We had never heard of ashanti pepper until we visited The Meadow in Portland but once we brought some home, this West African spice quickly became one of our favorite alternatives to common black pepper. Ashanti or West African pepper comes from the Piper guineense plant, a relative of black and cubeb peppers. Although common in medieval Europe, ashanti pepper fell into obscurity, overshadowed by the more popular black pepper. It has a slight bitterness that makes it less versatile than black pepper but we love its peppery bite and fresher, almost fruity flavor and notes of allspice and clove. Crushed or ground, it makes an interesting addition to stews and braises, sweet potatoes and winter squash.
If you're familiar with cubeb pepper, ashanti pepper is similar, and in fact it is sometimes referred to as a false cubeb. However, the smaller ashanti pepper berry is reddish in color with a curved rather than straight stalk, and the flavor is less bitter. We now prefer it to cubeb.
Emily Ho is a writer, recipe developer, and educator. She lives in Los Angeles, where she teaches classes on food preservation, wild food, and herbalism. Emily is a Master Food Preserver and founder of LA Food Swap and the international Food Swap Network.
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