Zanthoxylum piperitum

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This article is about an aromatic plant used in Japan and Sothern Korea. For an ethnic group, see Chopi people. For a Bantu language, see Chopi language. For Chinese or Szechuan pepper, see Sichuan pepper.
Zanthoxylum piperitum
Zanthoxylum piperitum.jpg
Zanthoxylum piperitum
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Rosids
Order: Sapindales
Family: Rutaceae
Genus: Zanthoxylum
Species: Z. piperitum
Binomial name
Zanthoxylum piperitum
(L.) DC

Zanthoxylum piperitum, called Japanese pepper, chopi,[1] or Korean pepper[1] in English and sanshō (Japanese: 山椒) in Japanese, is a deciduous aromatic spiny shrub or small tree, belonging to the Rutaceae (citrus and rue) family.[2] Natural range spans from Hokkaido to Kyushu in Japan,[3] southern parts of the Korean peninsula,[4] and Chinese mainland.[5] The related Z. schinifolium (Japanese: イヌザンショウ pron. inuzanshō, lit., "dog sansho") occurs as far south as Yakushima,[6] attaining a height of 3 meters.[5]

It is an important host plant for several Japan indigenous swallowtail butterfly species, including the common Papilio xuthus.


In Japanese, the name sanshō(山椒) refers to Z. piperitum, and the name inuzanshō(犬山椒, "dog sanshō") refers to Z. schinifolium. In Korean, the cognate name sancho(산초) refers to Z. schinifolium, and the name gaesancho(개산초, "dog sancho") refers to Z. armatum. In Korea, Z. piperitum is called chopi(초피). In Japan, Z. armatum var. subtrifoliatum, which is a variety of Z. armatum, is called fuyuzanshō(冬山椒, "winter sanshō").

Japanese Korean
Z. piperitum sanshō chopi
Z. schinifolium dog sanshō sancho
Z. armatum dog sancho
var. subtrifoliatum winter sanshō


The tree blooms in April to May, forming axillary flower clusters, about 5mm, and yellow-green in color. It is dioecious, and the flowers of the male plant can be consumed as hana-sanshō, while the female flowers yield berries or peppercorns of about 5mm.

For commercial harvesting, thornless varieties called the Asakura sansho are widely cultivated.[5] Around September to October, the berries turn scarlet and burst, scattering the black seeds within.

The branch grows pairs of sharp thorns, and has odd-pinnately compound leaves, alternately arranged, with 5〜9 pairs of ovate leaflets having crenate (slightly serrated) margins.



Fruit and seeds
Fresh green Japanese pepper in a supermarket in Japan


The pulverized mature fruits ("peppercorns" or "berries") known as "Japanese pepper" or kona-zanshō (Japanese: 粉ざんしょう) are the standard spice for sprinkling on the broiled eel (kabayaki unagi) dish. It is also one of the seven main ingredients of the blended spice called shichimi, which also contains red chili peppers.[7][8]

The finely ground Japanese pepper, kona-zanshō, is nowadays usually sold in sealed packets, and individual serving sizes are included inside heat-and-serve broiled eel packages. While red chili pepper is never used on eel, otherwise, in many usages, the Japanese red chili pepper, or the shichimi blend of peppers can be used in lieu of Japanese pepper alone, according to taste: e.g., to flavor miso soup, various noodles in broth or dipped in tsuyu, Japanese pickles (tsukemono), teriyaki or fried chicken.

Young leaves and shoots, pronounced ki no mé[7] or ko no mé[5] (Japanese: 木の芽 lit. "tree-bud") herald the spring season, and often garnish grilled fish and soups. They have a distinctive flavor and is not to the liking of everyone. It is a customary ritual to put a leaf between cupped hands, and clap the hands with a popping sound, this supposedly serving to bring out the aroma.[7] The young leaves are crushed and blended with miso using pestle and mortar (suribachi and surikogi) to make a paste, a pesto sauce of sorts,[9] and then used to make various aemono (or "tossed salad", for lack of a better word). The stereotypical main ingredient for the resultant kinome-ae is the fresh harvest of bamboo shoots,[10] but the sauce may be tossed (or delicately "folded", to use a pastrymaking term) into sashimi, clams, squid or other vegetable such as tara-no-me (Aralia elata shoots).

The immature green berries, blanched and salted, are called ao-zanshō (lit. "green sansho"). The berries are traditionally simmered into dark-brown tsukudani, but nowadays are also available as shoyu-zuke, which is just steeped in soy sauce. The berries are also cooked with small fry fish and flavored with soy sauce (chirimen jako[ja]), a specialty item of Kyoto, since its Mount Kurama outskirts is a renowned growing area of the Japanese pepper.

The thornless variety Asakura sansho derives its name from its place of origin, the Asakura district in the now defunct Yokacho[ja], integrated into Yabu, Hyōgo.[4]

Wakayama Prefecture boasts 80% of domestic production.[11] Aridagawa, Wakayama procuces a specialty variety called budō sanshō ("grape sansho"), which bears large fruits and clusters, rather like a bunch of grapes.[11]

Confections In central and northeastern Japan, a non-sticky rice-cake type confection called goheimochi[ja], which is basted with miso-based paste and grilled, sometimes uses the Japanese pepper as flavor additive to the miso.[12][13] Also being marketed are sansho flavored arare (rice crackers),[14][15] snack foods, and sweet sansho-mochi.[16][17]


chueotang served with chopi powder, deulkkae powder, and garlic chives

The fruit of Zanthoxylum piperitum, chopi, is called by many names including jepi, jenpi, jipi, jopi in southern parts of Korea,[18] where the plant is extensively cultivated and consumed. In Southern Korean cuisine, chopi is used as a condiment served with varieties of food such as chueotang(pond loach stew), maeuntang(spicy fish stew), and hoe(raw fish). Chopi leaves are eaten pickled as jangajji, pan-fried to make buchimgae(Korean pancake), or deep-fried as fritters.


  • chopigaru – chopi powder, made by grounding dried and deseeded chopi fruit


  • chopisun – young leaves of chopi, used as a culinary herb or a namul vegetable
  • chopiaekjeot – a type of aekjeot(liquid jeotgal), made by putting anchovies, salt, and chopi leaves in layers in a sterilized jar, then letting them ferment for a year or more



In Japan, the thick wood of the tree is traditionally made into a gnarled and rough-hewn wooden pestle, to use with suribachi.



The husks are used medicinally. In traditional Chinese medicine it finds uses similar to the hua jiao or Sichuan pepper


In Japanese pharmaceuticals, the mature husks with seeds removed are considered the crude medicine form of sanshō. It is an ingredient in bitter tincture[ja], and the toso wine served ceremonially. The pungent taste derives from sanshool and sanshoamide. It also contains aromatic oils geraniol, dipentene, citral, etc.[19][20][21]


In Southern parts of Korea, the fruit is traditionally used in fishing. Being poisonous to small fishes, a few fruits dropped in a pond make the fishes float shortly.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b English Names for Korean Native Plants (PDF). Pocheon: Korea National Arboretum. 2015. p. 683. ISBN 978-89-97450-98-5. Retrieved 24 December 2016 – via Korea Forest Service. 
  2. ^ Makihara, Naomi (1983). "Spices and Herbs Used in Japanese Cooking". Plants & gardens. Brooklyn Botanic Garden. 39&: 52. 
  3. ^ Montreal Horticultural Society and Fruit Growers' Association of the Province of Quebec (1876). First Report of the Fruit Committee. Montreal: Witness Printing House. p. 25. 
  4. ^ a b 岡田稔 (1998). "和漢薬の選品20:山椒の選品". 月刊漢方療法. 2 (8): p.p.641–645. 
  5. ^ a b c d 奥山, 春季 (Haruki Okuyama) (1969) [1968]. "さんしょう". 世界百科事典. Heibonsha. 9: 698–9. 
  6. ^ 川原勝征; 初島住彦 (1876). 屋久島の植物. Witness Printing House. p. 109. 
  7. ^ a b c Andoh & Beisch, p. 47
  8. ^ Andoh & Beisch, p. 47, under shichimi tōgarashi
  9. ^ Shimbo 2001,p.261 uses this same metaphor
  10. ^ Shimbo 2001, p.261–, "Bamboo shoots tossed with aromatic sansho leaves (takenoko no kinome-ae)"
  11. ^ a b prefectural website:県民の友8月号|和歌山県ホームページ
  12. ^ "五平餅の作り方". とよた五平餅学会. Retrieved 2011-01-30.  shows how-to in Japanese; notes you may add "* sansho, chopped walnuts or peanuts according to taste".
  13. ^ 農文協 (2006). 伝承写真館日本の食文化 5 甲信越. 農山漁村文化協会. ,p.13. In Inadani[ja]the goheimochi is enjoyed with sansho miso in spring, yuzu mison in autumn.
  14. ^ "京山椒あられ". 小倉山荘. Retrieved 2011-01-30. 
  15. ^ "山椒あられ". 七味家本舗. Retrieved 2011-01-30. 
  16. ^ "実生屋の山椒餅". NPO法人佐川くろがねの会. Retrieved 2011-01-30. 
  17. ^ "餅類". 俵屋吉冨. Retrieved 2011-01-30. 
  18. ^ 박, 선홍 (22 September 2011). "음식 잡냄새 잡고 들쥐 쫓아주는 매콤한 향" [Spicy aroma that deodorizes food and drives out harvest mice]. Chungcheong Today (in Korean). Retrieved 26 December 2016. 
  19. ^ Kimura et al. 1989, p.82
  20. ^ Hsu, Hong-Yen (1986). Oriental materia médica: a concise guide. Oriental Healing Arts Institute. p. 382. , "..citral, citronellal, dipentene; (+)-phellandrene, geraniol;(2)pungent substances: sanshool I (a-sanshool), sanshoamide"
  21. ^ This section translated from Japanese version [Medicinal use: 2004.7.23 (Fri.) 21:04 added by user: Kurayamizaka; Active ingredients: 2004.7.26 (Mon) 07:08 by Kurayamizaka], and lists only the active ingredients stated there.