Sichuan Pepper

2007 Schools Wikipedia Selection. Related subjects: Food and agriculture

Sichuan Pepper
Chinese name
Hanyu Pinyin: huājiāo

Sichuan pepper (or Szechuan pepper) is the outer pod of the tiny fruit of a number of species in the genus Zanthoxylum (most commonly Zanthoxylum piperitum, Zanthoxylum simulans, and Zanthoxylum sancho), 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, Bhutani, and Japanese cuisines, among others.

It is known in Chinese as huājiāo ( 花椒; literally "flower pepper"); a lesser-used name is shānjiāo ( 椒; literally "mountain pepper"; not to be confused with Tasmanian mountain pepper). In Japanese, it is 山椒 sanshō, using the same Chinese characters as shanjiao. In Tibetan, it is known as emma.

Culinary uses

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 (caused by its 3% of hydroxy-alpha-sanshool) that sets the stage for these hot spices. Recipes often suggest lightly toasting and then crushing the tiny seedpods before adding them to food. Only the husks are used; the seeds are stone-like and are discarded. 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. It is considered to go well with fish, duck, and chicken dishes, as well as with fried eggplant. It has an alkaline pH and a numbing effect on the lips when eaten in larger doses. Ma la (Chinese: 麻辣; pinyin: málà), a flavor 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.

Hua jiao yan ( Simplified Chinese: 花椒盐; Traditional Chinese: 花椒鹽; pinyin: huājiāoyán) is a mixture of salt and Sichuan pepper, roasted and browned in a wok and served as a condiment to accompany chicken, duck and pork dishes. The peppercorns can also be lightly fried in order to make a spicy oil with various uses.

Sichuan pepper is one of the few spices important for Tibetan and Bhutanese cookery of the Himalayas, because few spices can be grown there. One Himalayan specialty is the momo, a dumpling stuffed with vegetables, cottage cheese or minced yak meat, beef or pork and flavoured with Sichuan pepper, garlic, ginger and onion. The noodles are steamed and served dry, together with a fiery sauce. Tibetans believe it can sanitize meat that may not be so fresh. In reality it may only serve to mask foul flavours. Perhaps it is because of the foul smell masking property of Sichuan pepper that made it popular in dishes made of visceral organs of slaughtered animals.

In Japan the dried and powdered leaves of Zanthoxylum sancho are used to make noodle dishes and soups mildly hot and fragrant. The whole leaves, 木の芽 kinome, are used to flavour vegetables, especially bamboo shoots, and to decorate soups. The buds, seeds, flowers, and hulls are also used.

Sichuan peppercorns are one of the traditional ingredients in the Chinese spice mixture five-spice powder and also shichimi togarashi, a Japanese seven-flavour seasoning.

Composition of various species

  • Z. fagara (Central & Southern Africa, South America) — alkaloids, coumarins (Phytochemistry, 27, 3933, 1988)
  • Z. simulans (Taiwan) — Mostly beta-myrcene, limonene, 1,8-cineole, Z-beta-ocimene (J. Agri. & Food Chem., 44, 1096, 1996)
  • Z. armatum (Nepal) — linalool (50%), limonene, methyl cinnamate, cineole
  • Z. rhetsa Sabinene, limonene, pinenes, para-cymene, terpinenes, 4-terpineol, alpha-terpineol. (Zeitschrift f. Lebensmitteluntersuchung und -forschung A, 206, 228, 1998)
  • Z. sansho (Japan [leaves]) — citronellal, citronellol, Z-3-hexenal (Bioscience, Biotechnology and Biochemistry, 61, 491, 1997)
  • Z. acanthopodium (Indonesia)


From 1968 to 2005, the United States Food and Drug Administration banned the importation of Sichuan peppercorns because they were found to be capable of carrying citrus canker (as the tree is in the same family, Rutaceae, as the genus Citrus). This bacterial disease, which is very difficult to control, could potentially harm the foliage and fruit of citrus crops in the U.S. It was never an issue of harm in human consumption. The import ban was only loosely enforced until 2002 . In 2005, the USDA and FDA lifted the ban, provided the peppercorns are heated to around 70 degrees Celsius (160 degrees Fahrenheit) to kill the canker bacteria before importation.

The genus name Zanthoxylum or Xanthoxylum comes from the Greek ξανθὸν ξύλον, "yellow wood".

Other names

It is possible to come across names such as "Szechwan pepper", "Chinese pepper", "Japanese pepper", "Aniseed pepper", "Sprice pepper", "Chinese prickly ash", "Fagara", "Sansho", "Nepal pepper", "Indonesian lemon pepper" and others, sometimes referring to specific species within this group, since this plant is not well known enough in the West to have an established name.

Sichuan pepper is unrelated to black pepper (genus Piper) and to chile peppers, which are also widely used in Sichuan cookery.

In Nepal, where it is extensively used, it is known as "Timur".

A similar spice by name 'Teppal' is being used in the states of Maharashtra, Karnataka and Goa in India, by a very small community called Konkani's (they speak a language called Konkani), an official language of Goa and spoken in many parts of these 3 states. 'Teppal' is a fruit which grows on trees full of thorns. It grows in bunch like grapes. Fresh fruits are parrot green in color and is used as a flavoring agent in many curries made with a paste of coconut, chillies and other spices. The fruit is seasonal and available during the monsoon period. When dried, the flesh of the fruit hardens, turns to brownish black colour and opens up to show the black seeds within. The seeds are discarded and the dried fruit is stored in containers for use around the year. This spice is mostly used in Fish preparations and a few vegetarian dishes, with the coconut masala. This spice has a very strong woody aroma and is discarded at the time of eating the Veg / Fish curry.

Retrieved from ""