For a long time, Sichuan pepper was something of an enigma to me. I first learned about it from my Chinese teacher at school, who mentioned that “it’s not for the faint of heart”. It was only recently when I started cooking with it that I began to understand what this meant.
Sichuan pepper is sometimes referred to as Chinese prickly ash due to its resemblance to the North American herb. It gets its hotness from a chemical compound called “dehydrocapsaicin”, which is related to capsaicin (the compound in chili peppers that makes them hot). The interesting thing about dehdyracapsaicin is that while it can definitely make food hot, it doesn’t feel like eating chili peppers. In fact, sometimes I find it hard to tell if a dish has sichuan pepper in it until I take a bite.
In this post, I want to share with you some tips and tricks on how to cook with sichuan peppercorn so you can decide whether or not you like this ingredient, and finally find a way to cook with it that fits your taste buds!
I’ve written several times before about my obsession with Sichuan peppercorn, or 花椒, huā jiāo, as it’s called in Chinese. I just can’t get enough of it — the flavor is so unique and wonderful.
I’ve done a lot of experimenting with it over the years, and have found that it’s actually pretty easy to use. The trick is learning how to balance the different flavors. In this post, I’ll give you a few tips for getting started with cooking with huajiao yourself.
1) Start small
If you aren’t already familiar with huajiao, start by using just a little bit — maybe 1/10 of what you would normally use of another spice. This is particularly important if you are using whole dried peppers rather than pre-ground powder. Different brands tend to vary in their potency, and if you’re using whole peppers you’ll want to start out slowly until you get a feel for the ones you’ve bought.
2) Go easy on the other spices
Huajiao is unusual in that it’s spicy AND sweet at the same time — many other spices are one or the other but not both. This means that it tends to overpower other
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Sichuan pepper is the dried fruit of a prickly ash tree that is native to the Sichuan province of China. Sichuan peppercorn has a unique flavor that is both spicy and numbing at the same time. If you are not familiar with it, sichuan pepper can be an acquired taste.
The peppercorn itself looks like a tiny brown berry, but it is actually dried. Inside it houses several hard-to-remove black seeds that have an even stronger flavor and kick than the peppercorn itself.
Sichuan pepper is commonly referred to as Chinese pepper or Szechuan pepper, and can be found in any Asian market.
Sichuan pepper is primarily used for cooking meat and vegetables. It pairs especially well with fish, chicken, pork and beef. The best way to use sichuan pepper in dishes is by grinding them before adding them to your food. You can also chop them finely to add a bit more heat and create added texture within your food dish.
The flavor of sichuan pepper can vary from spicy hot to more mild depending on how much of the peppercorn you use within your dish.*
Sichuan peppercorns have been used in Asian cuisine for centuries, but their heat has only recently caught the attention of the American public. Sichuan peppercorns are not actually related to black and white pepper, despite their similar appearance.
Sichuan peppers do share some similarities with black pepper, including a pungency that is described as “biting,” “spicy,” and “hot.” The taste of sichuan peppers is also often compared to citrus fruits like lemons and oranges. But one of the most interesting things about sichuan peppers is how they make your mouth feel.
Tingling sensations can last up to half an hour after eating dishes that contain sichuan peppers, thanks to the chemical compound monohydrate (the same compound found in chili peppers) which is released when you chew the spice. These tingling sensations are what makes Sichuan food unique and fun to eat!
Sichuan Pepper, also called Chinese prickly ash, is the dried fruit of a shrub that grows only in certain parts of China and India. It has a unique flavor when compared to black pepper and has been used for over 2000 years in cooking. It is often used as a spice in Sichuan cuisine.
Taste & Aroma
Sichuan pepper tastes and smells of citrus, pine, and wood with a hint of floral notes. You can smell it before you taste it, but once you do taste it, you’ll likely find yourself wanting more. The aroma and taste are sharp at first with a numbing effect afterward. Its flavors and aromas can be described as citrusy, pine-like, woody, and floral and its spiciness can be described as mildly hot to very hot depending on the quantity used and the dish being made.
Taste & Aroma
Sichuan peppercorns have a strong citrusy scent when they’re dry yet once they’ve been soaked in water or oil they become much milder and almost floral. A lot of people describe them as smelling like pine trees. Once tasted, sichuan peppercorns have an immediate numbing sensation on the tongue that then turns into a sharp
One of the first things that struck me when I moved to California was the prevalence of Szechuan pepper. I didn’t know it at the time, but Szechuan pepper is what gives Chinese food in America its kicky, spicy flavor.
I didn’t know much about Szechuan pepper at first, so I began asking around about it. The older Chinese men I knew all had similar responses: a knowing smile, a shrug, and a fond reminiscence of Chongqing (a former capital of Szechuan) and eating ma la hotpot.
Thing is, none of them were willing or able to tell me what it was or how to use it. They sent me off to find my own answers, which proved harder than expected. My first stop was a local Asian grocery store. There I found powdered Szechuan pepper and Szechuan peppercorn oil, but no actual pepper berries. What does that even look like?
I started looking online and talking to friends who had been to China, but couldn’t find anything conclusive either. Eventually someone recommended trying out the real deal on some unsuspecting friends before attempting to cook with it myself, and so I did just that. After that initial introduction, though, I had