Well, that is how it was introduced to me, another victim of a classic kiwi prank. I guess my hunger and naive curiosity made me an easy target. As I quickly discovered, horopito tastes nothing like chocolate but more like a kind of pungent, dirty pepper that lingers on the tongue.
Before you get too worried, I should clarify that horopito isn’t going to poison anyone. In fact some people consider it delicious. The dunedin takeaway institution, Velvet Burger, serves a horopito chutney on their ‘Homegrown’ lamb burger; and it’s an ingredient in several kiwi-style spice blends that you can buy at the supermarket
For the more sensible Maori, though, it is not so much a food as a medicine. They used horopito as a topical antiseptic, and also as a tea to take for for colds and chest infections. Modern science now knows why its works. The leaves contain something called polygodial, a chemical which is both antibacterial anti-fungal. Of course, don’t throw out your antibiotics straight away, but if you are ever unwell while tramping, this might well help you out.
These days, I always chew a leaf when I walk past a bush, just to hone my skills at identifying it. If I am in company, I make sure that my mates know about the joke too – hopefully from the victims perspective.