Szechuan peppercorns are the dried husks that surround the seeds of the Chinese prickly ash tree (Zanthoxylum simulans). Usually reddish brown, the fruits have rough walls that split open, exposing tiny black seeds, a small tough stem, and, often, thorns. The aroma and pungency reside in the pericarp (fruit wall), not in the seeds.
They’re a key ingredient in Szechuan cooking, which is known for intensely spicy and garlicky flavours. Szechuan peppercorns impart a tingly numbness to the mouth that is lingering and somewhat “fizzy.” The aroma is lemonlike with warm and woodsy notes. The peppercorns are lightly toasted and crushed before being added to food, generally at the last moment.
Szechuan pepper is most important in central China and Japan, but related species are known in parts of India, the Himalayas, Indonesia, and Southeast Asia. The characteristic “biting” pungency of Szechuan pepper, or ma, is indispensable for Sichuan (formerly spelled Szechuan) cookery, often in combination with fiery chillies
- Other Names
- Andaliman or intir-intir (Indonesian); aniseed pepper; Chinese pepper; chopi or sancho (Korean); dang cay (Vietnamese); emma (Tibetan); faa jiu or hua chia (Cantonese); fagara pepper; Indonesian lemon pepper; Japanese pepper; ma lar or mak kak (Thai); mullilam or tilfda (Hindi); Nepal pepper; pepe di anis (Spanish); poivre du Sichuan (French); sansho (Japanese); hua jiao (Mandarin); Sichuan pepper; sprice pepper; Szechuan-pfeffer (German); timur (Nepali).
- Purchase and Avoid
- It’s best to buy whole Szechuan pepper from an Asian market. If you’re buying the ground spice, purchase it from a high-quality spice dealer. Though previously banned in the U.S. (to prevent the spread of plant canker), heat-treated Szechuan peppercorns may now be legally imported. Note: Szechuan pepper often contains bits of pointy thorns that can be harmful if swallowed, so be vigilant. The seeds are usually also removed because they have an unpleasant, gritty texture.
Use sparingly; a little goes a long way.
Toss a few in with the vegetables when making chicken soup (strain them out before serving, or lightly crush before adding and leave them in). The tingling sensation makes the soup feel spicy, but none of its delicate flavour is overpowered.
If you add Szechuan peppercorns to spicy dishes like puttanesca or salsa, it’ll make them seem even hotter without covering up the other tastes like extra peppers can.
Category: Spices and Herbs
Sub Category: Spice
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