Juniper is the ONLY botanical which HAS to be in ALL Gins.
Juniper is to Gin what barrels are to whisky and what grapes are to wine.
In fact – Juniper is so important to Gin that it is required by LAW to be used in gin production, and in South African law it is required that the flavor of Juniper needs to be present for your drink to be called a gin!
Even the name of Gin itself is derived from the Dutch word jenever – which means juniper.
So what is Juniper?
Juniper Berries are actually the cones of the Juniper bush – generally the Juniperus communis plant.
Juniper berry (cones) – Artwork courtesy Magda van Lille
Juniper shrubs vary in size and shape, are evergreen and are usually low spreading bush type plants. There are between 50-67 species of juniper and they are found in most countries in the Northern hemisphere – so this is the one Gin ingredient that is virtually impossible to find locally in South Africa.
Juniper berries are primarily used dried as opposed to fresh in gin production, but their flavour and odour is at their strongest immediately after harvest and declines during the drying process and subsequent storage.
What flavours does Juniper provide in Gin?
The main flavor of juniper is called pinene – literally “scent of pine”.
The other flavor compounds in juniper are Sabinene (gives the spiciness to black pepper), Lemonene (the oil commonly found in citrus peels), Farnesene(gives the characteristic green apple smell) and Borneol (gives a woody camphor like smell – also used in perfumes).
Depending on which other botanicals are used in a Gin, the different flavor compounds in juniper berries can become more or less pronounced.
Health benefits of juniper berries
Juniper berries offer multiple health-enhancing qualities
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 – Artwork Courtesy Magda van Lille
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.
Juniper berries in Gin
As mentioned – all Gins have to contain juniper berries, and the South African legal definition for gin also requires that the juniper taste needs to be clearly discernible in a gin.
The amounts of juniper in gin differs – but it is arguable that at least 5-15g of juniper per liter of gin is needed for the juniper flavour to come through in a gin.
As much as 50% of the botanicals in Incendo Distillery’s Magalies Classic Gin are Juniper berries.