When It Comes to Fruity Peppercorns, the Devil is in the Details
Let’s face it, when you start diving into the specifics of similar peppercorns, it can be difficult and taxing to tease out the specific differences. We’re here to help! In this article, we’re paying close attention to two of our favorite fruity peppercorns. They may be a little more obscure and therefore less crucial in your everyday cooking needs, but they have an important place in the lexicon of cooking and are absolutely worth a closer look! We’re talking about our coveted Sichuan Green Peppercorns and Timut Peppercorns.
Let’s dive in to what makes these two unique spices just so special. The Timut Peppercorn is perhaps one of the most unusual ingredients you’ll ever encounter. While technically a peppercorn it doesn’t have any of the typical peppercorn characteristics. Instead, it screams of juicy citrus fruit flavors! Notes of grapefruit, lime, and yuzu with an exciting electric zing make this one show stopping spice. Imagine the buzz of a Sichuan Peppercorn with the vibrant freshness of a juicy citrus fruit. According to Harold McGee in On Food and Cooking, the peppercorns are not simply pungent; “they produce a strange tingling, buzzing, numbing sensation that is something like the effect of carbonated drinks or of a mild electrical current (touching the terminals of a nine-volt battery to the tongue).” What a wild ride!
This miraculous peppercorn hails from Nepal, where it actually grows wild through the higher altitudes. And here’s the real kicker… it’s not actually from the traditional pepper family (piper nigrum). Instead, it’s the dried berry from a tree in the prickly ash family. It grows wild in immense quantities through the region, and has an annual export of over 800 tons! In the Himalayas, it’s used in the small local villages for chutney, tea, or grinding into masala (a local spice blend). Because the Timut Peppercorn isn’t really spicy, it allows for a wide range of uses. The citrusy spice can be used for just about anything – even pastry and cocktail applications. Imagine a crack of this over grilled halibut or freshly shucked briny oysters. Or a sprinkling over a decadent citrus tart with summer berries. It would make an incredible infusion for a gin martini or even a vodka soda. The fruity notes would pair brilliantly with pork and game like duck or venison. In short – get creative!
The Sechuan Green Peppercorn on the other hand is even more pungent. Our Sichuan Green Peppercorns are sourced from China – which is no surprise seeing as how it’s the signature spice of China’s southwestern Sichuan province. When eaten, it produces a numbing tingling sensation – due to the presence of hydroxy-alpha sanshool. This molecule is found naturally in plants from the genus Zanthoxylum. Sichuan Green Peppercorn has loads of it! Sichuan Peppercorns have been used in China for centuries for both culinary and medicinal purposes. As an herbal remedy, it’s prescribed for various ailments from abdominal pain to toothache. It’s been said to have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antibacterial effects. In traditional Chinese cuisine, it’s dried and ground in the commonly used Five Spice Powder, and is a key ingredient in Chongqing Hot Pot.
While the two are similar in appearance and even flavor profile they have distinct differences that make them more suitable for certain applications. The long and short of it – they can be substituted for one another, but if you want to really wow your guests with a single origin spice, it’s best to hone in on the flavors of your dish, and find a complementary spice to go along with it.