Cambodia's Kampot pepper has joined an elite group of gourmet food items whose names are protected by the European Union.

The EU said Tuesday that Kampot pepper was officially registered as having Protected Geographical Indication status, or PGI, on Feb. 18, making it the first Cambodian product to receive the label.

The designation works like a trademark protection that certifies the origin of regional foods. It means any product sold in EU countries calling itself "Kampot pepper" must come from a designated region in southern Cambodia that includes Kampot and neighboring Kep province.

The pepper, which comes in three varieties — white, red and black — has become a go-to spice for gourmet chefs, who describe it as having a complex flavor with floral overtones.