Other names: Sichuan Pepper,Aniseed pepper, Sprice pepper, Chinese prickly ash, Fagara, Sansho, Zanthoxylum piperitum
General Information: Szechwan pepper is the outer pod of the tiny fruit of a number of species in the genus Zanthoxylum, widely grown and consumed in Asia as a spice. Szechwan peppercorns are rust coloured with hair-thin stems and open ends. The dried berries resemble tiny beechnuts measuring 4 - 5 mm in diameter. The rough skin splits open to reveal a brittle black seed, about 3 mm in diameter, however the spice mainly consists of the empty husks. Despite the name, it is not related to black pepper or to chili peppers. It is widely used in the cuisine of Sichuan, China, from which it takes its name, as well as Tibetan, Bhutani, and Japanese cuisines, among others.
It is known in Chinese as huājiāo (花椒; literally "flower pepper"); a lesser-used name is shānjiāo (山椒; literally "mountain pepper"; not to be confused with Tasmanian mountain pepper). In Japanese, it is 山椒 sanshō using the same Chinese characters as shanjiao. In Tibetan, it is known as emma.
Applications: The berries should be gently roasted to release aromatics before crushing with a mortar and pestle or electric coffee grinder. If a fine powder is desired, sieve to remove the husks and stalks. Store in airtight containers, out of sunlight.
Originating from the Szechwan province of China, Szechwan pepper is associated with dishes from that region which feature hotter and spicier cooking than the rest of China. Duck and chicken dishes in particular work well with the spice. Hua jiao yen is a mixture of salt and Szechwan pepper, roasted and browned in a wok and served as a condiment to accompany chicken, duck and pork dishes. Star anise and ginger are often used with it and figures prominently in Szechwan cuisine.
Szechwan pepper is one of the few spices important for Tibetan and Bhutani cookery of the Himalayas, because few spices can be grown there. The national dish of Tibet are momos, a pasta stuffed with yak and flavoured with Szechwan pepper, garlic, ginger and onion. The noodles are steemed and served dry, together with a fiery chile sauce.
Szechwan pepper is an ingredient in Chinese five-spice powder and shichimi togarashi, a Japanese seven-flavour seasoning.
History: From 1968 to 2005, the United States Food and Drug Administration banned the importation of Szechwan 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. It was never an issue of harm in human consumption. The import ban was only loosely enforced until 2002 . In 2005, the USDA and FDA lifted the ban, provided the peppercorns are heated to around 70 degrees Celsius (160 degrees Fahrenheit) to kill the canker bacteria before importation.