Sichuan/Szechuan Pepper

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In Indonesia’s North Sumatra province, around Lake Toba, Z. acanthopodium is known as Andaliman in the Batak Toba language and tuba in the Batak Karo language.

In America, 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 are used, sometimes referring to specific species within this group, since this plant is not well known enough in the West to have an established name. Some brands also use the English description “dehydrated prickly ash”, since the Sichuan pepper and Japanese sansho are from related plants that are sometimes called prickly ash because of their thorns (though purveyors in the US do sell native prickly ash species (Z. americanum) because it is recognized as a folk remedy. In Kachin State of Myanmar, the Jinghpaw people widely use it in traditional cuisine. It is known as ma chyang among them. Its leaves are served as one of ingredients in cooking soups.

In Indonesian Batak cuisine, andaliman (a relative of Sichuan pepper, Z.acanthopodium) is ground and mixed with chilies and seasonings into a green sambal tinombur or chili paste, to accompany grilled pork, carp, and other regional specialties. Arsik, a Batak dish from the Tapanuli region, uses andaliman as spice.

Sichuan pepper is one of the few spices important for Nepali, 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, water buffalo meat, or pork and flavoured with Sichuan pepper, garlic, ginger, and onion, served with tomato and Sichuan pepper-based gravy. Nepalese-style noodles are steamed and served dry, together with a fiery Sichuan pepper sauce.

In Koran cuisine, two species are used: Z. piperitum and Z. Schinifolium.

Sichuan pepper’s unique aroma and flavour 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 , 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 electric 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 nonsensitive, and so perhaps cause a kind of general neurological confusion.”

Recipes often suggest lightly toasting the tiny seed pods, then crushing them 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. The spice is generally added at the last moment. Star aniseand ginger are often used with it in spicy Sichuan cuisine. It has an alkaline pH and a numbing effect on the lips when eaten in larger doses. Ma la sauce (Chinese; pinyin: málà; literally “numbing and spicy”), common in Sichuan cooking, is a combination of Sichuan pepper and chili pepper, and it is a key ingredient in má là hot pot, the Sichuan version of the traditional Chinese dish. It is also a common flavouring in Sichuan baked goods such as sweetened cakes and biscuits. Beijing microbrewry Great Leap Brewing uses Sichuan peppercorns, offset by honey, as a flavouring adjunct in its Honey Ma Blonde Blode.

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