Cubeb, or tailed, pepper has been traded from Java around the world since at least the 7th Century AD. When Arab merchants brought the spice to Europe in the Middle Ages, it was one of the most popular but was slowly displaced by black and white pepper. Nowadays, cubeb pepper is mostly found as a botanical in Bombay Sapphire gin rather than in our food.
With a strong, complex aroma often compared to allspice, it’s a popular addition to curries in its native Indonesia, and in the Moroccan spice blend ras-el-hanout that is used in tagines, spice rubs for meat and even sweet pastries. Medicinally, it’s been an aphrodisiac (like almost all spices, it seems) and smoked to treat asthma and hayfever up until the early 20th Century. Unlike its relative the black pepper, when raw, cubeb pepper has a bitter taste and milder heat – perhaps suggesting why it fell out of favour in European cuisines. Cooking is required to mellow the bitterness and release the aromatic oils that go just as well in rich curries and stews as they do in sweet cakes and pastries.
A little tricky to source without looking online, if you can get hold of some it’s definitely worth grinding some up and adding to curries for some extra fragrance. Alternatively, make use of cubeb pepper’s sweeter side and bake it into some zingy citrusy biscuits instead.