Wild Szechuan Pepper / Sichuan Peppercorns
Sichuan pepper, Szechwan pepper, Szechuan pepper or Chinese pepper, a common spice used in Asian cuisine, is derived from at least two species of the global genus Zanthoxylum, including Z. simulans and Z. bungeanum. The botanical name of the genus is composed of two Greek words that together mean "yellow wood" (referring to the brightly colored sapwood possessed by several of the species). The genus belongs in the rue or citrus family, and, despite its name, is not closely related to either black pepper or chili pepper.
Sichuan pepper has a unique aroma and flavor that is not hot or pungent like black, white or chili peppers. Instead, it has slight lemony overtones and creates a tingly numbness in the mouth (caused by its 3% of hydroxy alpha sanshool) that sets the stage for hot spices. According to Harold McGee in On Food and Cooking, second edition, p429 they 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). Sanshools appear to act on several different kinds of nerve endings at once, induce sensitivity to touch and cold in nerves that are ordinarily no sensitive, and so perhaps cause a kind of general neurological confusion."
The dried pepper berries give off an aromatic scent. It is described as being lemon-like in most varieties, with a more or less strong warm-woody overtone. The variety found in the Asian area is spoken of in most cases under the name Szechwan pepper or Sichuan Pepper. In Asia, the main area of distribution of this sort lies in the Himalayas. Sprinkle freshly ground over light dishes.
The husk or hull (pericarp) around the seeds may be used whole, especially in Szechuan cuisine, and the finely ground powder is one of the blended ingredients for the five-spice powder. It is also used in traditional Chinese medicine. The pericarp is the part that is most often used, but the leaves of various species are used as well in some regions of China.
|Common Uses||Use in rubs for meat, poultry or seafood. It can also be added to sauces for noodle or stir fry dishes. An ingredient in five spice powder.|
|History||In the United States, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned imports of Szechuan peppercorns for nearly forty years, due to concerns it could cause the spread of a citrus canker, seriously damaging citrus crops in Florida, California and other areas. Lifting the ban finally in 2004.|