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Sichuan pepper and others (Zanthoxylum piperitum, simulans, bungeanum, rhetsa, acanthopodium)

Synonyms

botanicalXanthoxylum piperitum
pharmaceuticalPericarpium Zanthoxyli
BelarusianСычуаньскі перац
Syčuański perac
BulgarianКитайски пипер, Сечуански пипер
Kitajski piper, Sechuanski piper
BurmeseKathit-pyu (Zanthoxylum rhetsa)
ChineseFagara?; Yan-jiao (Zanthoxylum acanthopodium)
Chinese
(Cantonese)
花椒 [fāa jìu], 胡椒木 [wùh jìu muhk], 崖椒 [ngaih jìu], 毛剌花椒 [mòuh laaht fāa jìu], 刺花椒 [chi fāa jìu], 鷹不泊 [yìng bāt bohk], 山椒 [sāan jìu], 雙面刺 [sèung mihn chi], 兩面針 [léuhng mihn jām], 野花椒 [yéh fāa jìu], 金椒 [gām jìu], 金牛公 [gām ngàuh gùng]
Faa jiu, Wuh jiu mukh; Faa jiu, Ngaih jiu (Zanthoxylum bungeanum); Mouh laaht faa jiu (Zanthoxylum acanthopodium); Chi faa jiu (Zanthoxylum simulans); Ying bat bohk, Saan faa jiu (Zanthoxylum avicennae), Seung mihn chi, Leuhng mihn chi, Yeh faa jiu, Gam jiu, Gam ngauh gung (Zanthoxylum nitidum)
Chinese
(Mandarin)
花椒 [huā jiāo], 秦椒 [qín jiāo], 胡椒木 [hú jiāo mù], 崖椒 [yá jiāo], 毛剌花椒 [máo là huā jiāo], 刺花椒 [cì huā jiāo], 鷹不泊 [yīng bù bó], 山椒 [shān jiāo], 雙面刺 [shuāng miàn cì], 兩面針 [liǎng miàn zhēn], 野花椒 [yě huā jiāo], 金椒 [jīn jiāo], 金牛公 [jīn niú gōng], 川椒 [chuān jiāo]
Hua jiao, Hua chiao, Chuan jiao, Qin jiao, Hu jiao mu; Hua jiao, Hua chiao, Ya jiao (Zanthoxylum bungeanum); Mao la hua jiao (Zanthoxylum acanthopodium); Ci hua jiao (Zanthoxylum simulans); Ying bu bo, Shan jiao (Zanthoxylum avicennae); Shuang mian ci, Liang mian zhen, Ye hua jiao, Jin jiao, Jin niu gong (Zanthoxylum nitidum)
CzechPepř sečuánský, Sanšó koření, Japonský pepř, Čínský pepř
DagbaniKaloa (Zanthoxylum xanthoxyloides)
DanishSechuan Peber
Dogriतिम्बरु
Timbru
DutchSechuan peper
Dzongkhaཐིང་ངེ་
Thing-nge
EnglishSzetchwan pepper, Anise pepper, Sheguan pepper, Sprice pepper, Sichuan pepper, Chinese pepper, Japanese pepper, (Japanese) prickly ash; Indonesian lemon pepper (Zanthoxylum acanthopodium); Nepal pepper (Z. armatum)
EsperantoĈina pipro
EstonianPipra-koldpuu, Koldpuu, Sichuani pipar
EweXe, Xeti (Z. xanthoxyloides)
FanteKanfu (Z. xanthoxyloides)
FinnishSetsuanin pippuri, Anispippuri, Pippuriruutapuu
Ga-DangmeHaatsho (Z. xanthoxyloides)
GalicianPementa de Sichuán
GermanSzechuan-Pfeffer, Chinesischer Pfeffer, Japanischer Pfeffer, Blütenpfeffer, Bergpfeffer, Gelbholzbaum, Anispfeffer; Indonesischer Zitronenpfeffer (Zanthoxylum acanthopodium); Nepalpfeffer (Z. armatum)
FrenchPoivre du Setchuan, Poivre du Sichuan, Baies de Szechuan
Gujaratiત્રિફળા
Triphala
HausaFaskori, Fasa kwari (Z. xanthoxyloides)
Hebrewקסאנטוסילום
קסַאנטוֹסִילוּם
Ksantosilum, Qsanthosylum (refers to entire genus)
HungarianÁnizsbors, Kínai bors, Szecsuáni bors, Japánbors, Virágbors
Hindiतेजफल
Mullilam, Tilfda (Zanthoxylum rhetsa); Tejphal, Tejbal (Z. alatum); Tambhul (Z. acanthopodium), Tumburu (Bezug unklar)
IcelandicSichuanpipar
IndonesianAndaliman, Intir-intir (Zanthoxylum acanthopodium); Kembang seriawan (Z. nitidum); Kayu lemah (Z. rhetsa)
Japanese山椒, 木の芽, 両面針
さんしょう, きのめ
サンショウ, リョウメンシン, キノメ
Sanshō; Kinome (fresh leaves); Ryōmenshin, Ryomenshin (Zanthoxylum nitidum)
KannadaKamte kai (Z. rhetsa)
KonkaniTeppal, Tippal (Z. rhetsa)
Korean초피, 개산초, 왕초피, 머귀, 산초
Chopi; Wang-chopi (Zanthoxylum coreanum); Meogwi, Mogwi (Zanthoxylum ailanthoides); Sancho (Zanthoxylum schinifolium); Kae-sancho (Zanthoxylum planispinum)
Laoຕະຈໍ, ໝາກແຄ່ນ, ໝາກຄວງ
Tchor, Tacho, Mak khaen (Zanthoxylum nitidum), Mak khen (Zanthoxylum nitidum), Khen (Zanthoxylum nitidum), Khouan (Zanthoxylum nitidum), Khen khu (Zanthoxylum acanthopodium), Khen ton (Zanthoxylum acanthopodium), Kok mak ma (Zanthoxylum acanthopodium), Mad (Zanthoxylum alatum), Mak khuang (Zanthoxylum nitidum), Tok mak khe (Zanthoxylum nitidum)
LithuanianJaponiškas pipiras, Pipirinė uosrūtė; Plokščiadyglė uosrūtė (Zanthoxylum simulans)
Maithiliटिमुर
Timur
MalayPokok kuku lang, Kayu sekatok (Z. nitidum); Hantu duri (Z. rhetsa)
MalayalamKaatmurikku (Zanthoxylum rhetsa)
Manipuri (Meitei-Lon)মুক্থ্রূবী
ꯃꯨꯛꯊ꯭ꯔꯨꯕꯤ
Mukthrubi
Marathiतिरफळ, तिर्फळ
Tirphal, Chirphal (Z. rhetsa)
MizoArhrikreh (Z. armatum)
Naga (Angami)Ganya (Z. alatum), Ganyasei (Z. acanthopodium), Mong-Mong, Muthise
Naga (Ao)Changpet (Z. acanthopodium), Mong (Z. rhetsa), Mongmong (Z. alatum ); Mongret, Changbetsung (Changki dialect)
Naga (Chakhesang-Chokri)Lengo, Methishe, Gonyosho (Z. acanthopodium); Mothi, Muthini (Z. rhetsa); Ganyo (Z. alatum)
Naga (Khezha)Mothiche (Z. rhetsa)
Naga (Konyak)Matkat (Z. acanthopodium), Petak (Z. rhetsa)
Naga (Lotha)Okohan (Z. acanthopodium), Mouthi (Z. rhetsa)
Naga (Rengma)Amezhu (Z. acanthopodium), Amethi (Z. rhetsa)
Naga (Sumi)Nakaniye (Z. acanthopodium), Angothi (Z. rhetsa)
Nepaliटिमुर
Timur (Z. alatum)
Newari
(Nepalbhasa)
तेवु
Tevu
Nuosuꀞꏦ
Bajie
NzemaAyenle, Anyinle (Z. xanthoxyloides)
PolishPieprz żółtodrzew, Pieprz syczuański
PortuguesePimenta Szechuan
RomanianPiper chinezesc, Piper de Sichuan, Piper roșu chinezescPiper roşu chinezesc
RussianЯпонский перец, Сычуаньский перец, Санчо
Yaponskij perets, Sychuanskij perets, Sancho
SerbianЈапански бибер, Сечуан бибер
Japanski biber, Sečuan biber
SlovakSečuánske korenie, Fagara
SwedishSezchuanpeppar
TagalogChi-it, Sibit paklauit (Z. alatum); Kayetana, Kaitana (Zanthoxylum rhetsa)
Thaiกำจัดต้น, มะข่วน, มะข่วง, มะแข่น, พริกหอม, ลูกระมาศ, กำจัดหน่วย, งูเห่า
Malar; Makkak (Zanthoxylum alatum); Kamchat ton, Makhuan, Makhuang, Makaen, Prik hom, Luk ramat, (Zanthoxylum limonella = Z. rhetsa); Kamchat nuai, Ngu hao (Zanthoxylum nitidum)
Tibetanགཡེར་མ་, ཨེམ་
Emma, Yerma, G-yer ma (Z. alatum or Z. acanthopodium)
TwiOkanto, Yea, Bebun (Z. xanthoxyloides)
VietnameseDắng cay, Sẻn gai, Sẻn, Hạt sẻn, Sâng, Hoàng lục, Xuyên tiêu, Cây hoàng mộc hôi, Cóc hôi, Sẻn lá to, Hoàng mộc nhiều gai, Muồng truổng, Hoàng mọc dài
Dang cay, Sen gai (Zanthoxylum alatum); Sen, Hat sen, Sang, Hoang luc, Xuyen tieu (Zanthoxylum nitidum); Cay hoang moc hoi, Coc hoi (Zanthoxylum rhetsa); Sen la to, hoang moc nhieu gai (Zanthoxylum myriacanthum); Muong truong, Hoang moc dai (Zanthoxylum avicennae)
Zanthoxylum piperitum/simulans: Dried Sichuan peppercorn
Dried fruits of Z. piperitum (or Z. simulans?), Chinese Sichuan pepper (fagara, jiao)

Zanthoxylum rhetsa (limonella): Indian Sichuan pepper
Dried fruits of Z. rhetsa, an North Indian relative of Sichuan pepper (tilfda, tirphal, tippal)

Zanthoxylum acanthopodium: Andaliman, Sumatra pepper, jungle pepper
Dried fruits of Z. acanthopodium, an Indonesian relative of Sichuan pepper (andaliman, intir-intir)
Zanthoxylum alatum/armatum: Nepali Sichuan pepper, timur
Nepalese Sichuan pepper (timur [तिम्बुर])
Zanthoxylum schinifolium: Korean sancho spice
Dried fruits and seeds of the Korean species Z. schinifolium (sancho [산초])
Zanthoxylum piperitum: Korean chopi spice
Dried fruits of Korean Z. piperitum (chopi [초피])
Used plant part

Dried fruits. The aroma and, if present, also the pungency reside in the mostly brown fruit wall (pericarp, shell), not in the deep black seeds. Often, the seeds are omitted. I have repeatedly read that the seeds have bitter taste, but was never able to find that for myself. A better reason to remove them is their unpleasant, gritty texture that almost feels like sand between the teeth.

The Korean species Z. schinifolium has aromatic seeds which are preferred for usage, although the pericarp could also be used, as the flavours are the same.

The spice as commercially available very often contains significant amounts of stem material, mostly the very tough and pointed thorns, which can be harmful if swallowed; it’s best to remove them before usage.

In Japan, young leaves of the Sichuan pepper tree are used fresh, both as flavouring and decoration (kinome or konome [木の芽, きのめ, このめ]).

Plant family

Rutaceae (citrus family).

Sensory quality

The dried fruits of Sichuan pepper and its relatives have an aromatic odour that, for most species, can be described as lemon-like, with more or less pronounced warm and woodsy overtones. Some of the species have deviating flavour, e. g., Z. alatum (spicy) and Z. avicennae and Z. schinifolium both of which have an anise aroma.

The taste of most species is pungent and biting; it may take some time to develop, but in the end produces a strangly numbing, almost anaesthetic feeling on the tongue. Again, Z. schinifolium is an exception because it has only small pungent quality.

Sichuan pepper (Z. piperitum) leaves have a fresh flavour somewhat in between of mint and lime.

Main constituents

Most Zanthoxylum species produce pungent alkamides derived prom polyunsaturated carboxylic acids, which are stored in the pericarp (fruit wall, shell) but not in the seeds. The exact nature of these alkamides may vary from species to species, but common examples are amides of 2E,6Z,8E,10E dodecatetraenoic acid, 2E,6E,8E,10E dodecatetraenoic acid, and 2E,4E,8Z,10E,12Z tetradecapentaenoic acid with isobutyl amin (known as α, β and γ sanshool, respectively) and 2-hydroxy isobutyl amin (hydroxy sanshools), which have been found in several different species of the genus. Total amide content can be as high as 3% (reported in Z. piperitum). Similar alkamides were found in a herb from South America called paracress.

Zanthoxylum piperitum/alatum/acanthopodium/rhetsa: Four regional types of szechwan pepper
Four types of culinary Sichuan pepper: Upper left Nepali timur (Zanthoxylum alatum), upper right Indonesian andaliman (Z. acanthopodium), lower left Indian tirphal (Z. rhetsa), lower right Chinese jiao (Z. piperitum/simulans) (200 dpi scan).
Zanthoxylum spec.: Muthise, Mong-mong, Sichuan pepper relative from Naga-Land
Zanthoxylum species from Nagaland

Within the ge­nus, a be­wildering collection of further, potentially interesting nonvolatile con­stituents has been identi­fied: flavonoids, terpene alka­loids, benzo­phenthridine alka­loids, pyrano­quinoline alka­loids, quar­ternary iso­quinoline alka­loids, aporphy­rine alka­loids and several types of lignanes.

The typical flavour of Sichuan peppers is due to es­sential oils which are, as a rule, mostly com­posed from terpenoids, but the exact composition varies considerably among the species, and sometimes even within the species. The following accounts on Zanthoxylum essential oils can only give a coarse overview on that matter.

The essential oil (up to 4%) of Chinese Si­chuan pepper (labelled as Z. piperi­tum, but could also be Z. simu­lans or other) as sold in Euro­pe con­sists mostly of terpenes: Geraniol, linalool, cineol, citronellal; also di­pentene was found. (Deutsch. Apoth-Zeit., 46, 2381, 1987)

The fruits of the Taiwanese species, Z. simulans, yielded mainly β-myrcene, limonene, 1,8-cineol and (Z)-β-ocimene. The total content of essential oil was reported to be 1.7% (steam distillation) and 6.4% (carbon dioxide extraction). (Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 44, 1096, 1996)

The leaves of Z. sansho (Japan, allegedly identical to Z. piperitum) contain mostly monoterpene derivatives (citronellal, citronellol) and unsaturated C6 compounds (e. g., Z-3-hexenal), which contribute to a grassy odour. (Bioscience, Biotechnology and Biochemistry, 61, 491, 1997) In the unripe fruits, the content of essential oil is reported to 0.6%, with β-phellandrene (42%), d-limonene (23%) and β-pinene (11%) being the main components. Terpene alcohols (geranyl acetate, citronellol, α-terpineol) were found in the 1 to 5% range. The young leaves (0.12%) yielded mostly terpene hydrocarbons. (Nippon Nogeikakaku Kaishi, 70,1001, 1996)

The most abundant constituent in the essential oil of Z. acanthopodium (Indonesia) is geranyl acetate (35%); the flavour is, however, dominated by the citrus-scented compounds limonene and citronellal. Further components are β-myrcene, β-ocimene, linalool and E-1-decenal. (H. Wijaya, personal communication) (Food Science and Biotechnology, 11, 680, 2002)

Zanthoxylum piperitum/schinifolium: Szechwan pepper relatives of Korea: Chopi and Sancho
Two Zanthoxylum species used in Korean cooking: left chopi (Z. piperitum), right sancho (Z. schinifolium) (200 dpi scan).

The Korean species Z. schini­folium is parti­cularly inter­esting because it is almost non-pungent, and the essential oil distri­butes evenly between peri­carp and seeds. The essential oil was shown to consist mainly of terpenoids (geraniol, limonene, geranyl acetate, β‑phellandrene, phellandral, myrcene, linalool, α‑pinene), but also nonterpenoid volatiles (p‑isopropyl-2‑cyclohexenone, caproic acid, caprylic acid) and especially phenyl­propanoids (anethole, eugenol, methyl chavicol) have been found. (Han’guk Sikp’um Yongyang Hakhoechi, 11, 493, 1998) (Han’guk Sikp’um Yongyang Hakhoechi, 12, 119, 1999) (Zhongguo Zhongyao Zazhi, 16, 359, 1991)

Z. alatum, a species growing in the Himalayas and figuring prominent in Tibetan and Nepali cooking, is reported to contain mostly linalool (more than 50%), further limonene, methyl cinnamate and cineol. (Flavour and Fragrance Journal, 16, 408, 2001) (Journal of Essential Oil Research, 10, 127, 1998)

Also in the Indian species, Z. rhetsa (syn. Z. limonella), the essential oil (3.7%) has been shown to consist mainly of monoterpene derivatives: Sabinene, limonene, pinenes, para-cymene and terpinenes, furthermore the monoterpene alcohols 4-terpineol and α-terpineol. (Zeitschrift f. Lebensmitteluntersuchung und -forschung A, 206, 228, 1998)

Another work on com­position of the leaf oil found caryo­phyllene oxide (13%), caryo­phyllene (10%), β-copaene (5%) and spathulenol (3%); the same authors report sabinene (66%), α- and β-pinene (each 6%) and terpinen-4-ol (4%) in the seed oil. Al­though the authors actually write seed oil, I suspect that the work refers to the es­sential oil obtained from the pericarp. (Journal of essential oil research, 12, 179, 2000)

Zanthoxylum simulans: Huajiao (Sichuan pepper) with prickle and fruit
Sichuan pepper stem with fruits and prickles

© Laila Kolberg

Zanthoxylum simulans: Sichuan pepper thorns
Sichuan pepper trunk with strong thorns
Origin

The term Sichuan pepper refers to a spice obtained form a group of closely related plants of genus Zantho­xylum. In Asia, most represen­tatives of this genus are found in the Himalaya region, furthermore in Central, South, South East and East Asia. American and African Zanthoxylum species have not yet been put to culinary use.

The most important species are: Z. piperitum DC = Z. sansho (Central and Eastern China, Japan, Korea), Z. simulans Hance = Z. bungei (China, Taiwan), Z. bungeanum Max. (China), Z. schinifolium Sieb. et Zucc. (China, Korea), Z. nitidum Roxb (DC) (China, peninsular South East Asia), Z. rhetsa Pierre var. budranga Pier. = Z. limonella (Western North India, peninsular South East Asia), Z. armatum DC = Z. alatum Roxb. (Himalaya, peninsular South East Asia, East Asia), Z. avicennae (Lamk) DC = Z. tidorense (China, peninsular South East Asia, Indonesia) and Z. acanthopodium DC (eastern Himalaya, China, peninsular South East Asia, Sumatra). All species mentioned here have their place in local cuisines and can (excepting Z. schinifolium) mostly be used interchangeably. Literature often gives contradicting information which spice is used where; furthermore, Zanthoxylum is a difficult genus with many different, similar and not well-researched species.

Zanthoxylum simulans: Ripening Chinese Sichuan pepper
Chinese Sichuan pepper shrub

© Laila Kolberg

Etymology

Zantho­xylum is a dis­simi­lated or probab­ly simply false modi­fication of Greek xanthon xylon [ξανθὸν ξύλον], yellow wood. Cf. German Gelbholz­baum yellow-wood tree and Polish pieprz żółto­drzew yellow-tree pepper (zółty yellow and drzewo tree; see also juniper for the linguistic affiliation of the latter).

Botanical species names of the species mentioned above are derived either by local names (rhetsa, sansho) or are of Latin/Greek origin: piperitus from Latin piper pepper because of the peppery taste; simulans imitating from simulare imitate for the similarity to other species; alatus winged for the leaves’ shape; nitidus shiny, for the bright leaves; armatus armed, from arma weapon for the mighty thorns; further, acanthopodius thistle-footed for similar reasons from Greek akantha [ἄκανθα] thistle, thorn and pous [πούς] foot; lastly schinifolius because the foliage looks like that of Peruvian Pink Pepper (Schinus molle).

The English name prickly ash refers on one side to the numerous thorns of the plant (which are even commonly found in the dried spice), on the other side to the pinnate leaves, which very much resemble those of ash (Fraxinus excelsior). English ash goes back to the Indo–European name of this tree, H₃ES, and is, consequently, found in many Indo–European tongues (Old English æsc, German Esche, Old Norse askr, Lithuanian uosis, Armenian hatseni [հացենի], Russian yasen [ясень]); it must not be confused with its English homonym ash burned material, which derives (via Common Germanic ASKŌ) from an Proto-Indo–European verbal root H₂ES burn and also has relatives in nearly all Indo–European languages: English arid, German Esse chimney, Sanskrit ashani [अशनि] thunderbolt, Latin ara altar (for fire-worshiping), Greek azaleos [ἀζαλέος] dry, inflammable.

Zanthoxylum simulans: Hwa chiao (hua jiao) berries
Sichuan pepper panicle

© Laila Kolberg

The North Ameri­can species, Z. ameri­canum, is known as toot­hache tree. Due to the an­aesthetic power of its alkamide con­stituents, the plant is ef­fective in sup­pressing tooth­ache temporarily if unripe fruits or the wood of young branches are chewed. Another plant rich in alkamides, paracress, has similar names.

The Chinese name of Sichuan pepper is jiao []; to distinguish from other hot spices, the name is often expanded to shan jiao [山椒] mountain pepper, hua jiao [花椒] flower pepper or more rarely qin jiao [秦椒] Chinese pepper and chuan jiao [川椒] Sichuan pepper. While most European tongues name the spice Sichuan-pepper or China-pepper, one sometimes finds loan translations of the first two names, e. g., Hungarian virágbors flower pepper or German Bergpfeffer mountain pepper.

In Western literature, the Chinese name of Sichuan pepper is sometimes given als fagara; in botanical taxonomy, that term denotes a related genus (the name was introduced by Linnaeus in the 17.th century). The word originates from a variant pronunciation of the logographs 花椒; cf. the Cantonese reading fajiu. Possibly, fagara stems from a related South Chinese dialect, or just goes back to an inaccurate transcription of the Cantonese name.

Similar to English, which often uses the word pepper to denote pungent spices even if they are unrelated to pepper, Chinese often forms compound names with the jiao element for such spices. Thus, chile is la jiao [辣椒] hot Sichuan pepper, long pepper is chang jiao [長椒] long Sichuan pepper, paprika is tian jiao [甜椒] sweet Sichuan pepper and allspice can be called gan jiao [甘椒] which also means sweet Sichuan pepper. The most important compound of that type is hu jiao [胡椒] wild pepper, which can also be interpreted as foreign pepper or barbarian’s pepper. which usually means black pepper, but can be applied to Sichuan pepper, too. That compound name may also appear in the name of pepperlike spices, e. g., hundred flavour wild (black) pepper (bi wei hu jiao [百味胡椒], allspice) or wild (black) pepper from the West (ba xi hu jiao [巴西胡椒], pink pepper which is a spice native to America). Tasmanian pepper is called shan hu jiao [山胡椒] wild (black) pepper of the mountain, probably calqued on the English name mountain pepper (a name used predominantly in Australia for Tasmanian pepper).

Zanthoxylum alatum: Nepalese pepper (timur) infrutescence
Ripening fruits of Nepalese Z. alatum
Zanthoxylum alatum: Nepalese pepper (tmur) ripe fruits
Ripe fruits of Nepalese Z. alatum

The name of the dish dry-fried lamb with three types of jiao (sanjiao bao yangrou [三椒爆羊肉]) is due to that ambiguity: Green bell peppers (qing jiao [青椒] green pepper) and chiles (la jiao) are quickly fried in a wok and sprinkled with toasted Sichuan pepper (hua jiao).

Chinese shan jiao [山椒] is also the source of Korean sancho [산초]; note, however, that this name refers to a related spice with completely different flavour. The spice corresponding to Chinese jiao is known as chopi [초피] in Korean; this name also shows a syllable derived from jiao.

Similarly, Japanese sanshō [山椒, さんしょう, サンショウ] is adapted from Chinese shan jiao [山椒] mountain pepper. It is even spelt alike in Chinese and Japanese if the Japanese Kanji writing system is employed. The Kanji sign means mountain also in Japanese, and like most Kanji, it has two distinct readings: Alone and in mostly natively Japanese words it is spoken yama (kun reading), e. g. archaic yama-kujira [山鯨, やまくじら] wild boar (literally mountain whale) or in seiyō-yama-hakka [西洋山薄荷, せいようやまはっか] which is the Japanese name of lemon balm (literally foreign mountain-mint). Yet in words of Chinese origin one has to apply the on-reading which goes san, e. g. san-kei [山径, さんけい] mountain path or the said name of Sichuan pepper, san-sho. Occasionally, the Kanji reading is totally irregular, e. g., in wasabi [山葵, わさび].

The Chinese term ma [] basically means hemp fibre (it can also denote hemp or, by extension, sesame seeds); the sign shows plants (lin [] trees, forest) drying under a shed (chang [] factory, workhouse). Apparently, the narcotic properties of hemp motivated its use for the numbing flavour of Sichuan pepper.

Selected Links

The Epicentre: Szechwan Pepper chemikalienlexikon.de: Linalool Recipe: Sangsang (saksang) (eng.ohio-state.edu) Rezept von goccus.com: Shichimi tōgarashi [七味 唐辛子] Recipe: Aurey Bendi (Indian Lima Beans) (groups.google.com) Rezept von goccus.com: Shui zhu niu rou [水煮牛肉] (In Wasser gekochtes Rindfleisch) Recipe: Shui zhu niu rou [水煮牛肉] (Sichuan water-boiled beef) (www.juoaa.org) Rezept: Shui zhu niu rou [水煮牛肉] (In Wasser gekochtes Rindfleisch Sichuan-Art) (www.laohu.de) Rezept: Shui zhu niu rou [水煮牛肉] (Rindfleischtopf Sichuan-Art) (chefkoch.de) Recipe: Nepali Meat and Vegetable Momos (groups.google.com) Sichuan Food’s Signature Fire Is Becoming Hard to Find — About the Ban of Sichuan Pepper in the USA Sichuan is hot and spicy; the food too! (gluckman.com) Gewürz-Bazar: Nepalpfeffer (timbur)


Zanthoxylum simulans(?): Sichuan pepper flower
Zanthoxylum flower
Zanthoxylum sp.: Sichuan pepper branch
Sichuan pepper branch with fruits
The several species of Sichuan pepper are widely distributed over Asia, but are not used as spice throughout the region. Sichuan pepper is most important in the cuisines of Central China and Japan, but the related species (which I shall call Sichuan pepper as well, for simplicity) is also known in parts of India, the whole Himalaya region, and in selected spots in South East Asia. Its usage has, however, not spread to the most of South East Asia.

In China, the spice Sichuan pepper (jiao) is obtained from several local species of Zanthoxylum, and therefore the quality of the spice varies regionally. Although it is often claimed that Z. piperitum is the canonical source of Sichuan pepper, it appears that actually Z. bungeanum, Z. simulans, Z. planispinum and Z. armatum are most commonly used. According to reports from the field of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Z. bungeanum is the most valued of these, and the others are considered as inferior substitutes.

Chinese Si­chuan pepper is part of the five spice pow­der (see star anise). It is most cha­rac­teris­tic of, but not re­stricted to, the cooking style of Si­chuan, a partly high­land pro­vince in Central China. For examples of the usage of Si­chuan pep­per in Sichuan-style Chinese cooking, see orange (on the beef stew au larm) and sesame (on the spicy bean cheese food mapo doufu [麻婆豆腐]); see also cassia on the pan-Chinese master sauce cooking technique.

The character­istic biting or numbing taste of Sichuan pepper makes it an indispensable spice for Sichuan cookery; if it is omitted or substituted by black pepper or chiles alone, the foods would appear flat or lifeless to any true Chinese connoisseur. In Chinese culinary theory, this type of pungency is important enough to get its own name (ma []), to have a clear distinction to the type of heat provided by other hot spices (which is named la []). To increase the ma-ness of food at the table, Sichuan pepper is often used as a condiment; a chile-laden Sichuan stew covered with a thick layer of freshly ground Sichuan pepper is indeed a food one does not forget easily. The two types of hotness very well complement each other (ma la [麻辣] hot-and-numbing). Combination of chiles fire and tickling ma is typical for Sichuan cooking; yet similar creations are, in a lesser degree, found, e. g., in Brazil and Indonesia, where paracress takes up the part of Sichuan pepper.

Zanthoxylum piperitum: Ripe fagara fruits
Ripe Sichuan pepper fruits

perso.wanadoo.fr

Many Chi­nese foods, espe­cially such origi­nating from Sichuan, have an inten­sive ma-la flavour. Apart from the former men­tioned mapo doufu, one could men­tion a Si­chuanese beef stew, water-cooked beef shui zhu niu rou [水煮牛肉]. The dish draws its extreme pun­gency from a com­bination of chile-bean-paste (doubanjiang), chiles browned in hot oil, and Sichuan pepper that has under­gone the same procedure. Stock is added to yield a fiery liquid that is used to rapidly cook vegetables and thinly sliced beef (sometimes pork). On serving, the whole dish is topped with crushed chiles and Sichuan pepper.

The method of frying aromatic ingredients in oil till they develop an intensive fragrance is referred to as chao xiang [炒香] fragrant frying; it is quite analogous to the Indian baghar [बघार] method (see onion). In can be applied to a variety of ingredients, including some spices (Sichuan pepper, chiles, garlic, ginger) but also black fermented beans (dou chi [豆豉]) and bean pastes; in Sichuan, fragrant-fried doubanjiang [豆瓣酱] paste is often responsible for an intensive taste and the bright red colour of the cooking oil.

In Chinese cooking, dry toasted Si­chuan pepper is often used as a table condi­ment, either pure or in the form of fla­voured salt (jiao yan [椒盐, 椒鹽] or hua jiao yan [花椒盐, 花椒鹽]). To pr­epare this typical Si­chuan fla­vouring, coarse salt and dried Sichuan pepper are toasted to­gether until some smoke evolves; after cooling, both are ground together to coarse powder. This peppered salt is a common table condiment in China. Occasionally, flavoured salt also prepared from black pepper instead of Sichuan pepper (hu jiao yan [胡椒盐]).

Zanthoxylum simulans: Sichuan pepper fruits
Sichuan pepper fruits
Zanthoxylum sp.: Sichuan pepper (?) fruits
Ripe Sichuan pepper fruits

A similar usage is found in Japan, where the spice (sansho, sanshō, sanshou [山椒]) is pro­duced from the species Z. piper­itum: The popu­lar condi­ment shichimi tōgarashi [七味 唐辛子, しちみ とうがらし] is com­posed of hot red chiles, Sichuan pepper, tangerine or orange peel and smaller amounts of black and white sesame seed, poppy seed and sea weed (nori [海苔, のり]). All components are ground together to a coarse texture. Shichimi tōgarashi is mainly a table condiment which is sprinkled over noodle soups and hotpots.

The Japanese variant of Sichuan pepper is also used to flavour meats fried on a hot plate (teppanyaki [鉄板焼き, てっぱんやき]); unfortunately, it is often substituted by the cheaper white pepper, particularly outside of Japan. Japanese Sichuan pepper is mostly traded ground, and it has both a fresh, pleasant lime fragrance and a well-developed pungency.

Zanthoxylum alatum: Nepalese pepper
The Nepali variety of Sichuan pepper, Z. alatum
Zanthoxylum alatum: Female flowers and dry fruits of Nepali Sichuan Pepper
Female flowers and last year’s fruits of Z. alatum

Korean cuisine is probably the only in the world that utilizes two different Zantho­xylum species. Chopi [초피] is exactly the same species as Japanese sansho and very similar to Chinese jiao; it is used for a wide variety of foods (meat, fish, vegetables), sometimes even for kim chi (see chile). On the other hand, sancho [산초] derives from the related species Z. schinifolium and is a uniquely Korean flavouring wholly distinct from Japanese sansho; is has a mild, aromatic flavour somewhat in between of Thai horapha basil and star anise. The ground seeds often flavour pickles and hot sauces.

In Western and South Western India, cooks sometimes use another relative of Sichuan pepper with slightly larger capsules (Z. rhetsa = Z. limonella); it is called tirphal [तिरफळ] in Marathi and triphala [ત્રિફળા] in Gujarati. Usage of that otherwithe unknown spice is mostly restricted to India’s West coast (Gujarat, Maharashtra, Goa, Karnataka), where it is used for fish dishes. Contrasting the conventional Indian cooking habits, it is normally not combined with other spices since its flavour is considered delicate and gets easily lost among other spices. Chinese Sichuan pepper is a fully satisfying substitute.

In Nepali cooking, a local species of Si­chuan pepper (Z. arma­tum = Z. alatum) is used as a spice. The dark and some­what purple-hued capsules are signifi­cantly more pun­gent than the Chinese ones; their scent is very strong, almost per­vasive, and very spicy; it reminds more of rose and cassia than to lemon, although it lacks any sweet quality. Nepali Sichuan pepper is used for curries and pickles; it’s one of the most frequently used spices in the cuisine of Nepal, especially in medium elevetation. It is very common for all kinds of pickles, but usually employed in small amounts, such that the fragrance but not the numbing pungency is transmitted to the foods.

Zanthoxylum alatum: Ripening Nepali Sichuan Pepper
Unripe fruits of Nepali Sichuan Pepper

The same type of Si­chuan pep­per is one of the few spices im­portant in the cui­sines of the Hima­layan peoples, for example in Tibetan and Bhutanese cookery. Because of the unique climate, few spices can be grown in Tibet; instead, flavour­ings of animal origin are used, especially various types of cheese. The national dish of Tibet and Nepal is a kind of stuffed pasta called momo [मोःमोः, མོག་མོག་]. The most popular version of this dish, sha momo [ཤ་མོག་མོག་], uses a stuffing of ground meat (typically, mutton or yak) flavoured with Sichuan pepper, garlic, ginger and onion. The noodles are traditionally simmered in yak broth, but today more often steamed due to Chinese influence. They are served dry, often topped with chopped chives, and together with either garlic water or a fiery chile sauce. Sometimes, they are fried after steaming. Particularly among the Tibetan diaspora in India, vegetarian momo stuffed with cheese, potatoes oder green vegetables have become popular.

Tibetan cooking also makes use of the combination of chiles with Sichuan pepper, quite obviously a culinary loan of mala foods from China; after all, Tibet borders the fiery Sichuan province, and today that province also houses a significant number of Tibetan families. The spicy noodle soup malaphing [མ་ལ་ཕིང་] could also be served in a Sichuan restaurant: Cabbage leaves and flat noodles are cooked in a quite salty broth augmented with soy sauce, which is remarkably close to the liquid used for the water-boiled beef; on serving, it is flavoured with chile paste, crushed garlic, dark sesame oil and ground Sichuan pepper.

Zanthoxylum acanthopodium: Sumatra pepper twig
Twig of the Indonesian relative of Sichuan pepper, Z. acanthopodium

Yet another type of Sichuan pepper grows wild on the Indonesian island Sumatra, where it is used as a spice by a few ethnic groups. In Indonesian cookbooks, this spice is sometimes termed Indonesian lemon pepper, which must not be confused with the lemon-flavoured black pepper found in Western super­markets. The spice, in Indo­nesia known as andaliman, is less pungent than other types of Sichuan pepper and has a more intensive lime fragrance, similar to the Japanese species. It could perhaps be substituted by a mixture of Chinese or Japanese Sichuan pepper plus some fresh lemon grass or better lemon myrtle leaves.

Indonesian Sichuan pepper is most characteristic for the cuisine of the Batak, a formerly animistic and now Christian people inhabiting a small area in the Northern part of Sumatra. Batak food is quite hot and spicy, e. g., sangsang, bits of pork meat and viscera stewed in a thick, spicy sauce containing pig’s blood. See also lemon grass for Indonesian cookery in general.

On Indonesia’s main island, Jawa, there is another local type of Sichuan pepper in culinary use: Z. avicennae, also known as karangeang in Western Jawa. According to my sparse literature, the leaves have a coriander flavour, and the fruits remind of anise.

Sichuan pepper cannot really be called fiery, but it has an unusual tickling pungency, which gives way to a characteristic numb sensation (ma in Chinese). Thus, Sichuan pepper cannot be used to prepare hot food. The only other spices with a similar anaesthetic power are Tasmanian pepper, which additionally can provide true peppery heat, paracress, and, to a lesser extent, water pepper leaves. Water pepper seeds have a much increased pungency, and it is remarkable that this spice is not used traditionally in the cooking of any country, despite its easy availability and large distribution in Eurasia. See also negro pepper for a more detailed discussion of hot spices.

Import of Sichuan pepper to the USA was banned in recent years in order to prevent spread of the citrus canker disease. Citrus canker is caused by a bacterium (Xanthomonas axonopodis pv. citri) that infects several members of family Rutaceae, particularly citrus fruits; being highly contagious and impossible to cure, citrus canker now poses a severe threat to the orange industry in Florida. For fear of importing new strains of the pathogen, the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) had set a general ban on several herbal products, including Chinese Sichuan pepper. The ban was lifted in 2005 for Sichuan pepper that had been heat-treated in order to kill any bacteria present. Since then, lovers of Chinese food in the USA do no longer rely on smuggled spices.



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