What is Juniper?
With a distinctive fresh flavour, Juniper has remained a favourite flavouring in the British Isles. Britain’s favourite drink Gin is primarily flavoured with Juniper but it’s a lot more than just a botanical for spirits!
What does Juniper taste like?
The berries of the Juniper tree convey a strong piney character with citric notes. Peppery warmth rounds out the flavour, balancing the fruity lighter notes.
What is Juniper used for?
The biggest use for Juniper is in the production of one of Britain’s favourite drinks, Gin! Gin itself is named after the Dutch word for Juniper, jenever. First the berries are fermented to produce a wine which is then distilled, other botanicals can be added to create a huge range of flavours and experiences.
As for food, Juniper berries are often added to strong and fatty dishes as it freshens and cuts through many of the pungent gamey notes. Examples include the hearty stews of the Scottish highlands where Juniper has been used for centuries.
Want to try out this unorthodox spice? Here are some recipes to give you some inspiration!
- Rhubarb and Juniper Jam
Name and Origins
Juniper is an evergreen conifer which can be very diverse in structure. Some grow as trees up to 15m in height, whereas others flatten across the ground as prostrate shrubs. It is a hardy plant which can grow in acidic or basic soils and can withstand a diverse array of environments. It is thought that Juniper was one of the first trees to recolonise the UK following the ice age.
Juniper are coniferous trees in the Cypress family which produce purple berries. These berries are dried and used as a delicious and powerful seasoning. The origins of the name Juniper are hard to discern, Juniper comes from the Latin Iuniperus which is thought to have derived from the Latin word Iuncus meaning “reed” although this is disputed.
Juniper has historically been an important export for Scotland. In the 1700’s it was used in everything from stew to jellies acting as a multipurpose seasoning which helped mellow many of the strong gamey flavours of the available meat. The most commonly used culinary variety of Juniper is Juniperus communis, meaning common Juniper, other species used in cooking include Syrian Juniper, Californian Juniper and Alligator Juniper. The indigenous peoples of the Navajo tribe historically used Juniper as a remedy for diabetes as well as a source of calcium.
What happened to Britain’s Juniper forests?
Juniper is native to a very large range across the Northern Hemisphere, with populations ranging from Spain to Japan and Canada too. The UK too used to be home to a great number of Juniper trees and shrubs however due to poor management and overharvesting these once native plants have become increasingly rare with many populations becoming extinct. With Gin becoming ever more popular it would be a great boon to the industry, and the stability of our natural ecosystem, to be able to reintroduce Juniper trees to the UK. This would enable us to cut carbon costs while revitalising the British countryside. Charity Plant Life are working on introducing wild juniper shrubs across the southern UK.
Juniper berries are high in antioxidants which help reduce the risk of a number of diseases. Throughout history Juniper has been used as a herbal remedy, it is believed to have been able to treat symptoms affecting the digestive system as well as urinary tract issues and parasitic infections.
Here at Hill & Vale we use Juniper berries in our flavourful Mulled Cider blend, why not treat yourself to a festive warming treat?