Cubebs are the fruit of a tropical vine of the pepper family native to Java and other Indonesian islands. They were cultivated in Java from the 16th century and for 200 years cubebs were a popular substitute for black pepper in Europe.
By the 19th century they’d become nearly unobtainable. At the moment are scarcely known in the West, but there’s a revival of interest in them among spice aficionados.
About Taste: Cubebs have a warm, nice aroma, lightly peppery but also allspice-like, with a whiff of eucalypt and turpentine. When uncooked the flavor is strongly pinelike, pungent, and glowing with a lingering, bitter note, but cooking brings out the allspice taste.
Parts Used: Immature fruits.
Buying & Preserving: Cubebs can be bought from on-line spice stores. Although they preserve their aromatic properties well, they’re only used in small amounts. Stored whole in an airtight container, they’ll preserve for two years or more. Grind as needed.
Harvesting: Cubebs are harvested green and sun-dried to a deep brown-black.
Cubebs, also called Java pepper and tailed pepper, are used locally in Indonesian cuisine and to a lesser extent in Sri Lanka, where they’re also grown. They were traded from the seventh century by Arab merchants and formerly had a role in Arab cooking, one that persists mainly in their presence in the Moroccan spice mixture ras el hanout. Cubebs are best suited to meat and vegetable dishes. Cubebs are sometimes confused with the Ashanti pepper (P. guineense), an African species, and the Benin pepper (P. clusii)—these also have stems and are sometimes referred to as false cubebs. Cubebs are used to flavor North African lamb or mutton tagines, and as a substitute for allspice in long-cooked stews.
Whole fruits: Cubebs are furrowed and wrinkled, slightly bigger than peppercorns, and have a short, straight tail. Some berries contain a single seed, others are hollow.
Combines well with bay, cardamom, curry leaf, rosemary, cinnamon, sage, thyme, turmeric.