Sichuan pepper or Sichuan peppercorn, also known as Chinese coriander, is a commonly used spice in Chinese, Tibetan, Nepali, and Indian cuisine.
It’s botanical name comes from the Greek ‘xanthon xylon’, meaning “blond wood” and it refers to the brightly coloured sapwood possessed by several of the species. Sichuan Pepper genus Zanthoxylum belongs in the rue or citrus family. Despite its name, is not closely related to either black pepper or chilli pepper…
Sichuan pepper’s unique aroma and flavour is not hot or pungent like black, white, or chilli peppers. Instead, it has slight lemony overtones and creates a tingly numbness in the mouth that sets the stage for hot spices. , they are not simply pungent;
“Sichuan peppercorns produce a strange, tingling, buzzing, numbing sensation that is something like the effect of carbonated drinks or of a mild electric current (touching the terminals of a nine-volt battery to the tongue). Sanshools appear to act on several different kinds of nerve endings at once, induce sensitivity to touch and cold in nerves that are ordinarily nonsensitive, and so perhaps cause a kind of general neurological confusion.”
Harold McGee (On Food and Cooking)
Recipes often suggest lightly toasting the tiny seed pods, then crushing them before adding them to food. Only the husks are used; the shiny black seeds are discarded or ignored as they have a very gritty sand-like texture. The spice is generally added at the last moment. Star anise and ginger are often used with it in spicy Sichuan cuisine. Ma la sauce (Chinese: 麻辣; pinyin: málà; literally “numbing and spicy”), common in Sichuan cooking, is a combination of Sichuan pepper and chili pepper, and it is a key ingredient in má là hot pot, the Sichuan version of the traditional Chinese dish. It is also a common flavouring in Sichuan baked goods such as sweetened cakes and biscuits.
Sichuan pepper is also available as an oil and this is best used in stir-fry noodle dishes without hot spices. Recipes may include ginger oil and brown sugar cooked with a base of noodles and vegetables, then rice vinegar and Sichuan pepper oil are added after cooking.
Did you know Sichuan pepper was banned in the US for nearly 40 years?