What to call it?! It goes by the names of Tasmanian Mountain Pepper Tree, pepperberry bush, Tasmanian pepperberry, mountain pepper, native pepper and probably others! Whatever you like to call it Tasmannia lanceolate offers a great product we should all have in our kitchen cupboard. It is native to Tasmania and some of the higher country in the south east of mainland Australia. It can grow up to five metres tall (ok, ten under ideal conditions) but is more often found up to 2.5m due to the cool climate and environment it is usually found in. A nice looking bush with glossy, leathery leaves and red stems. There are both male and female plants, both of which flower with yellow/cream flowers. After flowering the female bushes develop nearly black berries, which are ready for harvesting at the start of Autumn.
The berries are picked and sorted. They can be used fresh but are most often used dried. An everyday hand grinder won’t take whole berries as they are too big for them, but an electric grinder will have no trouble. Cracked berries are suitable for hand grinders or you can use a mortar and pestle. Also, mountain pepper is available already ground up and ready to use.
A versatile plant, the leaves are also dried and used. But beware the pepper from the leaves is hotter than from the berries. They can be popped into a dish whole or used in the ground form.
So anywhere you think of using ‘normal’ pepper, start using pepper from the Tasmanian Mountain Pepper bush. It is mostly sourced from its natural environment, with about 5% harvested from one of a few small plantations that have been set up. The biggest threat to the plantation grown bushes seems to be from birds who pick off ripe berries and in the process damage unripe ones. This has led to at least one grower starting to cover their bushes with netting.
Research has shown that compounds found in the Tasmanian Mountain Pepper have unique anti-fungal and anti-microbial properties. The hot tasting compound polygodial is attracting scientific interest, demonstrating resistance to food spoilage bacteria and moulds and food-borne pathogens. Antioxidant activity, which appears to be significant is also being investigated.
Tasmanian Mountain Pepper is a rare spice, maybe not fully appreciated due to it not growing in a far away, exotic location. It is a blessing to have it growing right here in Tasmania.