I’ve personally taste-tested a variety of juniper berry substitutes to find the best one for every cooking occasion.
Whether you’re on the hunt for the closest flavor match, in need of a last-minute pantry substitute, or seeking an alternative tailored to your specific dietary requirements, rest assured that I’ve got you covered.
Gin is an easily accessible substitute for juniper berries if you don’t mind cooking with alcohol. And juniper extract works great if you can find a bottle. Pantry staples like rosemary, bay leaves, or black pepper will get the job done if you need something quickly.
Ready? Let’s jump right in.
I made small batches of juniper gravy and served them with veal medallions to test different juniper berry substitutes.
Despite the name, juniper berries aren’t actually fruits – instead, they’re tiny cones from the juniper bush.
They have a slightly piney, resinous flavor with subtle sweet citrus and pepper notes. They’re more commonly used in German cuisine.
They weren’t the easiest ingredient, but you can also forage them if you have juniper bush growing around. But it’s not recommended to gather them if you aren’t a foraging pro – you might end up collecting poisonous berries!
Here are the substitutes I tested and the verdicts:
|Gin||Replace 6 juniper berries with 1 tbsp of gin.||10/10|
|Juniper extract||Replace 6 juniper berries with 1 tsp juniper extract.||10/10|
|Rosemary + lemon juice||Replace 6 juniper berries with 1 tbsp of dried rosemary + a spritz of lemon juice||9/10|
|Bay leaves||Replace 6 juniper berries with equal amount of bay leaves.||9/10|
|Caraway seeds||Replace 6 juniper berries with 1 tbsp of caraway seeds.1:1 ratio||8/10|
|Black pepper||Replace in a 1:1 ratio with freshly ground black pepper||8/10|
|Cardamom (Green/Black)||Replace in a 1:1 ratio||8/10|
Common uses of juniper berries
Here are some popular ways to use juniper berries and the best substitutes for those situations:
- For sauerbraten: Try using gin, juniper extract, or rosemary. Bay leaves also work, but you meed to fish them out after cooking.
- For gravies and sauces: Try using juniper extract, rosemary, bay leaves, or caraway seeds. You can also use gin, but only a small amount.
- For pickling and marinades (gamey meat): Try using gin, juniper extract, bay leaves, or caraway seeds.
- As herbal tea: Try using rosemary or pine needles.
Got gin in your kitchen’s mini bar?
You’re in luck — it’s basically vodka flavored with juniper berries, so it’ll give you similar flavor notes.
The only catch is you’re using alcohol, so it won’t work when you want a pot of juniper berry tea.
But in my gravy, the alcohol also left a warm note and give it a nicely complex flavor. You only need a small amount to replace juniper berries so the ‘alcohol’ taste disappeared after a few minutes of cooking.
How to substitute: replace 6 juniper berries with 1 tbsp of gin.
This little gem delivers the exact same flavor as fresh juniper berries, making it a great alternative.
Just a few drops instantly elevated my gravy!
It’s also great for adding a unique twist to desserts, baked goods and even for whipping up some delightful cocktails or mocktails.
I thought I would have trouble looking for a bottle, but I found one at my local Walmart (admittedly it’s not the cheapest ingredient though).
How to substitute: replace 6 juniper berries with 1 tsp juniper extract.
This substitute is something you may already have in your cupboard or fridge.
While rosemary lacks the citrus undertone that juniper berries have, it’s an easy fix – add a spritz of lemon juice to make up for it.
You can use fresh rosemary, but I highly recommend its dried version.
It has a more concentrated flavor and can easily withstand long cooking periods.
Unless you want to brew tea, then use fresh springs (and add some ginger – it’s delicious).
How to substitute: replace 6 juniper berries with 1 tbsp of dried rosemary + a spritz of lemon juice
I never paid much attention to bay leaves, because they’re normally considered optional in most recipes.
But they bring a surprisingly eucalyptus-like flavor with hints of pine (just like juniper berries) that will subtly elevate your dish.
You can get fresh and dried bay leaves on the market, but again I recommend going with the dried ones.
They have just the right amount of flavor.
Pssst… remember to always remove the dried bay leaves before serving your dish.
How to substitute: replace 6 juniper berries with equal amount of bay leaves.
Caraway seeds boast a peppery bite and a hint of citrus reminiscent of juniper berries.
These seeds are typically found in their whole form, but you can grind them up to avoid adding texture to your dish.
Want to get even closer to the flavor of juniper berries? Try mixing these seeds with crushed bay leaves. It’s a match made in heaven!
How to substitute: Replace 6 juniper berries with 1 tbsp of caraway seeds.
Now here’s a pantry staple that doesn’t need any introduction. Black pepper!
Black pepper has piney, citrusy notes and a hint of sweetness, making it a decent stand-in for juniper berries.
I used whole peppercorns and cracked them fresh.
And it worked like a charm! The flavor the freshly cracked pepper added was subtle but was much better than the peppery heat from the pre-ground version.
How to substitute: replace 6 juniper berries with 1/2 tbsp of freshly ground black pepper
This spice possesses a piney, fruity, and almost menthol-like flavor, bringing a unique twist to your dishes as a substitute for juniper berries.
Green cardamom is more common and works well with savory or sweet dishes.
Plus, it stands up well to the intense flavors of gamey meat like venison and veal.
But if you want to switch up your flavors, you can go with black cardamom – it has added smokey notes.
Pssst… the downside with this substitute? It’s pretty pricey, so I suggest saving it for special occasions!
How to substitute: replace 6 juniper berries with 1/2 tbsp of ground cardamom.
Other substitutes to consider
The suggestions listed above are my top picks as substitutes for juniper berries, but here are other options you can consider using:
- Clove – this spice doesn’t taste anything like juniper berries, but its sweet, spicy character pairs exceptionally well with game meats like venison.
- Pine needles – these are only a substitute for juniper berries in tea-making. They have a pronounced resinous note that closely resembles juniper berries.
- Pickling spice – some brands include juniper berries in their mix. This can be a handy way to bring that subtle piney note to your dishes. But pickling spice also brings sweet and spicy flavors, so you might need to tweak other seasonings in your dish.
- Grains of paradise – may not be an exact match for juniper berries, but they bring a woody, peppery flavor with a hint of heat. These unique flavors make them an excellent addition to spice rubs, and they complement gamey meats just as well as juniper berries.
Substitutes to avoid
Not everything on the internet is true – case in point, these other suggestions for juniper berries substitutes I found aren’t very good!
- Hickory spice – this doesn’t match the piney, slightly citrusy flavor profile of juniper berries. Plus, it has a distinct savory flavor that I felt overpowered all the other flavors in m dish.
- Cranberries/lingonberries – unlike juniper berries, these are actual fruits known for their tartness and sweetness. They will significantly alter your dish’s flavor and texture.
11 Best Juniper Berries Substitutes + 2 To Avoid
- 1 tbsp gin
- 1 tsp juniper extract
- 1 tbsp dried rosemary
- 6 bay leaves
- 1 tbsp ground caraway seeds
- ½ tbsp freshly cracked black pepper
- ½ tbsp ground cardamom
- Cook your meal according to the recipe.
- Add your chosen juniper berries substitute at the appropriate cooking time.
- Mix until thoroughly combined and continue with the recipe.