Indian Sichuan! Does It Remind Of Chinese Szechuan Sauce?
Image Credit: Sichuan pepper, Image Source: thepaharilife

The world of cuisine is a testament to how there is unity in diversity. Often a popular culinary ingredient in one nation has some ties knotted in another country. Likewise, a lesser know native dish of a region might have roots in a far-off land. Let's consider the familiar Chinese Szechuan sauce. Do you know its primary flavouring agent is Sichuan pepper or Szechuan pepper? Zanthoxylum piperitum, often known as Chinese pepper or Chinese prickly ash. And now comes some more information. This spice is related to the Indian Sichuan pepper. The latter provides remarkably similar flavours. Compared to the red Chinese pepper, the Indian Sichuan pepper is black. This pepper in India has been a common culinary ingredient across the regions. 

Diverse names

There are different names for the Indian Sichuan pepper. In Tibet, Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh, it is knowns as Yer Ma or Er Ma. It goes by the name Timur in Nepal and Lower Himalayas, Uttarakhand, Nagaland, and Meghalaya. Whereas the Konkan, Goa, and Coastal Karnataka regions call it Teppal. Other names include Tilfda, Jummina Kai, Kamte Kai, and Kaatmurikku.

Region of cultivation

The Indian Sichuan pepper plant grows as a shrub. It can be found in the steep Himalayan valleys, the Lesser Himalayas in Northeast India, the Eastern Ghats in Orissa and Andhra Pradesh, and the Western Ghats in coastal Maharashtra and Karnataka. There are more than 11 species or varieties of this plant in India. This prickly shrub produces grape-like clusters of berries. These berries create an exterior dry husk and an inside black seed when dried. The outer husk has a profuse use as a spice in cooking. Remember that the Indian Sichuan Pepper is neither a pepper nor a chilli.

As region varies, so is its uses

The use of Indian Sichuan pepper differs localities wise. It is employed for fish marination in the coastal areas of Karnataka and Maharastra. Teppal or Tirphal is also used as a spice in curries like koddel and ambat and different soup recipes. Often it is blended with red chillies and coconut. The Bhotiya tribespeople of Uttaranchal employs Timur in Hag soup and a native chutney called Dunkcha. It is a reasonably common spice in Nepali cuisine.

Taste profile

Dried sichuan pepper, Image Source: wikimedia

Indian Sichuan pepper suffuses a distinct aroma and flavour to any recipe. It fuses well with other spices and thus finds its place in spice blends.  It has a citrus overtone, a slightly pungent taste, and an aftertaste that tingles or numbs the tongue and palate.  Its mouth-numbing nature makes it more of an experience than a flavour. This sensation may be unsettling at first but becomes irresistible as its feel grows on one's taste buds. In the year 2018, BBC listed it as a zesty, grapefruit-like spice from the Himalayas. It adds a spiky, zesty - grapefruity twist and leaves a tingly lingering heat on the mouth of alcoholic beverages like gin and tonic. It was suggested as a trendy element for making sauces.

Dishes to make with it

One has myriad options for using Indian Sichuan pepper in different dishes. A few popular ones include Kele Teppal Ambat, Teppla Ambat, Teppal Bende Sukke, Khatkhate, Shogo Shabril, Gorkhali Chutney and so on.