The dried berry from the Chinese prickly ash bush is totally unrelated to black or white peppercorns. This spice has a floral, zesty flavor with a unique tingly effect on the tongue, and it reduces the sting of hot chilies. Excellent with duck and chicken, hot and sour soups, and other exciting Szechuan dishes.
Where did Szechuan peppercorn come from?
When you think peppercorn, you might think the same plants that produce the black pepper, or Piper nigrum. It is not related to that plant which is grown in India. It is actually called the prickly ash shrub species, also known as Zanthoxylum, and is native to China and Taiwan. There are also relatives to this plant that grow in the Himalayan reagion, Indonesia and Thailand. This shrub produces the Sichuan peppercorn, or how we spell it Szechuan.
What does it taste like?
As stated before, it is not a very spicy flavor, but it is a strong aroma and has a different sensation. It has a slighty lemon flavor, and it makes your mouth or lips tingly and go a little numb which is thought to dull the spice and enhance the other flavors. It kind of has the effect of how a carbonated drink feels on your toungue or mouth. This unique aroma and numbing sensation stimulates your smell and taste buds.
This peppercorn is perfect for making a szechuan oil. When you buy the whole peppercorns, you can crush them slightly and fry them to bring out the fragrances when adding them to your food. You can also lightly fry them and then crush them for a different flavor. If you heat them in an oil over medium heat for a couple of minutes, then discard the szechuan peppercorns, you will have a flavorful oil to use in cooking.