Barely known in the west, Cubeb has experienced a recent resurgence with spice aficionados as a delightful exotic spice. Also known as Cubeb Berries, tailed pepper, tailed Cubebs and Java Pepper, Cubeb is native to the Spice Islands and is now harvested primarily in Indonesia.
Starting in the 16th century and for the following 200 years Cubeb were a substitute for pepper throughout Europe although they never became as popular as white or black peppercorns. The berries, or fruit, are picked before they are ripe and then dried. When harvested the stalk remains attached hence the frequent reference to “tailed pepper”.
Sophisticated home and professional chefs find Cubebs possess a spectacular flavor intensity and use them for strategic flavoring as they would allspice or cloves. Cubebs have a pleasant aroma that is pungent, lightly peppery with hints of allspice. The flavor is aromatic, pungent with lingering bitter undertones. It is often described as a cross between allspice and pepper. Cubeb berries do possess a bit of heat and are about a 3 on the heat scale of 10.
The stalked berries appear wrinkled and furrowed and they are a little larger than peppercorns. Cubeb berries are usually hollow, but you may sometimes find them containing a single white seed.
Used in Indonesian curries, Cubeb is sometimes found as an ingredient in the Moroccan spice blend Ras el Hanout. Works best in meat and vegetable dishes and is still used in some African tagines. Cubeb is an ideal secret ingredient when used as a pepper substitute in spiced biscuits, gingerbreads and sausages.
Just as you would treat pepper you should only grind as much as necessary as the volatile oils quickly lose their aroma and flavor when ground.
Cubeb works well in combination with bay, cardamom, cinnamon, rosemary, sage, thyme and turmeric.
If you are looking for other exotic spices you may also be interested in Long Pepper, Black Cardamom, Black Mustard Seeds, Amchur Powder and Ajwain Seeds.