I've yet to experience cubeb pepper in the professional kitchen, but I'm sure I shall one day.
Cubeb pepper plants
Unripe cubeb pepper fruits and leaves
Dried cubeb peppercorns
Most cubeb pepper is today harvested in Java and other Indonesian islands and some is exported from Sierra Leone and Congo.
Fruit. The stalked berries are slightly larger than black peppercorns, have a furrowed surface and most are hollow. They are sold whole and should be crushed or ground before use.
Piperaceae (pepper family).
Pungent and bitter with a strong terpene aroma. The aroma is variously described as reminiscent of dry woody, warm camphor and peppery.
For the etymology of "pepper" (and genus name piper), see pepper.
The word "cubeb" for the fruit of Javanese pepper entered English and other European languages (e.g. Middle French cubebe) from Medieval Latin cubeba, in turn from the Arabic kubābah. The Javanese origin of the plant is reflected in many modern languages, e.g. English "Javanese pepper", French poivre de Java, German Javanischer pfeffer, Hungarian Jávai bors, Russian Yavanskij perets and Turkish Java biberi. In Hindi and Bengali the plant is erroneously attributed a Chinese origin, kabab-Chini.
The bitter and hot cubebs were a popular substitute for black pepper in 16th and 16th century Europe, but have fallen into disfavour since then. The main reason for the disappearance is probably their pronounced bitterness, which made them inferior to black pepper. Today, cubebs are mostly used in Tunisia and Morocco. Moroccan ras el hanout is the name of a spice mixture with varying components that often include aphrodisiacs, e.g. the famous "Spanish fly" lytta vesicatoria or cannabis. Other components may include cubeb pepper, long pepper, black pepper, grains of paradise, chillies, chaste tree berries, nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom and even rose flowers.
Cubeb pepper is sometimes hard to obtain, as it is not much in demand these days. As a further complication, cubeb peppers are sometimes confused with "cinnamon buds" or "cassia buds", the dried unripe fruits of the cinnamon or Chinese cinnamon trees, respectively. Cubeb pepper is also sometimes confused with allspice, which looks somewhat similar. In its flavour, cubeb pepper differs greatly from all of these other spices.
The so-called "false cubeb pepper" stems from the Central African species p. guineense and p. clusii "Ashanti pepper", whose fruits resemble cubeb berries but are elliptically shaped, smaller, smoother and reddish coloured. Ashanti pepper tastes similar to cubeb pepper, but fresher and less bitter.