Juniper berries are used in many of the gins available today. But where do they come from and why are they used in gin? Here we take a look at where they come from, how they are used, how they are harvested, the different types, and their history.
There are many different types of gin, each with its own unique flavor profile. Some are made with a higher or lower ABV, others are made with grain while some are made with grapes. However, despite these differences, we all have one commonality: juniper berries. This aromatic berry is what gives gin its characteristic flavor and is used in almost all gin recipes.
What is a juniper?
Feel a little stressed? Maybe you should go chop down some juniper. Juniper trees live in forests in cold climates such as the Pacific Northwest, Canada, and Northern Europe. Juniper berries can be used to make gin and are also used in flavoring beer. Juniper is a shrub that grows between five and fifteen meters tall, and its bark is gray, brown, or red-brown in color. Now you can go chop down some juniper trees!
Juniper is a botanical that’s used in gin. It’s misleading to call juniper a berry – it’s actually a seed cone with lots of flesh that makes it look a lot like fruit. A member of the Cupressaceae family, juniper trees or shrubs take three or four years to grow to maturity, then two or three more years before the berries are ready to be harvested.
The juniper plant is a prolific producer of berries, with berries in every stage of ripeness. To ensure a steady supply of berries, the plant must be harvested a few times a year.
Juniper is the perfect addition to any cocktail for a touch of piney and resinous flavor with a hint of citrus.
In addition to juniper, six other unique botanicals are used in Gin for a tantalizing freshness.
Where is juniper from?
While the terms, “juniper berries” and “juniper berry”, are often used interchangeably, they are two very different plants. Juniper berries are, in fact, the fruit of the Juniperus communis tree. In some cases, they are also known as “juniper ace berries.” These berries are commonly found in the central, southern, and eastern parts of North America. Specifically, the berries can be found in the Colorado, Utah, and New Mexico areas.
They are also common in the southern and western parts of Canada, in the northern areas of Mexico, and in the northern parts of the United Kingdom.
Today, gin producers source their juniper from one of the following countries:
This flavorful berry is enjoyed by many in the Balkans, where over 700 tons are harvested annually. Bosnian and Albanian gins are extremely popular, but some claim that the quality and taste of Italian gin is better. As the global demand for juniper berry continues to rise, over 2,000 tons of this berry are used annually.
With the modern demand for its use, nearly 35 percent of these berry products are purchased by the United States. Approximately 75 percent of Italian gin is used in Europe, with the rest being consumed in Asia and Africa.
Their method is time-consuming: pickers will place a basket or tarp under a branch, whack it with a stick, and try to dislodge only the ripe dark blueberries while leaving younger green fruit alone.
Once picked and collected, the juniper is spread out in an open, cool place to dry. Too much sun or heat would cause them to lose their flavourful essential oils and they could become moldy if stored in the damp.
History of juniper
Juniper has been used for centuries for a variety of purposes. The berries were used as a food source, and the branches were burned as incense. Juniper was also used in traditional medicine to treat a variety of conditions. The Greeks and Romans grew it to create oils and incense. Juniper was also used in the making of perfumes, wood for matches, cedar oil for furniture polishes, flavorings for cakes and liqueurs, and fuel for cooking stoves and ovens.
In Ancient Egypt, the leaves were used as incense and the berries were burnt for their aroma. The juniper was also used to stop a person’s anger and restore their peace of mind. Juniper was also used to keep bad dreams away. In Sweden, it was mixed with honey and used to treat syphilis.
The tea was made from a combination of branches and leaves. It was used as a remedy for stomach problems, ulcers, and colic. The tea was used to treat indigestion, cramps, and gas. The Romans made a clear cordial of the berries and used them to treat women with dysentery. Juniper was also used to treat eye problems, headaches, eczema, rheumatism, and skin infections. The ancient Greeks used it as a hair wash and to reduce inflammation in the chest.
The herbalist and physician Dioscorides believed the juniper was a cure for dropsy. The Arabs used it to keep flies away. Juniper was used as a salad garnish, a condiment for meat and fish, as a flavoring for mustard, and as a seasoning for vegetables. The oil was used as a base for perfumes and body lotions. In modern medicine, juniper is used as an astringent, stimulant, anti-inflammatory, and vulnerable.
It is used to treat bronchitis, dysentery, and diarrhea. The oil was also used to treat measles, rheumatism, and skin problems. Juniper berries contain alpha-pinene, beta-pinene, myrcene, alpha-phellandrene, trans-beta-caryophyllene, and cadinene. Juniper oils can be found in many shampoos, cosmetics, soap, perfumes, paints, and liniments.
Juniper bushes are one of the first trees to grow in an area and are therefore important to be a part of the ecosystem. Juniper bushes are good trees to feed deer, rabbits, squirrels, and birds such as the robin. The berries were important to Native Americans and they used them to attract birds and they would even take up a collection of juniper berries and store them in a basket at their home as a winter supply of food.
The berries are a good snack for many birds and mammals as well as beavers, bears, and foxes. The berries are known to be toxic to dogs and cats. There are also many poisonous trees that can be found in the area, such as the tulip tree, which is toxic if ingested by man or animal.
The juniper berry has a long history in English distilling, with recipes appearing as early as 1639. However, it was not until the 1700s that gin truly gained popularity. This was a time when unlicensed manufacture was legal, and crude, toxic gin replaced beer as the tipple of choice. This led to gin gaining the nickname ‘Mother’s Ruin’.
Juniper in Gin Production
Juniper is the star of the show in London dry gin, but some gins take this flavor to new heights, with pine and cedar notes that are perfect for mixing a perfect gin and tonic.
The juniper berry is the main ingredient in gin, and it comes from a small, hardy tree that can live for up to two hundred years.
Juniper berries can be found as either whole berries, crushed berries, or cut berries. They can also be purchased as a powder, which is more commonly used in baking and food products.
Also Read: Snack For Gin
Facts about Juniper
- The juniper tree has been used for centuries in gin production, but it’s also been a culinary ingredient for just as long.
- The sweet, resinous flavor of juniper berries can elevate a range of rich, gamey meats, from duck to venison to pheasant.
- Juniper pairs well with other earthy flavors, such as mushrooms, root vegetables, and truffles.
- The berries also pair well with rich, buttery flavors, such as foie gras and truffle oil.
- The berries can be dried and used later in winter, or heated with a little water and frozen in ice-cube trays to make instant summer berry sauce.
- As well as the berries, the leaves and bark are also edible, and traditionally used to make a tonic to relieve stomach upsets, as well as a tea for colds and flu.
- The berries are a great source of vitamin C and antioxidants and have been used for centuries for their medicinal properties.
- Junipers are used for garnish of gin.