The leaves and berries of the plant are spicy and aromatic, and products derived from both plant parts can be used for culinary, preservative and potentially medicinal purposes. The leaf may be used fresh as an ingredient or garnish. Most of the harvested leaf is dried and milled for use as a spice and flavouring. The fruit may be used fresh or dried, with dried whole berries used as an alternative to conventional pepper. The extract of leaves can be used as flavouring, food preservative or a therapeutic ingredient.
The market demand for mountain pepper is currently met by a combination of ‘wild harvest’ and from cultivated plantations.
The production of mountain pepper is a small and developing industry within the developing native foods industry. The Australian Native Food & Botanicals (ANFAB) is the peak body for the Australian native food industry.
Facts and figures
- Mountain pepper (Tasmannia lanceolata) is a native temperate rainforest tree species with spicy and aromatic leaves and berries
- A single tree at five years old should sustainably produce at least 3kg of fresh pepper leaf or 1.5kg of fresh berries per year
- 90% of pepper berries are harvested from wild trees
- The fresh leaves of mountain pepper are suitable for use as a fresh herb and dried leaf is used as a spicy ingredient in flour mixes, condiments, soups, stews, smallgoods and cheeses
- The whole dried berry may be used as a table condiment instead of conventional whole pepper
- A primary ingredient of mountain pepper, polygodial, gives it very strong antimicrobial activity suggesting a potential use as a natural food preservative
Accurate information is not readily available for the native foods industry but a stocktake of the industry published in 2012 provides good estimates of industry characteristics, production figures and product value.
Mountain pepper production enterprises range from hobbyists with few overheads to a small number of producers, who have established small plantations of up to 1ha (about 3,500 trees) or rely on natural regrowth on their own properties for a secure source of supply. Most enterprises, however, source raw material from wild trees (of which a significant proportion is regrowth trees), under licence from state forestry organisations, and wild harvest accounts for 90% of product on the market.
There are no businesses relying on mountain pepper for their total farm income. The more serious producers may earn up to 60% of their income from mountain pepper. Mountain pepper harvesting and growing is estimated to employ between 20 and 30 individuals, including enterprise owner–operators, across the whole industry. In addition to growing mountain pepper, producers were also likely to have other native food crops and horticultural food crops in their enterprise mix.