Szechuan Pepper Profile
Also known as
Zanthoxylum bungeanum, Szechwan pepper, Chinese pepper, flower pepper, Japanese pepper, aniseed pepper, Sprice pepper, Chinese prickly-ash, Fagara, sansho, Nepal pepper, Indonesian lemon pepper, Dehydrated Prickly Ash (some of these names refer to specific species within the Zanthoxylum genus)
Szechuan pepper consists of the outer pod of the fruit of an aromatic shrub or small tree native to China, and now found throughout the temperate zones of China, Japan, the Himalayas and North America. It is not technically a pepper at all, but a member of the Rutaceae (rue or citrus) family and closely related to the prickly ash. Szechuan pepper has a similar action on the taste buds; instead of being hot or pungent like black, white, or chili peppers, it creates a unique tingling, numbing pins-and-needles sensation (the scientific name for which is paresthenia, caused by its 3% content of hydroxy-alpha-sanshool) that prepares the palate for hot spices. Appropriately for a member of the citrus family, Szechuan pepper is characterized by its tart, lemony, acrid flavor; it is also woodsy and slightly peppery, with a complex progression of flavors that Tony Hill, in The Contemporary Encyclopedia of Herbs and Spices, describes as moving from "citrus zest to numbing shock to lingering mild sweetness." Its most typical use is of course in cooking, and it is a traditional ingredient in the well-known Chinese five-spice powder (although black pepper is sometimes substituted since Szechuan can be hard to find), as well as a hallmark of the spicy, hot dishes produced in the Chinese province for which it is named. Szechuan cuisine combines the peppers, which are lightly roasted before being powdered or infused in oil, with star anise and ginger. Szechuan pepper is also a feature of Tibetan and Bhutani cooking in the Himalayas, where few other spices can be grown, and of mildly hot Japanese noodle dishes and soups. Frequently used to season offal dishes (foods made from entrails, internal organs, and other less commonly eaten parts of an animal), szechuan pepper is sometimes believed to have the ability to sanitize meat that is turning rotten, but it more likely is just very good at masking unpleasant tastes.
The outer pod of the berries; the seeds are gritty and do not contribute much to taste.
Szechuan pepper is found lightly roasted, or raw, and many debate and discuss the difference between the two.
In Japan the wood is also used to make mortars and pipes.
Eating too much Szechuan pepper can cause numbness of the mouth and lips. Not recommended for us while pregnant.
This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.