Juniper berries are a part of the cone of a Juniper species of tree. They are used for cooking, alternative medicine and the making of gin. Juniper berries are not really berries; they are the reproductive part of the cone and are blue when fully ripe. Many recipes call for juniper berries as one of the ingredients, but many cooks do not have them stocked on the pantry shelf. You can substitute other herbs and spices and even gin for the juniper berries if they are not available.
In any recipe calling for juniper berries, substitute 1 tsp of gin for every two berries. You do not have to use high quality and expensive gin for this purpose--even the least expensive gin will give the flavour of the berries to the recipe. After you taste the dish prepared this way, you can determine whether you need more or less gin in the recipe the next time you make the dish. The alcohol in the gin will evaporate as the dish cooks, leaving behind only the flavour.
Herbs and Spices
Try fresh rosemary sprigs instead of juniper berries. While the taste is a bit different, it is similar enough to use as a substitution. Figure on one sprig for every four berries. A single, crushed bay leaf will serve as a substitute for six juniper berries in most recipes. Equal parts of powdered bay leaf and caraway seeds can also be used as a substitution, using 1 tsp of the herb mix for every two berries called for in the recipe.
While juniper berries do add a unique taste to many dishes, the use of them is not critical to any dish. If you do not have the berries and do not have an acceptable substitution, leave them out. Add additional onion, garlic or other herbs and spices to make up for the loss of flavour.
Buying Juniper Berries
Some grocery stores carry small bottles of dried juniper berries in the spice section. They can also be found in speciality cooking stores and online at various retailers. Since they are speciality items, expect to pay more for the jar than you might pay for simple herbs and spices such as pepper, oregano or garlic.