Sichuan pepper, or Szechuan pepper, is used in Western China’s regional cuisine to bring distinctive cold-heat to dishes. Sichuan pepper falls into China’s ‘ma’ flavour category (mouth-numbing spiciness) rather than ‘la’ (chilli hotness), which results in an unusual, tongue-tingling flavour sensation. Sichuan pepper is often used in cooking alongside star anise, ginger and red chillies.
What is Sichuan pepper?
Sichuan pepper is a distinctive and versatile ingredient used widely in Chinese cookery, where it's known as hua jiao - literally 'flower pepper' - and has no western substitute. The brick-red pepper berries grown on bushes in the rutaceae (rue) or citrus family. This explains the lemon-scented leaves and citrus notes of the Sichuan peppercorn. The Sichuan pepper plant looks much like a rose bush with sharp thorns, and a rich red stem. Its berries consist of a black seed encased in a red outer shell. The berries are dried, and the black seed separated out and disposed of, leaving just the outer red husk.