Sichuan cuisines also spelled as Szechuan or Szechwan cuisines, get their deep and rich flavors from the Sichuan peppercorns. This hot pepper is the essence of popular Sichuan dishes like Fuqi Fei Pian, Sichuan Hot Pot, Dandan Mian, and a few others.
This article unravels the uses and flavors of this pepper, as well as the best Sichuan peppercorns, substitute that you can use.
What Is Sichuan Peppercorn?
Sichuan peppercorn is a spice formed from the husks of seeds of the prickly ash shrub, Zanthoxylum, which belong to the citrus family of plants.
Only the pinkish-red husks around the seeds are used for the Sichuan peppercorn spice and the actual seed is discarded. This peppercorn is available as a whole husk or in ground form.
Sichuan peppercorn is one the chief ingredient in the famous Chinese Five-Spice powder, that is used in several savory Sichuan dishes.
The other names of Sichuan peppercorns include Sichuan Pepper, Szechuan pepper, and Huajiao in Chinese and sansho in Japanese
What does Sichuan pepper taste like? Sichuan food is most well-known for its hot and spicy flavor with altering flavors of sweetness and sourness. Its aroma has a close similarity to lavender.
At the first bite of this peppercorn, it tastes slightly bitter and then a numbing heat, followed by citrus notes. The numbing sensation it creates in the mouth is something unique due to its special chemical composition.
Sichuan pepper is not as hot as the black peppercorns, but the mouth tingle caused by this peppercorn enhances the taste of other ingredients in your food.
Uses in Cooking
Sichuan peppercorn is most commonly used as an ingredient in Chinese five-spice powder that includes fennel, aniseed, cinnamon, and clove.
Szechuan peppercorns are also used as a fragrant, mouth-numbing spice in several Sichuan dishes like Dan-Dan noodles, and Szechuan Chicken. It is an excellent pairing with meat.
What Is A Good Sichuan Peppercorn Substitute?
Most foodies love to gorge on spicy, hot Sichuan dishes. This pinkish peppercorn is a key ingredient in many recipes like kung pao chicken and Sichuan noodles. Some use it as a flavor-alternative to the regular black pepper. However, most people don’t have access to this peppercorn outside China; also it’s expensive. In a pinch, you may use one of the Sichuan pepper alternatives listed below:
1. Tasmanian pepper
The Tasmanian pepper is mostly found in some parts of Australia, and it’s wild-harvested only on the island of Tasmania.
Tasmanian pepper is neither related to Szechuan pepper nor belongs to the piper nigrum family. This aromatic pepper has a wonderful flavor that tastes like the blend of fennel and juniper. Its floral and woody notes are quite identical to Szechuan peppercorns.
Just like the Sichuan pepper, it’s an excellent spice mate for meat dishes for rendering a floral, pungent note. Tasmanian pepper is popularly used in emu burgers and other Australian bush foods just as how Szechuan pepper is used in Sichuan cuisines.
Use Tasmanian pepper in a 1:1 substitute for Szechuan peppercorns.
2. Grains of paradise
Grains of paradise, also known as alligator pepper or melegueta pepper, is a species in the ginger family, Zingiberaceae, and closely related to cardamom. This spice is a popular ingredient in several North African cuisines.
The seeds have a woody, piney aroma and a warm, peppery taste. The taste is almost like a combination of cardamom and black pepper with a hint of mild citrusy note. It’s now being increasingly used as a pepper alternative, though they don’t have the harshness of most peppercorns.
The flavor profile of grains of paradise has the most characteristics of Szechuan pepper. Being milder in flavor, use grains of paradise in twice the amount of Szechuan pepper required in your recipe.
3. Tellicherry pepper
Originally, the black peppercorns from Thalassery (previously Tellicherry), a township in the state of Kerala in India are known as Tellicherry peppercorns. At present, a Tellicherry peppercorn is actually determined by size; if a black peppercorn is 4.25 mm pinhead or larger, it’s Tellicherry peppercorns regardless of from where they are sourced.
These berries have a strong spicy and fruity fragrance of fresh corn husks and a hint of citrus with a classic pepper heat. Flavor-wise, this peppercorn can be a decent stand-in for Szechuan pepper.
Use Tellicherry peppercorns as a 1:1 substitute for Sichuan pepper.
4. Black Pepper
Black pepper is not a perfect Sichuan alternative but will certainly work in for some dishes. Especially, the fresh black peppercorns have a strong and aroma and higher intensity of flavor that somewhat matches the fruity and earthy flavor of Sichuan peppercorns.
Some chefs advocate the use of a combination of fresh black peppercorns and coriander seeds to mimic the flavor profile of the Szechuan pepper.
The Bottom Line
Sichuan peppercorn produces a tingling, numbing effect on the tongue with a hot and spicy flavor. This peppercorn is the soul of many of the popular Sichuan cuisines.
If you don’t have Szechuan pepper, the best alternative to use is the Tasmanian pepper. The second-best substitutes for Sichuan pepper are Tellicherry pepper and Grains of paradise.
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