Szechuan Peppercorn


General Information 

The Chinese Prickly-ash is a small deciduous shrub that reaches heights of approximately 2 meters. It flowers in the spring and later develops small red berries in the summer that are roughly 5 millimeters in diameter. They crack open as they further ripen, separating the pungent outer husk from the neutral black seed inside. The peppercorns are harvested, hulled and toasted to develop their inherent flavors, and usually sold as a dried condiment either on their own or mixed with other spices and salt. They offer both a complex peppery flavor and a numbing sensation on the palate beginning with bright citrusy notes and finishing with a warm heat leaving the tongue and lips buzzing with an almost anesthetic feeling.



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.