Timut Pepper: History, Flavor, Benefits, Uses

What is timut pepper?

Timut pepper — also called timur pepper — is a spice that is native to the Himalayan region. The botanical name of the timut pepper plant is Zanthoxylum alatum, and its fruit is a small berry with a reddish-brown color. Timut pepper berries are dried before use and tend to split open to reveal small black seeds. The timut pepper is closely related to China’s Sichuan peppercorn, Japan’s sansho pepper and Thailand’s makhwaen. Timut pepper has many of the same properties as Sichuan and sansho peppers and makhwaen. Timut pepper is unrelated to true black peppercorns, and it’s also not a chili. Other names for timut pepper include toothache tree and prickly ash.

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The people who have the longest history of using the timut pepper are the Bhotiya tribe, the members of which live in the Uttaranchal part of Northern India. Uttaranchal encompasses a part of the Himalayas where the spice grows. The Bhotiya claim that consuming timut pepper — which they call hag — during the extremely cold winters helps to keep them warm.

Timut pepper has become a trendy ingredient in recent years; it is popular for its flavor and its health benefits.

Timut pepper flavor profile

Timut pepper tastes a lot like its close relative, the Sichuan peppercorn. It has a bright and immediately noticeable citrus flavor that most people liken to grapefruit or lemons. Some people detect notes of non-citrus fruit, like passionfruit. Along with the fruity taste, there is a strong numbing quality similar to that of Sichuan pepper.

The flavor is sometimes described as heat, but is more like the numbing of the lips and tongue that you might experience after eating something very cold. If your timut pepper still has its seeds, remove them since they contribute nothing to the flavor but may make your food gritty.

Health benefits of timut pepper

Even though timut pepper has a long history in parts of India, there hasn’t been much research into its health effects. What is known is that it can benefit health because it contains compounds like:

  • Antioxidants: Timut pepper is a great source of antioxidants, just like those in Sichuan pepper.
  • Minerals: Timut pepper contains high levels of iron and zinc, two of the most important dietary minerals

By consuming timut pepper, you can treat or prevent ailments like:

  • Anemia: The high iron content of timut pepper means that it can help prevent iron deficiency anemia, which has symptoms like extreme fatigue and cold extremities.
  • Infections: Zinc is one of the more important nutrients for your immune system and can help your body to resist infections.
  • Slow wound healing: Zinc is important for healing, and being deficient in it can slow down your body’s repair processes. Zinc-rich ingredients like timut pepper can help to counter that and speed up wound healing.
  • Toothache: Because of its numbing effect, timut pepper has long been used as a painkiller and is particularly effective for providing temporary relief from toothache.
  • Indigestion: The ability to treat indigestion is one of the timut pepper’s oldest medicinal applications.
  • Inflammation: Timut pepper works by combating oxidative stress, and it treats inflammation as a result. Inflammation is a product of oxidative stress.

Common uses

Timut pepper is a great addition to curried dishes, and you can use it in stir-fried dishes just like you would use Sichuan pepper. Timut pepper is also a popular addition to alcoholic drinks like gin and tonics, where it provides an exciting new twist on an old flavor.