Historically, a cheaper alternative to black pepper (see Peppercorn). As the price of black pepper dropped, however, the use of cubeb diminished to the point that, until recently, it hadn’t been seen much in the West. Cubebs, which are related to peppercorns, are the berries of a tropical vine found on various Indonesian islands, particularly Java—hence its alternate name, Java pepper. They’re also called tailed peppers because the dark brown dried berries, which are slightly bigger than peppercorns, have a short tail—part of the vine that’s left attached. Cubebs are still used in Indonesian cooking and some Middle Eastern spice mixtures, and they’re starting to generate renewed curiosity in the West because of their flavor, which is somewhat hotter than standard black pepper and augmented with hints of allspice and cloves. They are available through Internet spice vendors. See also Spices; Seasoning Suggestions.
© 1990 All rights reserved. Published by Barron's.