Today’s morning name, surely triggered in my mind by a line from the song “Ya Got Trouble” from the musical The Music Man (about kids in pool halls): “They’re … tryin’ out cubebs” (referring to cubeb cigarettes).

Brief background, from NOAD:

noun cubeb: [a] a tropical shrub of the pepper family, which bears pungent berries. Genus Piper, family Piperaceae: several species, including the Asian P. cubeba [b] the dried unripe berries of the cubeb, used medicinally and to flavor cigarettes. [also, not given by NOAD: [c] a cubeb cigarette] ORIGIN Middle English: from Old French cubebe, from Spanish Arabic kubēba, from Arabic kubāba.

Note: most uses of the noun cubeb are M[ass] nouns, but the use for ‘cubeb cigarette’ is C[count], and so pluralizable, as in the quote from The Music Man.

More on the plant and its uses as a flavoring agent, from Wikipedia:

Piper cubeba, cubeb or tailed pepper is a plant in genus Piper [the genus that includes black pepper; bell/sweet peppers and hot peppers are in the genus Capsicum], cultivated for its fruit and essential oil. It is mostly grown in Java and Sumatra, hence sometimes called Java pepper. The fruits are gathered before they are ripe, and carefully dried. Commercial cubeb consists of the dried berries, similar in appearance to black pepper, but with stalks attached – the “tails” in “tailed pepper”.

(#1) Cubeb berries, from the Spices Inc. site

The dried pericarp is wrinkled, and its color ranges from grayish brown to black. The seed is hard, white and oily. The odor of cubeb is described as agreeable and aromatic and the taste as pungent, acrid, slightly bitter and persistent. It has been described as tasting like allspice, or like a cross between allspice and black pepper.

… It experienced a brief resurgence in 19th-century Europe for medicinal uses, but has practically vanished from the European market since. It continues to be used as a flavoring agent for gins and cigarettes in the West, and as a seasoning for food in Indonesia.

… Cubeb was frequently used in the form of cigarettes for asthma, chronic pharyngitis, and hay fever. Edgar Rice Burroughs, being fond of smoking cubeb cigarettes, humorously stated that if he had not smoked so many cubebs, there might never have been Tarzan.

[Again, a C noun use for the cigarettes.]

Not just as a flavoring agent, but also as a scent agent, as here:

(#2) John Varvatos Vintage uses cubeb as one of its ingredients for fragrance

The song from the musical. From Wikipedia:

“Ya Got Trouble” is a song by Meredith Willson from the 1957 Broadway musical The Music Man, and its 1962 filmed version. It is one of the most popular and recognizable songs in the musical, and Robert Preston’s performance in the film is admired. Willson considered eliminating a long piece of dialogue from his draft of The Music Man about the serious trouble facing River City parents. Willson realized it sounded like a lyric and transformed it into “Ya Got Trouble”.

You can see Robert Preston’s wonderful performance of the song here.

The relevant chunk of the song (with several topical references, to be explained below):

Now, I know all you folks are the right kinda parents.
I’m gonna be perfectly frank.
Would ya like to know what kinda conversation goes
On while they’re loafin’ around that Hall?
They’re tryin’ out Bevo, tryin’ out cubebs,
Tryin’ out Tailor Mades like cigarette fiends!
And braggin’ all about
How they’re gonna cover up a tell-tale breath with Sen-Sen.

One fine night, they leave the pool hall,
Headin’ for the dance at the Armory!
Libertine men and Scarlet women!
And Rag-time, shameless music
That’ll grab your son and your daughter
With the arms of a jungle animal instinct!

Bevo,from Wikipedia:

Bevo was a non-alcoholic malt beverage, or near beer, brewed in the United States by the Anheuser-Busch company beginning in the early 20th century. Bevo enjoyed its greatest success during the time of Prohibition, when beer, wine and distilled liquors were made illegal for thirteen years.

Tailor-mades are factory-rolled cigarettes (as opposed to hand-rolled, or roll-your-own, cigarettes).

Sen-Sen was the original breath freshener, strongly scented licorice-flavored pieces of candy

And on the movie, see my 9/19/19 posting “Sousa thump”, with a section on The Music Man:


2 Responses to “cubeb”

  1. arnold zwicky Says:

    Facebook coment from Horton Copperpot:

    Cubeb pepper and long pepper are now being used as “finer” black pepper in fancier restaurants because they’re hard to find and have floral characteristics absent in regular pepper. I’ve bought them at Albert Hein in the Netherlands and, at one point, Whole Foods carried them as well. Not any more. But a lot of both of these peppers, as well as grains of paradise, are used in craft brewing.


    Both cubeb pepper, and the culinarily (though not botanically) related grains of paradise, are available from Amazon, I just looked up.

    I remember my father (1906-93), like me a pathologist, noting that marijuana smoke smelled like cubeb cigarettes, so I suppose he was familiar with them, though he wasn’t quite sure what they were.

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