Sichuan pepper

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Sichuan pepper
Literal meaningFlower pepper

Sichuan pepper (Chinese: 花椒; pinyin: huājiāo; Nepali: टिमुर, romanized: timur), also known as Szechuan pepper, Szechwan pepper, Chinese prickly ash, Chinese pepper, Mountain pepper, and mala pepper, is a spice commonly used in Sichuan cuisine in China, and in Nepal and north east India. Despite its name, Sichuan pepper is not closely related to black pepper or chili peppers. It is made from plants of the genus Zanthoxylum in the family Rutaceae, which includes citrus and rue.[1]

When eaten, Sichuan pepper produces a tingling, numbing effect due to the presence of hydroxy-alpha sanshool.[2] The spice has the effect of transforming other flavors tasted together or shortly after. It is used in Sichuan dishes such as mapo doufu and Chongqing hot pot, and is often added together with chili peppers to create a flavor known as málà (Chinese: 麻辣; 'numb-spiciness').

Species and cultivars[edit]

Newly harvested Sichuan pepper (known locally as 大红袍花椒, dà hóng páo huā jiāo[3]), left out to dry in the sun, Linxia County, Gansu Province, in Northwest China
A handful of green Sichuan peppercorn

Sichuan peppers have been used for culinary and medicinal purposes in China for centuries with numerous Zanthoxylum species called huājiāo (lit. "flower pepper"). Commonly used sichuan peppers in China include hónghuājiāo (Chinese: 红花椒), or red Sichuan peppercorns, which are harvested from Zanthoxylum bungeanum, and qīnghuājiāo (Chinese: 青花椒) or májiāo (Chinese: 麻椒), green Sichuan peppercorns, harvested from Zanthoxylum armatum. Fresh green Sichuan peppercorns are also known as téngjiāo (Chinese: 藤椒).[4] Red Sichuan pepper is typically characterized as stronger-tasting, while green Sichuan pepper is milder but fragrant and has a stronger numbing effect.[5][4] Over the years, Chinese farmers have cultivated multiple strains of these two varieties.[6] Zanthoxylum simulans, known as Chinese-pepper or flatspine prickly-ash, is the source of another red Sichuan peppercorn.[7]

Zanthoxylum armatum is found throughout the Himalayas, from Kashmir to Bhutan, as well as in Taiwan, Nepal, China, Philippines, Malaysia, Japan, and Pakistan,[8] and is known by a variety of regional names, including timur (टिमुर) in Nepali and Hindko,[9] yer ma (གཡེར་མ) in Tibetan[10] and thingye in Bhutan.[11]

Other Zanthoxylum spices[edit]

Zanthoxylum gilletii is an African variety of genus Zanthoxylum used to produce spice uzazi. Similarly, other Zanthoxylum species are harvested for spice and season production in a number of cultures and culinary traditions. These spices include andaliman, chopi, sancho, sanshō, teppal, and tirphal.[citation needed]

Culinary uses[edit]

Sichuan pepper is an important spice in Chinese, Nepali, Kashmiri, north east Indian, Tibetan, and Bhutanese cookery of the Himalayas. Sichuan pepper has a citrus-like flavor and induces a tingling numbness in the mouth, akin to a 50-hertz vibration,[12] due to the presence of hydroxy-alpha sanshool. Food historian Harold McGee describes the effect of sanshools thus:

"...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."[13]

Chinese cuisine[edit]

Whole, green, freshly picked Sichuan pepper may be used in cooking, but dried Sichuan pepper is more commonly used. Once dried, the shiny black seeds inside the husk are discarded, along with any stems; the husk is what we know as Sichuan pepper or peppercorn.[citation needed]

The peppercorn may be used whole or finely ground, as it is in five-spice powder.[14] Ma la sauce (Chinese: 麻辣; 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 Chongqing hot pot.[15]

Sichuan pepper is also available as an oil (Chinese: 花椒油, marketed as either "Sichuan pepper oil", "Bunge prickly ash oil", or "huajiao oil"). Sichuan pepper infused oil can be used in dressing, dipping sauces, or any dish in which the flavor of the peppercorn is desired without the texture of the peppercorns themselves.[16]

Hua jiao yan (simplified Chinese: 花椒盐; traditional Chinese: 花椒鹽; pinyin: huājiāoyán) is a mixture of salt and Sichuan pepper, toasted and browned in a wok, and served as a condiment to accompany chicken, duck, and pork dishes.[17]

The leaves of the sichuan pepper tree are also used in soups and fried foods.[18]

Other regions[edit]

One Himalayan specialty is the momo, a dumpling stuffed with vegetables, cottage cheese, or minced yak or beef, and flavored with Sichuan pepper, garlic, ginger, and onion.[19] In Nepal, the mala flavor is known as timur (टिमुर).[20]

Medicinal uses[edit]

In Traditional Chinese Medicine, Zanthoxylum bungeanum has been used as a herbal remedy. It is listed in the Pharmacopoeia of the People's Republic of China and is prescribed for ailments as various as abdominal pains, toothache, and eczema. However, Szechuan pepper has no indications or accepted case for use in evidence-based medicine. Research has revealed that Z. bungeanum can have analgesic, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, and antioxidant effects in model animals and cell cultures.[21] In rabbits, Z. armatum was experimentally investigated for its potential use in treating gastrointestinal, respiratory, and cardiovascular disorders.[22]


Important compounds of various Zanthoxylum species include:

Historical US import ban[edit]

From 1968 to 2005,[24] the United States Food and Drug Administration banned the importation of Sichuan peppercorns because they were found to be capable of carrying citrus canker (as the tree is in the same family, Rutaceae, as the genus Citrus). This bacterial disease, which is very difficult to control, could potentially harm the foliage and fruit of citrus crops in the U.S. The import ban was only loosely enforced until 2002.[25]

In 2005, the USDA and FDA allowed imports,[26] provided the peppercorns were heated for ten minutes to approximately 140 °F (60 °C) to kill any canker bacteria.[27] Starting in 2007, the USDA no longer required peppercorns to be heated, fully ending the import ban on peppercorns.[28]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Zhang, Mengmeng; Wang, Jiaolong (October 2017). "Zanthoxylum bungeanum Maxim. (Rutaceae): A Systematic Review of Its Traditional Uses, Botany, Phytochemistry, Pharmacology, Pharmacokinetics, and Toxicology". International Journal of Molecular Sciences. 18 (10): 2172. doi:10.3390/ijms18102172. PMC 5666853. PMID 29057808. S2CID 1057880.
  2. ^ Holliday, Taylor (23 October 2017). "Where the Peppers Grow". Retrieved 15 October 2020.
  3. ^ 临夏县概况 (Linxia County overview)
  4. ^ a b "Sichuan Peppercorn | China Sichuan Food". 22 April 2015.
  5. ^ "花椒,藤椒,麻椒,如何区分及不同的使用方法!-美食频道-手机搜狐". Sohu.
  6. ^ Xiang, Li; Liu, Yue (April 2016). "The Chemical and Genetic Characteristics of Szechuan Pepper (Zanthoxylum bungeanum and Z. armatum) Cultivars and Their Suitable Habitat". Frontiers in Plant Science. 7: 467. doi:10.3389/fpls.2016.00467. PMC 4835500. PMID 27148298.
  7. ^ "Xanthoxylum Simulans - North Carolina State University fact sheet".
  8. ^ Kanwal, Rabia; Arshad, Muhammed (22 February 2015). "Evaluation of Ethnopharmacological and Antioxidant Potential of Zanthoxylum armatum DC". Journal of Chemistry. 2015: 1–8. doi:10.1155/2015/925654.
  9. ^ Kala, Chandra Prakash; Farooquee, Nehal A; Dhar, Uppeandra (2005). "Traditional Uses and Conservation of Timur (Zanthoxylum armatum DC.) through Social Institutions in Uttaranchal Himalaya, India". Conservation and Society. 3 (1): 224–230. Retrieved 15 October 2020.
  10. ^ "Some Spices and Ingredients". 16 December 2011. Retrieved 15 October 2020.
  11. ^ Tshering Dema. "Kingdom Essences: An Essential Oil Brand Which Harnesses Natural Ingredients From Rural Bhutan". Retrieved 15 October 2020.
  12. ^ Hagura, Nobuhiro; Barber, Harry; Haggard, Patrick (7 November 2013). "Food vibrations: Asian spice sets lips trembling". Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences. 280 (1770): 20131680. doi:10.1098/rspb.2013.1680. PMC 3779329. PMID 24026819.
  13. ^ McGee, Harold (2007). On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. New York: Scribner. p. 429. ISBN 978-1-4165-5637-4.
  14. ^ "How to Make Five-Spice Powder". 3 February 2020. Retrieved 16 October 2020.
  15. ^ Holliday, Taylor (7 February 2020). "Sichuan Mala Hot Pot, From Scratch (Mala Huo Guo with Tallow Broth)". Retrieved 15 October 2020.
  16. ^ "Sichuan Peppercorn Oil". 3 April 2020. Retrieved 6 October 2020.
  17. ^ "Fragrant crispy duck with Sichuan pepper salt (香酥鸭)". 18 November 2012. Retrieved 15 October 2020.
  18. ^ Crispy Pie Made of Tender Pepper Leaves, retrieved 27 June 2021
  19. ^ Nguyen, Andrea (19 November 2009). "Recipe: Tibetan Beef and Sichuan Peppercorn Dumplings ('Sha Momo')". NPR. Retrieved 15 October 2020.
  20. ^ Gritzer, Daniel; Dunlop, Fuchsia (13 January 2020). "Get to Know Málà, Sichuan Food's Most Famous Flavor". Retrieved 15 October 2020.
  21. ^ Zhang, Mengmeng; Wang, Jiaolong (October 2017). "Zanthoxylum bungeanum Maxim. (Rutaceae): A Systematic Review of Its Traditional Uses, Botany, Phytochemistry, Pharmacology, Pharmacokinetics, and Toxicology". International Journal of Molecular Sciences. 18 (10): 2172. doi:10.3390/ijms18102172. PMC 5666853. PMID 29057808.
  22. ^ Khan, Arif; Gilani, Anwar-ul Hassan (January 2009). "Pharmacological Basis for the Medicinal Use of Zanthoxylum armatum in Gut, Airways and Cardiovascular Disorders". Phytotherapy Research. 24 (4): 553–8. doi:10.1002/ptr.2979. PMID 20041426. S2CID 22485048. Retrieved 16 October 2020.
  23. ^ Wijaya, CH; Triyanti, I; Apriyantono, A (2002). "Identification of Volatile Compounds and Key Aroma Compounds of Andaliman Fruit (Zanthoxylum acanthopodium DC)". Food Science and Biotechnology. 11 (6): 680–683.
  24. ^ "eCFR — Code of Federal Regulations". Retrieved 20 March 2018.
  25. ^ Landis, Denise (4 February 2004). "Sichuan's Signature Fire Is Going Out. Or Is It?". The New York Times. p. F1.
  26. ^ Amster-Burton, Matthew (17 May 2017). "Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sichuan Peppercorns". Village Voice. Retrieved 27 October 2020.
  27. ^ Holliday, Taylor (23 October 2017). "Where the Peppers Grow". Slate. Retrieved 27 October 2020.
  28. ^ "China's Sichuan Peppercorns -- Banned From the US No More - USDA".


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