Sichuan pepper also known as Szechuan pepper is a spice that is often seen as a secret weapon to bring some colour and mouth popping flavour to some of the simplest dishes.
The spice has a long history of being traditionally used in Chinese medicine for colds and reducing fever. In the past this tongue tingling spice has also been used as a token of affection, in rituals and ceremonies infused with wine to remove ‘evil spirits’ and with other spices and herbs to help preserve corpses. It’s even been the subject of wars and amazing expeditions to find out the best route to where it was grown!
Essential to lots of Szechuan dishes which in the Szechuan region are normally hotter than anywhere else in China, it is often paired with ginger or star anise and is one of the main ingredients that is found in five spice powder.
Add it to duck, chicken, pork, vegetables such as cabbage or noodles and it will help enhance the flavour of the dish and bring vibrancy to your plate!
The origins of Sichuan pepper
Native to the Szechwan province of China and Taiwan, it can also be found growing in the Himalayas, Thailand, Indonesia, Japan and North America.
The first recordings of the spice was in “Shijing” in the “Classic of Poetry” 11th-7th BC where this mouth numbing spice was used as a token of affection. Than in 1046-771 BC the spice was used in the Western Zhou Dynasty during worshipping ceremonies in incense, with the smell creating a calming and lasting scent.
Spreading from China to West Asia and Europe, the Szechuan berries were banned in America from 1968-2005 due to wide spread fears that the berries could spread a disease to citrus trees.
How is Sichuan pepper used in cooking?
There are lots of ways to enjoy this sharp spice including adding it to stir fries, soups, braised meat, dumplings, tofu and stews. Infusing it with oil to create a Ma oil, it can be used on salads or cold dishes.
Fried, the Sichuan pepper starts to really release its aroma, but if they become over cooked they become very bitter. Once fried you can grind them and mixed with salt it creates a delicious seasoning.