Sichuan Pepper - Female
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Young plant of Sichuan Pepper.
Zanthoxylum piperitum
Sichuan Pepper - Female

Acquired: 2010
How started:
Source: Washington Park Arboretum, Seattle

Originating from the Sichuan province of China, Sichuan 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 Sichuan 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 Sichuan cuisine. Sichuan 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 flavored with Sichuan pepper, garlic, ginger and onion. The noodles are steemed and served dry, together with a fiery chile sauce. Sichuan pepper is an ingredient in Chinese five-spice powder and shichimi togarashi, a Japanese seven-flavour seasoning

The dried fruits of Sichuan pepper have an aromatic odor that can be described as lemon-like, with more or less pronounced warm and woodsy overtones. The standard method of preparing fresh berries is to gently roast them to release aromatics before crushing with a mortar.The aroma is from pungent alkamides derived from polyunsaturated carboxylic acids, which are stored in the pericarp (fruit wall, “shell”) but not in the seeds. The essential oil (up to 4%) consists mostly of terpenes: Geraniol, linalool, cineol, citronellal; also dipentene was found. The taste is pungent and biting. It may take some time to develop, but in the end produces a strangly numbing, almost anaesthetic feeling on the tongue.

Sichuan pepper leaves have a fresh flavor somewhat in between of mint and lime. It is a distinctive flavor that not everyone likes. In Japan the dried and powdered leaves of the same species of prickly ash is known as sansho and used to make noodle dishes and soups mildly hot and fragrant. The whole leaves, kinome, are used to flavour vegetables, especially bamboo shoots, and to decorate soups. The young leaves are crushed and blended with miso using pestle and mortar (suribachi) to make a paste, a pesto sauce of sorts, and then used to make various aemono (or "tossed salad", for lack of a better word).

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 this plant.

The English name prickly ash refers on one side to the numerous thorns of the plant. 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.

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