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Sichuan peppercorns nutrition facts

Aromatic, pungent Sichuan peppercorns are the spicy outer coat of the berries belonging to prickly ash family. The rusty-red peppercorns popular as huajiao, are one of the five spices of Chinese five spice powder. Scientific name: Zanthoxylum simulans.

Prickly-ash tree is a citrus family flowering plant native to mountainous Szechuan region in China. It is a small tree with numerous short spines on both the stems and the leaf petioles, and large knobs on the branches as in lemon. During the winter season the flowers appear in slender cymes which subsequently produce tiny reddish brown berries by the end of spring. The ripe fruits open out to release the round, black seeds from inside. It is this outer coat (husk) which is used as spice whereas seeds are discarded. Sichuan peppercorns are different from black peppercorns which are native to India in plant characters, aroma and hotness. Sichuan peppers feature anise like flavor with slight tangy taste and produce less pronounced pungency than other type peppers.

Health benefits of sichuan peppercorns

  • One of the popular ingredients of East Asian cooking, the peppers are indeed very rich source of essential oils, minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants.

  • Unlike other pepper verities, Sichuan pepper contains unique essential oils which give them special citrusy flavor with biting pungent sense. Their aromatic flavor comes from terpenes such as ?-myrcene, limonene, geraniol, linalool, cineol, citronellal, and dipentene. Whereas their hotness is due to certain alkamides in the outer shell.

  • Like black peppers, szechuan peppers also aid in the digestion power by increasing gastro-intestinal juice in the gut.

  • Szechuan peppers are also good source of vitamins such as vitamin A, carotenes, pyridoxine, and thiamin and minerals like copper, potassium, iron, manganese, phosphorous, selenium and zinc.

Medicinal uses

  • Native North Americans use the ground bark of Szechuan plant as a remedy for toothache.

  • Like in anise, these peppers found application in many traditional medicines as stomachic, anti-septic, anti-spasmodic, carminative, digestive, expectorant, stimulant and tonic.

Selection and storage

Sichuan peppercorns are available year around. You may find whole or ground peppers in jars, air-seal packets, especially in Chinese spice stores. Buy whole peppers (husk) instead of powder as you may need to use whole peppers in stews.

Peppercorns can be stored at room temperature for several months and can be milled using hand mill, pestle and mortar or in coffee grinde as and when required. Powdered pepper should be stored in the refrigerator in airtight containers.

Preparation and serving methods

Sichuan peppercorns commonly feature in Chinese, Tibetan, Korean, Japanese and Nepalese cooking. In mainland China, it is one of the main ingredients of five spice mixtures along with star anise, fennel seeds, clove, and cassia bark (cinnamon). As in other spices like coriander seeds, their flavor is enhanced by gently roasting under low heat. Thus gently dry-fried sichuan peppercorns are added to stir-fries. Whereas in stews, whole peppercorns dipped in cheese cloth and removed easily after cooking.

Here are some preparation tips:

  • The peppercorns are regular spice items in Sichuan cuisine. Some of popular preparations use these peppers are kung pao chicken, wok-fried chicken, mapo doufu, “hot pot” dish etc.

  • The spice also features in traditional Tibetan cuisine to flavor rice cake dumplings.

  • Sichuan pepper oil is used in noodles, chowmein, and in vegetable, fish, prawns stir-fries.

  • In Japan, the leaves of Zanthoxylum piperitum (shansho) are dried and ground and added to dishes.

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