A Peck of Mountain Pepper
When making Anita's "The Torcher '' Hot Sauce we needed fruity flavors to compliment the
habanero chili pepper. While satisfied with the kumquat, we still felt something was missing. It turned out to be a little known wild pepper that is used by the Taiwanese aboriginals called The Maqaw pepper.(litsea cubeba)
The Maqaw pepper is found in the central mountains of Taiwan. It has a lemony ginger taste.
The higher the elevation it grows, the spicier it is. Sometimes, it's mixed with salt and used as a pork rub. Due to the proximity of the mountains to the sea in Taiwan it is also used in fish. Recently, it has been used in desserts and beauty products. At a festival a few years ago I even had it in a craft beer.
For generations it has been used as a natural painkiller. The locals will either add it to chicken soup or mix it with water for a hangover cure. Concoctions are made to cure headaches, calm people down and help them sleep. Some tribes even use it as an aphrodisiac.
Per kilogram, the Maqaw pepper sells fresh for 1000 ntd(33.25US) or 3000 ntd (100US) dried. It is rare because of the difficulty in harvesting the pungent pepper. It is picked in the sweltering months of June and July in the rugged mountains of Taiwan. They are often sun dried after picking. The May Chang evergreen tree that it is picked from has a short life span making it hard to farm.
Although expensive, a little goes a long way. It should be used as a compliment in
cooking rather than the main ingredient because it can quickly take over a dish. Even though
only a little is added to the very spicy “The Torcher ''customers ask if we added lemon to our
sauce. Scientists have pushed for greater cultivation of the Maqaw pepper as it’s known to
assist with neurological functions.. For the sake of Anita’s Hot Sauce we hope they succeed.