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Pungent Spices - Sichuan Pepper and Sansho - Zanthoxylum simulans and Z. piperitum

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Sichuan Pepper and Sansho - Zanthoxylum simulans and Z. piperitum

These two spices, the one traditional to the cooking of Sichuan province in China, the other to Japan, are the dried fruits of prickly ash trees. Also called flower pepper, Japanese pepper, and formerly fagara (the prickly ashes are no longer classified in the genus Fagara), the spice should not be confused with black and white peppercorns harvested from the Piper nigrum vine.

Culinary uses

Sichuan pepper is an important constituent of Chinese five-spice powder. For many dishes the berries are dry-roasted for 3–4 minutes. The dry-roasting releases their aromatic oils, but they smoke as they get hot, so control the heat carefully and discard any blackened berries. Let cool, then grind; an electric mill does the job well. Sift and discard the husks, then store in an airtight container to use as a condiment. It is best to make only a little at a time because the flavor soon dissipates. The roasted pepper is also used to make spiced salt. Sichuan pepper is used with poultry and meat to be roasted, grilled, or fried, and also with stir-fried vegetables. Try it with green beans, mushrooms, and eggplant.

Sansho is used as a table condiment in Japan, and is also an ingredient of seven-spice blend, shichimi togarashi. The spice is most commonly used with fatty fish, meat, and poultry to mask the smell.

Kinome has a refreshing, mild flavor and a tender texture, which make it a popular flavoring herb or garnish for soups, simmered dishes, grills, and cooked salads.

Essential to five-spice powder, Chinese spiced salt (Sichuan pepper); seven-spice blend (sansho).

Combines well with black beans, chili, citrus, garlic, ginger, sesame oil and seeds, soy sauce, star anise.

Tasting notes

Sichuan pepper is very fragrant, woody, somewhat pungent, with notes of citrus peel. Sansho is tangy and quite sharp. Both have a numbing or tingling effect in the mouth. Sansho leaves, called kinome and used as a garnish in Japan, have a minty-basil aroma.

Parts used

Dried berries; fresh leaves.

Buying and storing

Sichuan pepper is sold whole or ground in Asian markets and by spice merchants. Sansho is usually available as a coarse powder from the same sources. Split berries will keep their fragrance longer than the powder; store in an airtight container. The season for kinome is short and the leaves are not easily found outside Japan. If you do find them, keep for a few days in a plastic bag in the refrigerator.


The reddish-brown berries are sun-dried, then split open and the rather bitter, black seeds are usually discarded. Kinome leaves are gathered and used fresh in spring.

Whole and split berries

Remove the bitter seeds from whole berries. Split berries are sold with the seeds removed, but check the package and discard any seeds you find.

Ground berries

Berries are dry-roasted alone or with salt, then ground and used as a condiment.

Seven-spice powder

This is the Japanese spice blend shichimi togarashi, or “seven-flavors chili,” which is used to flavor udon (wheat noodles), soups, nabemono (one-pot dishes), and yakitori. In addition to chili flakes and sansho, it includes black and white sesame seeds, dried tangerine peel, flakes of nori (laver), and poppy seeds .

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