• The Indigenous peoples use the spice in traditional dishes and the whole fruit to make condiments. (Getty Images)
It's been used in the Himalayas for years for its flavour and medicinal profile, but home cooks in the West are only just catching onto it now.
By
Yasmin Noone

20 Jun 2018 - 7:56 AM  UPDATED 20 Jun 2018 - 10:40 AM

Every year, various media outlets around the world foretell of food trends to come, ingredients to use and dishes to devour.

In 2018, the BBC listed timut pepper – a zesty, grapefruit-like spice hailing from Nepal – as an on-trend ingredient to make condiments and give alcoholic beverages like a gin and tonic for an extra kick.

Meanwhile, locals in the Himalayas have been using timut pepper for years, celebrating the spice for its taste, analgesic impact on the mouth and tongue and other medicinal effects.

A study published in Conservation and Society in 2005 reveals the Timur plant is mostly used by the Bhotiya tribal community from in Uttaranchal, India, more than any other ethnic group. The indigenous peoples also use the spice in traditional dishes and the whole fruit to make condiments.

“During winter, a soup made from the dried fruit (known as hag) is consumed by the entire family to keep warm,” the paper reads. “A chutney, locally known as dunkcha, is also a popular food item.”

"During winter, a soup made from the dried fruit (known as hag) is consumed by the entire family to keep warm."

But what exactly is timut pepper, and does it live up to its health promises?

Timut pepper is known botanically as Zanthoxylum armatum and commonly as Timur pepper, prickly ash, toothache tree and Nepalese pepper.

The spice is related to Szechuan pepper and boasts similar properties. So basically, that means timut pepper is hot. The seed husks are so spicy they are supposed to have an analgesic effect, numbing the mouth, the tongue and any other body part that comes into contact with the peppercorn.

“It’s definitely a delicious spice,” says Themis Chryssidis, an Accredited Practising Dietitian and Spokesperson for the Dietitians Association of Australia.

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“Timut pepper is used in Asian and Indian cuisines. It produces this slightly numbing feeling, a tingling sensation on your lips and tongue when you consume it in moderate amounts.”

Just like Szechuan pepper, timut pepper is believed to have medicinal properties, helping to purify the blood and promote digestion.

According to the Jadibuti Association of Nepal, the bark, fruits and seeds of the plant are used extensively in indigenous system of medicine to treat flatulence.

“The bark is pungent and used to clean teeth,” the Jadibuti Association of Nepal says online.

“The fruits and seeds are employed as an aromatic tonic in fever and dyspepsia [indigestion]. An extract of the fruits is reported to be effective in expelling roundworms. Because of their deodorant, disinfectant and antiseptic properties, the fruits are used in dental troubles, and their lotion for scabies. The essential oil is said to possess antiseptic, disinfectant and deodorant properties.”

“You also have to consider how much you can use of the spice in cooking, as you may only throw a few peppercorns in with your food."

Despite the long-established medicinal use in indigenous communities where the spice is found, Chrysalis says the evidence available on timut pepper is still quite limited. The effectiveness of these health claims for people of all cultures cannot be substantiated.

“You also have to consider how much you can use of the spice in cooking, as you may only throw a few peppercorns in with your food,” Chrysalis explains. “That may not be enough to produce the effects mentioned in research.”

The upshot, Chrysalis says, is that you don’t need an evidence-base to reap the flavour benefits of tasting timut pepper in a dish.

“More than anything, spices have an ability to add flavour to a dish really quickly. That reduces our need to add salt and fats to our food.

“So I think people should certainly start using timut pepper as there’s nothing to lose from adding it to your cooking if you are using it in small quantities.

“But I don’t think any one spice can solve our health condition. They won’t do all of that on their own and they won’t achieve that in the quantity we tend to cook and consume them. We shouldn’t rely on them as individual problem solvers to our health concerns.

“Spices like timut pepper should be adding to our foods as part of a balanced diet.”

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