniper berries. Like juniper berries, caraway seeds are used for flavoring spirits. Iceland’s aquavit is flavored primarily with caraway seeds.
Use crushed caraway seeds as a 1:1 substitute for crushed juniper berries.
Cardamom is used primarily in savory Indian cuisine and in some European desserts. It has a flavor that is reminiscent of pine while also being woodsy and can serve as an excellent substitute for juniper berries.
Bay leaves are another traditional juniper berry alternative and come from laurel trees. Bay leaves have an astringent flavor that can work well in place of the juniper berry pine flavor in many dishes.