Sichuan Pepper (Zanthoxylum bungeanum)

Sichuan Pepper (also known as Szechuan Pepper) is famous for use as a spice in Sichuan Province, China. It is also used in other regional cooking and is grown across a large part of Asia.

This plant is classified within the same family (Rutaceae) as citrus.

Why is my mouth numb after eating Sichuan Pepper?

Sichuan Pepper is hot and aromatic, but it has a distinctive mouth-numbing characteristic shared with other Zanthoxylum species. This numbing property is attributable to hydroxy-alpha sanshool, an alcohol contained in the fruit of these plants.

If you have a low to moderate tolerance for spicy food, a small amount of Sichuan Pepper will provide plenty of kick on its own. In classic Sichuan cooking, however, the numbing effect is highly valued as a means to mask the impact of additional chili flakes.

Why are there twigs and leaves in my Sichuan Pepper?

Sichuan pepper detritus

When Sichuan Pepper is mechanically harvested, a significant volume of dried twigs and leaves are gathered in addition to the actual spice.

If you live in Asia, especially within China, you will have access to various grades of Sichuan Pepper and manual harvesting provides the highest quality spice.

For most of the world where appreciation for this amazing ingredient is lagging, you will need to contend with export-grade mechanically-harveted Sichuan Pepper.

You will need to remove this detritus before cooking, especially the larger woody pieces.

Why does Sichan Pepper Taste Gritty?

Sichuan pepper seeds

The Sichan ‘pepper’ spice is actually the dried seed husk, and the seeds themselves must be removed. The small, black seeds have a highly unpleasant sand-like texture in the mouth.

The gritty taste can not be fixed by heating, soaking or crushing – the seeds must be removed.