(what’s that food)

Grab a bag of these peppers and be prepared to enjoy their unique flavour. Native to China, the name would suggest that they are related to the black peppercorn (native to India), however these spices are not related.

Sichuan peppercorns are the dried berries of a rue plant, not peppercorns at all. The rue plant falls into the citrus species of plants.

Photo credit: Laura Weatherbie/Salty

Sichuan (also spelled Szechuan) pepper is known for its tongue-numbing or tingling sensation. Research has shown that its effects are actually similar to the effects of subjecting the lips to rapid vibration. Often used along with ginger to give heat to dishes, this pepper is also a part of Chinese Five Spice blends. Unlike many chiles or peppers, the sichuan peppercorn does not impart a lot of heat to a dish by itself, despite the tingling sensation it creates in one’s mouth. Its flavour tends to be more subtle, described as having lemony undertones.

The husk around the seeds may be used whole, or ground to a fine powder. The black seeds found inside the husks are often discarded as they are difficult to grind and most of the desired flavour is found in the husks.

As well as being a prominent part of Chinese cooking, sichuan peppercorns are used in Tibetan, Japanese, and Bhutanese dishes. No longer an ingredient found only in East Asian dishes, many chefs across the globe are adapting recipes to this unique spice, creating tongue-tingling pastries, entrees, and cocktails to name a few.

About Cheryl Young

A “Jill of all trades” describes Cheryl to a T. From operating her own handyperson company, to selling luxury cars, to working as a film and TV crew member, her resume is diverse. But her dream as a kid was to be a journalist and she started down that path many years ago at CBC Charlottetown. Returning to her journalism roots, she’s excited to be editing Salty’s content and occasionally writing herself.

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