Most of us must have tasted the Chinese Szechuan sauce. The spice which flavours this is Sichuan pepper or Szechuan pepper (Zanthoxylum piperitum) also known as Chinese prickly ash or Chinese pepper. A distant relative of this spice is Indian Sichuan pepper, which offers very similar flavours. Indian Sichuan pepper is black as compared to red Chinese pepper.
In India, Sichuan pepper is known by multiple names : Timur (Nepal and Lower Himalayas – Uttaranchal, Nagaland, Meghalaya), Yer Ma / Er Ma (Tibet – Ladakh, Arunachal Pradesh), and Triphal / Teppal (Konkan, Goa, Coastal Karnataka), Tilfda (Hindi), Kamte Kai, Jummina Kai (Kannad language), Kaatmurikku (Malayalam)
Indian Sichuan pepper plant is a shrub found in warmer hilly valleys of Himalaya, Lesser Himalayas in North East India, Eastern Ghats in Orissa and Andhra Pradesh and Western Ghats in coastal Maharashtra and Karnataka. There are over 11 species or variants of this plant found in India. This thorny plant bears fruits in form of grape like bunch of berries. These berries when dry, form outer dry husk and inner black seed. The outer husk is commonly used as spice for culinary purposes. So be noted that, Indian Sichuan Pepper is neither a pepper or chilly.
As a medicinal herb, Indian Sichuan pepper is used as home remedy for toothache, common cold, cough, and fever. To cure toothache, a fresh or dry fruit is pressed over the affected tooth and is kept in position till it loses its pungency. Young shoots of timur are used as toothbrushes. It is used in the treatment of gastric disorders like vomiting, diarrhoea, and abdominal pain. It helps in digestion as carminative.
In the villages of Tulu region in Karnataka, the berries of the tree are commonly known as Kavunte kāyi or Petala kāyi ( kāyi = berry of the plant), which is used by rural children for playing as toy bullets. The children while playing make piston like structures in the form of tubular structures from selected plant stalks, inside which rod like plant parts, are used to drive out the berry bullets forcibly such that berries explode with a thud sound. The tree bears fat thorns on the stem that are used by children to make rubber stamps. The thorns of Jummina tree are also used in the Yakshagana costumes, especially for designing the thorn like shoulder ornaments (known as “bhujakeerti”).
Indian Sichuan Pepper offers unique aroma and flavour to food. It has citrus overtone, slightly pungent taste and leaves behind a tingling or numbing effect on tongue and palate as an aftertaste. It blends well with other spices and often used in spice mix. Its flavour is delicate and gets lots in other spices though. The characteristic mouth numbing property of Indian Sichuan pepper makes it more of an experience than a flavour. This experience may be unnerving in beginning, but gets addictive as one starts liking this spice. In 2018, BBC listed this pepper – a zesty, grapefruit-like spice hailing from Himalayas – as an on-trend ingredient to make condiments and give alcoholic beverages like a gin and tonic for “spiky, zesty – surprisingly grapefruity – and leaves a tingly residual heat on the palate.”
Use of Indian Sinchuan pepper various according to region. In coastal regions of Maharashtra and Karnataka it is used to marinate fish. Teppal/Tirphal is also used as spice in soup and curry recipes (koddel/ ambat). Often it is blended with red chillies and coconut. In Uttarachal, the Bhotiya tribes have been using Timur to make Soup called Hag and local chutney called Dunkcha. In Nepali kitchen, it is a very common spice and commonly used in Nepali food.
Below are some recipes using Indian Sichuan Pepper / Timur / Teppal
Rildok – Potato Soup with Sichuan pepper
Poleka Golbheda ko achaar – Sichuan pepper and roasted tomatoes dip
Gorkhali Chutney – Potato with sesame and spices
Vatane Teppla Ambat – Peas curry with Sichuan pepper
Teppal Bende Sukke – Okra with Sichuan pepper
Kele Teppal Ambat – Raw Banana Sichuan Pepper Curry
Teppla Ambat – Sichuan pepper flavored curry
Teppla Kadhi – Sichuan pepper spiced coconut milk
Teppla Tambli – Coconut milk spiced with Sichuan pepper
Khatkhate – Vegetable Stew from Konkan
Kadgi Teppla Randai – Breadfruit curry
Alasande Teppal Ghashi – Bean curry spiced with sichuan pepper
Gobi Dente Teppla Sukke – Cauliflower stems spiced with sichuan pepper
Sisnu ko tarkari – Nettle soup
Aagri Koli Masala – Spice mix from coastal Maharashtra
Mustang Aloo – Spiced french fries
Timur ko chop – Sichuan Pepper spice mix
Teppla Chutney – Sichuan pepper spiced dip
Malavni masala – Spice Mix from Malvan
Gosale Ambat – Ridge gourd curry
Shogo Shabril – Tibetan stuffed potato snack
Amdo Khabsey – Snacks for Tibetan new year