Szechuan pepper

From Academic Kids

Szechuan pepper
Missing image

Szechuan pepper
Scientific classification

Zanthoxylum piperitum
Zanthoxylum sancho
Zanthoxylum simulans

The Szechuan peppercorn (Zanthoxylum piperitum, Zanthoxylum simulans, Zanthoxylum sancho and some other species in the genus Zanthoxylum) is not a member of the pepper family. It is the outer pod of the tiny fruit of a plant related to the pricklyash.

It is known in Chinese as 花椒 huājiāo (faa1jiu1 in some dialects), literally "flower pepper"; a lesser-used name is 山椒 shānjiāo, "mountain pepper". In Japanese these same characters (山椒) are pronounced sanshō, which can also be written in kana as サンショウ. In Tibetan, it is known as emma. It is widely used in the cuisine of Schuān province, from which it takes its name (Schuān used to be spelt Szechuan).


Culinary uses

The taste of Szechuan peppercorns is not hot like black or red pepper, but is 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. It is generally added at the last moment. Star aniseed and ginger are often used with it and it figures prominently in spicy Szechuan cuisine. It is considered to go well with fish, duck and chicken dishes.

It is also available as an oil (marketed as either "Szechuan 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 szechuan pepper oil to be added after cooking.

花椒腌 (huājiāoyān) is a mixture of salt and Szechuan 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.

Szechuan pepper is one of the few spices important for Tibetan and Bhutani cookery of the Himalayas, because few spices can be grown there. The national dish of Tibet are momos, a pasta stuffed with yak and flavoured with Szechuan 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 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.

Szechuan 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) — alcaloides, coumarines (Phytochemistry, 27, 3933, 1988)
  • Z. simulans (Taiwan) — Mostly beta-myrcene, limonene, 1,8-cineole, Z-beat-ocimene (J. Agri. & Food Chem., 44, 1096, 1996)
  • Z. armatum (Nepal) — linalohol (50%), limonene, methyl cinnamate, cineol
  • 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)


Until very recently there was a long-standing ban on the importation of this pepper. A couple of years ago the FDA banned the importation of Szechuan (Sichuan) Peppercorns because they were carrying a citrus canker virus. This virus could potentially harm the foliage of citrus crops in the U.S. It was never an issue of harm in human consumption. Recently the USDA and FDA have lifted the ban, provided the peppercorns are heated to around 160 degrees Farenheit (which kills the canker virus) before importation.

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

"Szechuan" or "Schuān" is pronounced approximately "sir-chwaan", with the tongue curled back to strongly pronounce the "r", as in an American accent.

It is possible to come across names such as "Szetchuan pepper", "Szechwan pepper", "Chinese pepper", "Japanese pepper", "Aniseed pepper", "Sprice pepper", "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.

Note that there is also a true pepper (genus Piper) that grows in Schuān. They should not be confused.

External links and references

fi:Pippuriruutapuu fr:Poivre du Sichuan ja:サンショウ zh:花椒


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