Tasmanian pepperberry, also known as Mountain Pepper Berry or Tasmannia lanceolata, is a rainforest shrub native to Tasmania and the south-eastern Australian mainland. It is known for its unique fragrant and spicy taste, and a ‘bushy’ rainforest feel. The leaves and fruit of Tasmannia lanceolata contain a hot tasting compound called polygodial, which gives the plant its unique flavour. This compound, together with many of the aromatic compounds common in many other Australian plants, is what sets Tasmanian pepperberry apart and makes it such a popular ingredient in Australian cuisine and gin production.
One of the key characteristics of Tasmanian pepperberry is its distinct spiciness, which is similar to black pepper, but with a unique flavour profile. The tree is easily identified by its distinctive crimson-colored young stems and branches, and shiny dark green leaves that smell spicy and peppery when crushed. The tree bears a small, yellowish-creamy flower that is also deliciously hot and spicy when in bud. This is followed by glossy black and fleshy pepper fruits known as Pepperberries, which are about the size of a small pea and contain a cluster of minute black seeds in the centre of the purple fruit flesh.
Australian distilleries have been utilizing this unique spice to create gins with an Australian twist. The spicy and aromatic flavours of Tasmanian pepperberry lend themselves well to gin production and can be used to create a gin that is truly unique and representative of the Australian bush. The gin will have a strong sense of place and will be evocative of the wild, natural, and spicy flavours of the Australian bush.
European use of the Mountain Pepper tree can be traced back to the nineteenth century when the bark was used as a herbal remedy, known then as Winter’s Bark. Mountain Pepper was also mentioned by a former Director of the Sydney Botanical Gardens as a tree with potential as a pepper or allspice substitute.
Despite being a common south-eastern Australian species, the Mountain Pepper does not feature in known recorded knowledge of Aboriginal foods or medicines. The true extent of Aboriginal use of this plant remains unknown. However, Indigenous people are known to have used whole peppercorns or crushed the spice into a paste, and applied the pepper to toothaches or sore gums.
Mountain Pepper is indigenous to Tasmanian and Victorian sub-alpine rainforests and mountain gullies, growing in areas up to 1200 meters. The plant prefers moist, cool, high altitude forests and prefers humus-rich, well-drained soil and part shade. It is moderately fast-growing and is a hardy plant that can tolerate frost and drought.
Tasmanian pepperberry is known for its strong and distinctive aroma and is used as a botanical in Australian Gin Distilleries which has led to research into the flavour compounds found in the essential oil of this plant which is composed mainly of sesquiterpenoids, which are a class of terpenoids that are composed of three isoprene units.
According to a recent study, the major component of T. lanceolata essential oil is polygodial (36.74%). Polygodial is a sesquiterpenoid that gives off a woody, spicy and slightly bitter aroma. Other sesquiterpenoids found in T. lanceolata essential oils include guaiol (4.36%), calamenene (3.42%), spathulenol (1.94%), drimenol (1.91%), cadina-1,4-diene (1.58%), 5-hydroxycalamenene (1.47%), bicyclo-germacrene (1.15%), α-cubebene (0.88%), caryophyllene (0.87%), α-copaene (0.48%), cadalene (0.44%), δ-cadinol (0.4%), elemol (0.39%), T muurolol (0.39%) and germacrene D.
Flavonoids also found in T. lanceolata, account for a small fraction of the essential oil composition. Some of the flavonoids found in T. lanceolata include quercetin and rutin. Studies have shown that flavonoids have antibacterial and antiviral activities. For example, quercetin has been reported to have inhibitory activity against Pseudomonas maltophilia and Enterobacter cloacae, and moderate antibacterial activity against methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. Flavonoids also have antiviral bioactivities and have been reported to have effects on multiple stages of viral replication and infectivity in vitro.
Overall, a distilled spirit distilled with Tasmanian pepperberry will have a unique and complex flavour profile, with prominent notes of woody, spicy and slightly bitter. The essential oil is composed mainly of sesquiterpenoids and flavonoids, which are known to have antimicrobial properties. The major component of T. lanceolata essential oil is polygodial and other sesquiterpenoids found in T. lanceolata essential oils include guaiol, calamenene, spathulenol, drimenol, cadina-1,4-diene and others.