A bowl of whole dried barberries

The barberry is a berry that is harvested from the Berberis vulgaris tree. The plant has a history of spreading rust disease in wheat crops and some countries prohibit importing it. Barberries are less used in cooking than many other spices due to their scarcity. But they are an excellent spice for adding a burst of flavor to any dish, and they aren’t overpowered by other dominant ingredients in a dish.


Barberries have a sharp tangy flavor and a fruity aroma that best compares to a tamarind. Before lemons arrived in Europe, the barberry was used in the same way that lemon zest is used today. Its texture is similar to a cranberry or raisin. The dried berries can be rehydrated prior to cooking which helps release the flavors and reduce the sour sharpness.

Pairs with


  • beef
  • lamb
  • venison
  • rabbit
  • chicken
  • burgers


  • salads
  • onions
  • zucchini
  • pumpkin
  • sweet potato
  • carrots


  • allspice
  • ginger
  • chili
  • cardamom
  • turmeric
  • saffron

Culinary uses

The barberry is revered for its pectin levels, which are much higher than most other fruits. This makes them an excellent addition to jams and preserves to help with setting. Middle Eastern cuisine uses the spice in rice pilaf and couscous dishes; it also used to flavor drinks and to give apple pie an extra tangy taste.

Barberries make a useful addition to spice rubs for meat such as lamb and beef. They can also be used in the same way that cranberries are used in cooking, to add exciting bursts of taste and a decorative element to savory and sweet meals.

How much? Use 1 teaspoon for baked goods, rice, and vegetables. For every one pound of meat, use 1-2 teaspoons.


If you need a substitute for barberries then cranberries or currants provide a similar texture and visual element to a dish. These alternatives can also be soaked in lemon or yuzu juice to increase the tartness which you’d normally get from barberries.


Store barberries in an airtight container in the freezer for up to 12 months before they lose their color and flavor.

Quick Facts

Flavor compoundAnisaldehyde, citric acid, hexanal, linalool, malic acid, nonanal
Botanical nameBerberis vulgaris
Parts usedBerries
Other namesBerberry, sowberry, holy thorn, jaundice berry
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