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Cubeb pepper (Piper cubeba L.)


pharmaceuticalFructus Cubebae
Kabaaba, Kababah
BelarusianЯванскі перац
Iavanski perac
Bengaliকবাব চিনি
荜芨 [bì jī], 畢澄茄 [bì chéng qié]
Bi ji, Bi cheng qie
CzechCubéba, Pepř cubéba, Pepř cubébový
DutchCubebe, Cubebepeper, Staartpeper, Steelpeper
EnglishJawa peppercorn, Jawanese pepper, Tailed pepper
Farsiکبابه, کُبابه
Kubabah, Kubabah
FrenchPoivre de Java, Cubèbe, Poivre à queue
GermanKubebenpfeffer, Jawanischer Pfeffer, Schwanzpfeffer, Stielpfeffer
Hindiकाबाब चीनी
HungarianJávai bors, Kubéba bors
IndonesianCabé jawa, Kamukus
Japaneseクベバ, クベブ
Kubeba, Kubebu
Korean자바 후추, 쿠베프, 큐베브, 필징가
Chaba huchu, Jaba huchu, Kubepu, Kyubebu, Pilchingga
LithuanianKubebos pipirai
MacedonianЦрниот пипер
Crniot piper
MalayChabai ekur, Kemukus, Lada berekur
Nepaliकबाब चीनी, गन्ध मरिच
Kabab chini, Gandha maric
Oriyaକବାବ୍ଚିନ, କବାବ ଚିନି
Kababchin, Kabab chini
PolishPieprz kubeba
RomanianPiper de Cubebe
RussianДикий перец, Кубеба, Яванский перец, Перец кубебе
Dikij perets, Kubeba, Yavanskij perets, Perets kubebe
SerbianБибер крупан, Бибер крупни
Biber krupan, Biber krupni
SlovakKubéba, Piepor kubébový
SlovenianPoper kubeba
Tamilசீனமிளகு, வால்மிளகு
Chinamilagu, Sinamilagu, Valmilagu
Prik hang
TurkishHint biberi tohomu, Java biberi, Kübabe, Kebabe†, Kebabiye biber, Kuyruklu biber
Urduکباب چینی
Kabab chini
VietnameseTiêu thất
Tieu that
Synonyms for ashanti pepper (Piper guineense Schumach. et Thonn.; Piper clusii Schumach. et Thonn.)

DagbaniNazu nyuu
EnglishFalse cubeb pepper
EstonianAafrika pipar
EweKale, Kukuabe
FrenchPoivre du Kissi
Ga-DangmeGbowie, Ajito-gbowie, Gbowisi, Jat-gbowie
GermanFalscher Kubebenpfeffer, Aschantipfeffer
HungarianAshanti bors;
PolishPieprz aschanti
PortuguesePimenta-de-rabo, Pimenta-de-são-tomé Jiefo
RussianАфриканский перец, Гвинейский перец
Afrikanskij perets, Gvinejskij perets
TwiSoro wisa, Ajito-gbowie, Gbowisi, Jat-gbowie
Piper clusii/guineense: Ripe ashanti pepper infrutescence
Ripe African cubeb pepper (ashanti pepper)

© Josh Weber

Piper cubeba: Cubeb peppercorns
Cubeb peppercorns
Piper guineense/clusii: Ashanti pepper
Ashanti pepper
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.

Plant family

Piperaceae (pepper family).

Sensory quality

Pungent and bitter with a strong terpene aroma. The aroma is variously described dry–woody, warm–camphora­ceous and spicy–peppery, sometimes also compared with allspice though I do not agree.

Main constituents

The dried fruits contain up to 10% essential oil composed of monoterpenes (sabinene 50%, carene, α-thujene, 1,4-cineol and 1,8-cineol) and sesquiterpenes (copaene, α- and β-cubebene, δ-cadinene, caryophyllene, germacrene, 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, which are the pungent principles in black and long pepper, do not play a significant rôle in cubeb pepper. (Phytochemistry, 24, 329, 1985).

To my knowledge, the source of the bitter taste has not yet been identified.

Piper cubeba: Cubeb pepper bush
Sterile cubeb pepper shrub (botanical identity uncertain)
Piper cubeba: Cubeb pepper inflorescence
Cubeb pepper inflorescence (botanical identity uncertain)

In the fresh leaves of P. guineense, mostly phenyl­propanoids (dillapiole, furthermore myristicin, elemicin) and minor amounts of terpenes (α-phellandrene) were found. (Phytochemistry, 49, 2019, 1998).


Indonesia. Most cubeb pepper is today harvested in Jawa and other Indonesian islands, but also from some African countries (Sierra Leone, Congo), cubeb pepper is exported.

The so-called false cubeb pepper stems from the Central African species Piper guineense (syn. P. clusii). Its fruits, also known as ashanti pepper, indeed strongly resemble cubeb berries, but are prolate-elliptically shaped, smaller, smoother in surface and somewhat reddish coloured. Their fruit stalk (tail) is, contrasting cubeb pepper, not straight but curved. Ashanti pepper tastes similar to cubeb pepper, but fresher and less bitter.


The word cubeb entered European languages via Arabic al-kabaabah [الكبابة or الكبابه], which, however, is of unknown origin.

Quite confusingly, Indian names of the type kabab chini (Chinese cubebs) may refer either to cubeb pepper or allspice; I guess this is because the two spices look similar and have no tradition in India, and therefore get easily mixed up.

Selected Links

Indian Spices: Cubeb Pepper ( The Epicentre: Cubeb Gewürz-Bazar: Kubebenpfeffer Sorting Piper names ( Francesco Sirene: Spices & Herbs (Catalogue) World Merchants: Cubebs Herbie’s Spices: Cubeb pepper Gewürzkontor Condimento: Kubebenpfeffer Recipe: Ras el Hanout [رأس الحانوت] and Moroccan Foods ( Recipe: Ras al Hanout [رأس الحانوت] ( Recipe: Ras el Hanout [رأس الحانوت] ( Rezept von Ras el Hanout [رأس الحانوت]

Piper cubeba: Cubeb pepper with flowers
Cubeb pepper with flowers (botanical identity uncertain)
Piper cubeba: Flowering cubeb pepper
Flowering cubeb pepper (botanical identity uncertain)
The bitter and hot cubebs have been a popular substitute for black pepper in and century Europe, 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. See zedoary for more information on bitter and negro pepper for more information on pungent spices.

In Morocco, spice mixtures tend to be rather complex, or, as some say, they go baroque with respect to the number of their ingredients. Ras el hanout [رأس الحانوت] (ras al-hanut) is the name of a spice mixture with varying number of components that can also contain aphrodisiacs, e. g., the famous Spanish flies (Lytta vesicatoria, a highly toxic beetle — caveat emptor!) or cannabis. Less dangerous components might be cubeb pepper, long pepper, black pepper, grains of paradise, chiles, chaste tree berries, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and even rose flowers. Obviously, there are only a few common spices left out! The name ras el hanout literally means head of the shop and implies that only one person in the store is considered able to compose the mixture according to the need (and the financial potency) of the customer. As may be guessed, the character of this mixture is not fixed but varies widely, and general remarks about its culinary merits are difficult.

Cubeb pepper is sometimes hard to get, since it is not much in demand in our days. As a further complication, I have seen cubeb pepper several times being confused with the so-called cinnamon buds or cassia buds, dried unripe fruits of the cinnamon or cassia trees, respectively. Moreover, some sources seem to confuse cubeb pepper with allspice, which looks somewhat similar. In its flavour, cubeb pepper differs much from these other spices.

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