What is Szechuan (Sichuan) Peppercorn?

Zanthoxylum simulans Hance

Family Rutaceae (Orange or Citrus family)

Szechuan pepper is the  outer shell  or pericarp of the dried fruit of the Chinese Prickly Ash tree (Zanthoxylum simulans) and other closely related species.  It’s used in whole or ground form, to flavour food or as an ingredient in spice blends, especially the Chinese five spice powder.

Szechuan pepper is native of eastern China and Taiwan. It is not related to capsicum pepper (Capsicum annum) or the black pepper (Piper nigrum). It is indispensable in Sichuan cuisine.

The 3–4 mm berry (fruit) has a rough reddish brown shell (pericarp) that splits open when fully mature and dry to release the shiny black seeds from inside. The seeds are discarded, due to the unpleasant gritty texture that feels like sand (Gernot Katzers Spice Pages) .

The pepper has a pleasing aroma, a lemony and pungent flavour and a numbing rather than a burning effect on the mouth. It contains the chemical hydroxy-alpha-sanshool, which causes the tingling and numbing effect in the mouth. The most commonly used species are mildly pungent but some other species may be more pungent.

Culinary Use Of Szechuan Pepper

Szechuan pepper is used in many Szechuan dishes.

The spice is added at the last moment and is often used together with star anise and ginger in spicy Szechuan cuisine.

The shell (pericarp) can be used whole or can be dry-roasted and ground into powder.

The ground pepper is a key ingredient in Chinese five-spice powder. It can also be used to make seasoned salt or as an ingredient of spice rub on grilled meats.

Szechuan pepper oil is used in stir-fry noodle dishes with hot spices.

In Japan, the young leaves of the Sichuan pepper tree are used fresh, for flavouring and for decoration


Deciduous shrub 1-8-2.4m. Branches with stout prickles. Flowers dioecious-this means that male and female flowers are found in separate plants.
Fruit dotted with glands.

  1.  Zanthoxylum simulans (Chinese prickly ash tree)
  2. Z. alatum (spicy)
  3. Z. avicennae has an anise aroma
  4. Z. schinifolium has an anise aroma, and is mildly pungent

Want to read more?

  1. Why Szechuan Peppers Make Your Lips Go Numb.
  2. Sichuan pepper and others (Zanthoxylum piperitum, simulans, bungeanum, rhetsa, acanthopodium).
  3. Seasoning with prickly ash (zanthoxylum americanum).


Author: Liz

I love everything food: eating, cooking, baking and travelling. I also love photography and nature.

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