Mostly grown in Java and Sumatra, cubeb pepper (Piper cubeba) is sometimes known as Java pepper or tailed pepper. The fruit is gathered before it is fully ripe and then it is carefully dried. The dried berries look similar to black pepper but the stalks (or tails) are still attached (which can clearly be seen in our image). Once dried, the fruit is wrinkled and can range in colour from greyish-brown to black. These have an aromatic and pleasant smell while the taste is pungent, acrid, and slightly bitter.
Cubeb pepper was introduced into Europe by Arab traders who acquired it in India. It was one of the most valuable spices in the medieval period, ground and used as a seasoning for meat or sauces. The Arab traders also introduced it to Africa and it can be found today in Moroccan cuisine. It was banned in Portugal around 1640 as part of a bid to promote black pepper instead. It fell out of favour in Europe but enjoyed a brief resurgence in the 19th century as a medicine. However, it continued to be used as a flavouring agent for gin and in cigarettes.
With the global spread of different cuisines, cubeb pepper is now enjoying a renaissance as an ingredient in a variety of Arabic, Asian, Chinese, Indian, Indonesian, and Moroccan recipes, where it is often the pepper of choice.
Cubeb pepper is typically used in soups and stews, it can be added as a flavouring to cooked vegetables and meat, and can even be used in baking to add a particular kick to biscuits and breads.