Szechuan pepper

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Sichuan pepper seeds and husks

see also: peppercorns

Sichuan pepper (or Szechuan pepper) is the outer pod of the tiny fruit of a number of species in the genus Zanthoxylum, widely grown and consumed in Asia as a spice. Despite the name, it is not related to black pepper or to chili peppers. It is widely used in the cuisine of Sichuan, China, from which it takes its name, as well as Tibetan, Bhutanese, Nepalese, Japanese and Konkani and Batak Toba cuisines, among others.

Sichuan pepper has a unique aroma and flavour that is not hot or pungent like black or white pepper, or chili peppers, but has slight lemony overtones and creates in the mouth a kind of tingly numbness that sets the stage for these hot spices. Recipes often suggest lightly toasting and then crushing the tiny seed pods before adding them to food. Only the husks are used; the seeds are discarded or ignored. It is generally added at the last moment. Star anise and ginger are often used with it and it figures prominently in spicy Sichuan cuisine. Ma la, meaning "numbing and spicy", a flavour common in Sichuan cooking, is a combination of Sichuan pepper and chili pepper.

It is also available as an oil (marketed as either "Sichuan pepper oil" or "Hwajiaw oil"). In this form it is best used in stir fry noodle dishes without hot spices. The preferred recipe includes ginger oil and brown sugar to be cooked with a base of noodles and vegetables, with rice vinegar and Sichuan pepper oil to be added after cooking.

Sichuan pepper is one of the key ingredients in five-spice powder, used widely in Chinese cooking.


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