Juniper berries are among the few spices that come from colder parts of the world and are not berries at all. They are actually conifers, like pine cones. They are very tightly clenched, which makes them look like berries.
Juniper berries have been found in ancient Egyptian tombs, even though they do not grow in Egypt. Historians believe that they may have been imported from Greece as there are records of the Greeks at the time using them in medicine and as a spice. Ancient Greeks believed that the berries increased the stamina of athletes and used them during Olympic events. The Ancient Romans also used the berries. For the Romans, it served as an alternative to black pepper from India or was combined with black pepper to dilute it. According to Pliny the Elder, juniper berries took on the pungency of black pepper when mixed with it.
Juniper berries were used as protection from the bubonic plague in Europe. Those who used them kept a few of the berries in their mouths; this was to create a protective aura. A tea made with the berries was also used as a disinfectant for surgeon’s tools.
Juniper berries flavor profile
The flavor of juniper berries is most commonly associated with pine. It is sharp with a hint of bitterness and can be described as resinous with mild citrus notes.
Health benefits of juniper berries
Juniper berries offer multiple health-enhancing qualities that include:
- Antibacterial benefits: Juniper berries have significant antibacterial benefits due to components in their essential oils. Juniper berry essential oil has been shown to be effective against multiple bacteria strains, including bacteria that cause food poisoning as well as pathogens from both plants and animals.
- Antioxidants: Juniper berries contain phytochemicals with antioxidant effects. These phytochemicals include beta-carotene and tannins, which help to control the damage to cells from free radicals. The result is that these phytochemicals can help to prevent or slow the development of serious diseases.
- Vitamins and minerals: Juniper berries are a rich source of vitamin C as well as a variety of minerals including copper, chromium, and iron. Copper is important for collagen development and for the absorption of iron. Your body needs chromium to help with the blood sugar regulation process and iron helps to facilitate the transportation of oxygen by your red blood cells.
Juniper berries can have health benefits such as:
- It works as a diuretic: Juniper berries contain compounds that cause the kidneys to eliminate waste products from the body, including fluids and bacteria. This can be beneficial for individuals suffering from urinary tract infections and kidney disease.
- It improves digestion: Juniper berries are considered digestive aids in that they can cause saliva and digestive enzymes to be secreted. By increasing the fluids that break food down, juniper berries help to improve your digestion.
Common uses of juniper berries
Juniper berries are an important spice in several European food cultures. They are especially widely used in Alpine countries where the berries are abundant, despite the fact that the highest quality berries come from the southern part of the continent. Juniper berries are commonly used to make sauerkraut or fried with cubes of ham. In addition, it is thought to be an excellent complement for wild game like venison, boar, and rabbit. This spice and pairs well with other herbs and spices like marjoram, black pepper, and laurel berries. Juniper is also used to flavor gin.
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