Spice: Cubeb

Cubeb 1

These little drumstick shaped things are the berries of a plant in the pepper family grown chiefly in Java and Sumatra. They are most commonly called Cubeb Berries (or just plain Cubeb), but are also known as Cubeb Pepper, Java Pepper, and (by reason of their stemmed appearance) Tail Pepper. They were a common culinary spice in medieval Europe but have largely disappeared from kitchens today. You won’t likely find them in your local supermarket, but you can find them on-line. They are worth giving a try, however, as even though a member of the Pepper family, they taste nothing like the variety in common use…

Cubeb 2

Here you can see a couple of tablespoons of the berries, some of which have a greenish tint to them. The smell is quite unique and is repeated in the flavour. There is something of the pungency of regular pepper to them but the dominant component is a rather curious combination of pine tar and turpentine. There is bitterness, and also a very faint hint of citrus occasionally. The only thing that I can think of that is somewhat reminiscent of the taste is the resonated Greek wine known as Retsina. That too has a singular pine-like taste and is rather an acquired taste. I rather think that, for many people, this particular spice will be too but, as I say, it is worth a try.

 

Cubeb 3

In its culinary heyday, Cubeb was used a seasoning for sauces and also for meat. Today, as I say it is rarely used but I was surprised to learn that it is sometimes flavours gin (although I don’t recall any I have had tasting anything remotely like eating the spice whole.

For a little appetizer today, I made some pork skewers after seasoning the meat with 1 part salt, 2 parts ground cubeb and 4 parts ground green peppercorn. I let it sit for an hour two before cooking and the result was very nice. As a final note, I came across a reference to a 14th century Polish marinade for meat made by infusing vinegar with garlic, cumin and cubeb. I haven’t seen an actual recipe as yet but, even if don’t find one, I may play around with the idea for a future post…

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