Also Known as
Sichuan pepper, Triphal, Teppal, Faraga, Schezwan peppers.
Sichuan pepper (or Szechuan pepper) is the outer pod of the tiny fruit of a number of species in the genus Zanthoxylum (most commonly Z. piperitum, Z. simulans, and Z. schinifolium), 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. Szechwan peppercorns are rust coloured with hair-thin stems and open ends. The dried berries resemble tiny beechnuts measuring 4 - 5 mm in diameter. The rough skin splits open to reveal a brittle black seed, about 3 mm in diameter, however the spice mainly consists of the empty husks. 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 a tingly numbness in the mouth. Recipes often suggest lightly toasting and then crushing the tiny seedpods 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. It is generally added at the last moment.
Finely powdered schezuan pepper- This can be prepared by roasting the whole pepper seeds and then crushing them into fine powder. A blender may be used for this purpose, however care should be taken to avoid grounding the pepper into too fine powder. The finely crushed schezuan pepper are used for marinades or stews or soups.
Coarsely crushed black pepper - Roast the dried peppers, cool them and then crush them coarsely in a hand held pepper miller. It is best to ground the peppers, just before sprinkling on the salads or stir fry vegetables.
How to select
Avoid purchasing pre ground or crushed pepper, because its volatile aromatic notes quickly dissipate and what's left is single-dimensional hotness. Whole schezuan pepper should be heavy, compact and free of any blemishes. Just like with other dried spices, when purchasing schezuan pepper try to select that which is organically grown since this will give you more assurance that it has not been irradiated (among other potential adverse effects, irradiating schezuan pepper may lead to a significant decrease in its vitamin C content. While buying packaged crushed pepper, check the expiry date and feel for lumpiness( sign of moisture inside the packet.)
" Schezuan pepper figures prominently in spicy Sichuan cuisine. It has an alkaline pH and a numbing effect on the lips when eaten in larger doses.
" Duck and chicken dishes in particular work well with the spice. Hua jiao yen is a mixture of salt and Szechwan pepper, roasted and browned in a wok and served as a condiment to accompany chicken, duck and pork dishes. Star anise and ginger are often used with it .
" It is also available as an oil (marketed as either "Sichuan pepper oil", "Bunge Pricklyash 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
" The national dish of Tibet momos, a pasta stuffed with yak are flavoured with Szechwan pepper, garlic, ginger and onion. The noodles are steamed and served dry, together with a fiery chile sauce
" 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.
How to store
Powdered schezuan pepper should be kept in a tightly sealed glass container in a cool, dark and dry place. Whole schezuan peppercorns will keep almost indefinitely, while crushed pepper will stay fresh for about three months
" Crushed schezuan pepper stimulates the taste buds in such a way that an alert is sent to the stomach to increase hydrochloric acid secretion, thereby improving digestion.
" Pepper is an excellent source of manganese, a very good source of iron and vitamin K, and a good source of dietary fiber
" Schezuan pepper has long been recognized as a carminitive, (a substance that helps prevent the formation of intestinal gas), a property likely due to its beneficial effect of stimulating hydrochloric acid production. In addition, the pepper has diaphoretic (promotes sweating), and diuretic (promotes urination) properties.