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Szechuan Peppercorns are a totally unique spice. But contrary to popular belief, they’re not as much about heat as they are about the unique mouthfeel they create. Known ashua jiao,these northern Chinese peppercorns are both fragrant and mouth-numbing with an aroma that ranges from lavender to lemon. Here's a little introduction into where they come from, what they taste like, and how to cook with Szechuan peppercorns, complete with a few recipes to help you get started.
You may have seen them floating atop a boiling, spicy hot pot or mixed in with delicious hand-pulled noodles and slow-cooked beef. Szechuan peppercorns make an appearance in some of the most delicious foods on earth!
A crucial ingredient in Sichuan cuisine, they’re usually paired with red chile peppers to create a powerful mouth-numbing sensation that perfectly complements the spicy heat. While they might seem intimidating to cook with at first, they’re actually great for the average home cook! With very little effort, they offer instant complexity to your dishes!
Szechuan peppercorns themselves aren’t actually hot - no more so than regular black pepper - though their tingling properties can help you enjoy spicy ingredients even more. The molecules in this little reddish pink peppercorn cause confusion in the mouth’s nerve receptors, which results in a numbing sensation that’s almost refreshing or fizzy. They work unlike any other spice out there. Some chefs believe that by numbing the mouth, their diners are able to experience the more nuanced, fruity flavours of the chilies in their dishes. But beware, they’re addictive!
Actually, Szechuan peppercorns aren’t even peppercorns at all. Nor are they chili peppers. They're the pods or husks that surround the seeds from the prickly ash shrub. The seeds are removed and these dried husks are often sold whole or ground at Asian supermarkets or right here at Zest & Zing. Szechuan peppercorns are also frequently incorporated into the traditional Chinese Five Spice blend.
Many home cooks might be scared off by the prospect of incorporating a mouth-numbing ingredient into their cooking, but it’s really the perfect way to start making authentic Chinese food. These dishes aren’t difficult or complicated, but most of them do have some kick! After all, heat is what the Szechuan Province is known for. However, all of their flavours tend to be well balanced rather than overwhelmingly hot. If you don’t like your food spicy, just tone down the number of red chilies in the recipe. That’s where the heat comes from!
Instead of ordering Chinese takeaway, try creating your ownSzechuan Beef orChicken. Experiment by cooking real Mapo Tofu,Kung Pao Chicken, orDan Dan Noodles at home. You can also use Szechuan peppercorns to create simple yet flavourful vegetable dishes like theseSzechuan Green Beans which are tossed with lots of garlic, sesame oil, ginger, and soy sauce. With the right ingredients, these dishes don’t take long to prepare - we've chosen simple recipes which typically involve high heat and shorter cooking times.
You can also use these peppercorns to create your own mouth-numbing condiments as well. Incorporate that tingly sensation into your cooking easily by making aSzechuan peppercorn oil. All it requires is roasting and grinding the spice and tossing it into your favorite peanut oil. Or try toasting the peppercorns in a pan withsea salt and blending them to create aSzechuan Peppercorn Salt. That way, all you have to do is reach for a dash of your homemade secret Szechuan ingredient to heighten the experience of any dish!