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Cubeb pepper (Javanese pepper, Piper cubeba)
Piperaceae (pepper family).
Indonesia. Most cubeb pepper is today harvested in Java and other Indonesian islands, but also from some African countries (Sierra Leone, Congo), cubeb pepper is exported.
Used plant part
Fruit. The stalked berries are a little bit larger than pepper corns, having a furrowed surface. Most berries are hollow. They are sold whole and should be crushed or ground before usage.
Pungent and bitter with a strong terpene aroma. The aroma is variously described dry-woody, warm-camphoraceous and spicey-peppery.
The dried fruits contain up to 10% essential oil composed of monoterpenes (sabinene 50%, carene, a-thujene, 1,4-cineol and 1,8-cineol) and sesquiterpenes (copaene, a- and ß-cubebene, d-cadinene, caryophyllene, garmacrene, cubebol). The monoterpenes dominate by mass, but the sesquiterpenes are important for the characteristic flavour.
The pungency is caused by the lignane cubebin (2%) and several related compounds: hinokinin, clusin, dihydroclusin, dihydrocubebin and more. Amides, the pungent principles in black and long pepper do not play a significant role. (Phytochemistry, 24 , 329, 1985).
In Europe, the bitter and hot cubebs have been a popular substitute for black pepper in the 16th and 17th century, but have fallen much in disfavour since then. Their fate resembles negro pepper, which is a spice of similar flavour and today largely unavailable on the European market. The main reason for both spices' sudden disappearance is probably their pronounced bitterness, which made them inferior to black pepper as soon as the latter got imported at reasonable price. Today, cubebs are mostly used in some North African states, most notably in Tunisia and Morocco.
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