What is Cubeb?

Native to Indonesia, particularly Java, cubeb came to Europe via India through Venetian trade with the Arabs, Javanese growers protected their monopoly of the trade by sterilizing the berries by scalding, thus ensuring that the vines were unable to be cultivated elsewhere. Its main use appears to have been in medicine, although its similarity to pepper made it a handy substitute.

Some people refer to it as cubeb pepper or cubeb berry. Cubeb is the small, red-brown irregular seed of a cardamom-like plant. The seeds are 3-4 mm (1/8”) in diameter and are numerously contained in a brown wrinkled, fig-shaped dried capsule about 30mm (1-1/4”) in length; they have a white kernel.
Bouquet: Pungent, slightly camphorous, with a touch of nutmed
Flavour: Peppery, aromatic and slightly bitter
Hotness Scale: 3

Plant Description

A tropical, climbing perennial vine with a round grey stem. The leaves are smooth and ovate with a pointed tip. The small white flowers are arranged in spikes that later develop into an aggregate of berries along the central axis. The fruits are brown.

Cooking with Cubeb

Cubeb is used in local Indonesian cookery, especially in Indonesian gulés (curries). It was once popular in Arab cooking. Although there are no specific uses for cubeb in modern Western cookery, it was popular in the Middle Ages and in moderation may still be used to effect both as a spice and a pepper substitute. Because of its aromatic qualities, cubeb would go well with meat, cheese and vegetable dishes. It may be substituted for pepper in spice mixtures such as quatre-épices for flavouring patés, sausages, gingerbreads and spiced biscuits. Another use for cubeb is in place of allspice, where it will give a more peppery flavour.

Preparation and Storage

As with other pepper, grind as necessary; ground pepper rapidly loses its aroma.

Health Benefits of Cubeb

Cubeb berry is considered a carminative, diuretic, expectorant, stimulant, and antiseptic. It has often been used in the treatment of gonorrhea. Cubeb Berry has been shown to be effective in easing the symptoms of chronic bronchitis. It is also used for digestive ailments and is effective in treating dysentery. Cubeb also has a local stimulating effect on the mucous membranes of the urinary and respiratory tracts. The herb has often been associated with the reproductive system and has been used to treat cystitis, leucorrhea, urethritis, and prostate infections. Its action in regards to genital problems have led many to believe that cubeb has aphrodisiacal properties and is often used in traditional love spells.

Other names

Java Pepper, Tailed Cubebs, Tailed Pepper
French: cubèbe
German: Kubebe
Italian: cubebe
Spanish: cubebe
Indonesian: tjabé djawa

Scientific Name

Piper cubeba
Fam Piperaceae

Recipes using Cubeb

Cubeb is included in our ras el hanout Moroccan spice mixture. Try ras el hanout in Tagine of Marrakesh Lamb with Preserved Lemon ..