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Can anyone identify these sichuan peppercorn-like objects?

sternbean Sep 3, 2012 02:47 PM

I had these in a spicy squid dish at a sichuan restaurant in 798 in Beijing. They behaved just like sichuan peppercorns... In fact like sichuan peppercorns on steroids. But I've never seen sichuan peppercorns that look like this. Does anyone know exactly what they are, and where I can get some (either in Beijing, or mail-order)?

  1. n
    NilesCable Sep 3, 2012 11:47 PM

    They look like Sichuan pepper. I would guess that they were much more fresh than what you usually get in a shop and they tend to get more mild the older they get.

    1 Reply
    1. re: NilesCable
      sternbean Sep 4, 2012 06:45 AM

      I've had green ones that were (I think) fresh or less ripe versions of the red sichuan pepper that I usually get. They didn't look like these, but were mostly smooth in appearance. These seem to be some other variety.

    2. g
      GH1618 Sep 3, 2012 11:56 PM

      Perhaps they were roasted before being added to the dish.

      4 Replies
      1. re: GH1618
        sternbean Sep 4, 2012 06:47 AM

        Roasting doesn't change the color from mostly red, to light dots on a darker pod... They just look basically different. These are also a little larger than what I'm used to... 3mm vs 2mm.

        1. re: sternbean
          p0lst3r Sep 4, 2012 11:52 PM

          The ones I buy here in HK are that same light-brown colour, not red. They are sold as Sichuan peppercorns and they have the same flavour and strange tongue-numbing properties. They aren't commercially labelled.

          I'll ask the old Chinese guy at the spice shop on the way home but I have a feeling he'll just say "Yes, Sichuan peppercorns" ... and I'll say "but why aren't they red like others I see?" ... and he'll say "Yes, Sichuan peppercorns" :-|

          1. re: p0lst3r
            p0lst3r Sep 5, 2012 12:10 AM

            Actually, they seem to come in many different colours and sizes:


            1. re: p0lst3r
              huiray Sep 5, 2012 07:06 AM

              Good link.

      2. g
        GordonS Sep 5, 2012 12:03 AM

        They certainly look like sichuan peppercorns to me - at least, they look the same as the ones I've had in China, as well as the ones I buy back at home in Scotland. Having said that, I am colour-blind, so may be missing some differences in colour :P

        1. delayna Sep 5, 2012 12:23 AM

          Chinese Flower Peppers!! They make your mouth numb. They seemed to be in practically every dish we had in China. After returning home we were on the hunt for some but couldn't locate any. Luckily we were able to track some down in China town in SF. It took some time to explain that we were looking for the flower peppers that numb your tongue... thank goodness for google translator. We bought a huge bag that was repackaged in a bag labeled "dried mushrooms" since they aren't allowed in the States.

          8 Replies
          1. re: delayna
            huiray Sep 5, 2012 05:39 AM

            Chinese Flower Peppers (花椒) = "Sichuan Peppercorns".

            I'm surprised you had such difficulty in finding them here in the US. As far as I know the ban on them was lifted some years back. I for one can find them in any Chinese grocery I have visited in the past few years - when I have looked and/or consciously noted them. All of them were in bags properly labeled (in Chinese, usually also with the common English name [prickly ash] and maybe the Latin scientific name), not in bags "purposely mislabeled".


            "They seemed to be in practically every dish we had in China"

            Interesting, were you traveling only in selected areas of China, specifically in Sichuan province? I certainly would not expect this ingredient in most Cantonese dishes, for example.

            1. re: huiray
              sternbean Sep 5, 2012 06:17 AM

              Penzey's spices sells them (at a premium)

              1. re: huiray
                delayna Sep 5, 2012 10:10 AM

                Oh shnap! They must have been hiding from me. It was nice to finally find them though! Glad we lifted the ban.

                We spent time in Beijing, Xi'an, Chengdu, Kunming, Lijiang and then down to Hong Kong. My husband noticed them in several dishes before I did. He really liked the numbingness affect. I think they were mostly in the rice dishes and sauces we had.

                Here's a picture of them from our supply.

                1. re: delayna
                  sternbean Sep 5, 2012 10:17 AM

                  This is exactly what I was able to get.... Not what I'm looking for though (see original picture).

                  1. re: sternbean
                    delayna Sep 5, 2012 10:35 AM

                    The small bumpy guys that open up like a locket? If they make parts of your mouth numb then they are the same thing.

                    Maybe I'm missing something...How are they different?

                    1. re: delayna
                      sternbean Sep 5, 2012 10:59 AM

                      The colors were distinctly different, and they were *extremely* numbing. Not like I've ever had before, no matter how much of the red stuff I've used. My mouth was singing.

                      1. re: sternbean
                        huiray Sep 6, 2012 10:58 AM

                        As others here have mentioned, perhaps what you got was one of the other closely related species of "花椒" (see p0lst3r's post above http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/866531#7566830); or they were very fresh [the primary chemical responsible for its effect (hydroxy alpha-sanshool) degrades over time - see, e.g. http://www.adipogen.com/catalog/produ...] and, since you had your dish in Beijing, the "peppercorns" may not have been given the 70ºC treatment necessary for importation of Sichuan peppercorns into the USA.

              2. re: delayna
                scoopG Sep 5, 2012 06:02 AM

                The ban was lifted in 2005.

              3. s
                sternbean Sep 5, 2012 06:10 AM

                I'd really like to see pictures of the sichuan pepper that you guys are getting. I'll post a pic of mine sometime soon.

                1. Pata_Negra Sep 6, 2012 11:22 AM

                  i sent home both red and green peppercorns bought in Chengdu. i thought the green kind was simply unripe Sichuan peppercorns. apparently it could also be Nepalese. hmm but why would Sichuanese use Nepalese peppercorns?

                  1. s
                    sternbean Sep 21, 2012 02:25 PM

                    I have an update on this... My colleague in China says that there are two distinct kinds of prickly ash, the red kind and the green kind. One does not turn into the other. The green kind is known for producing more of a numbing than the red. This must have been what I had. He also says that the green does darken with age, but does not turn red.

                    I attached a photo of the green. I'm guessing that I had an aged version of the green since it was darker.

                    He is bringing me 1/2 kilo in a few weeks. I'll report back on the numbness comparison between the two.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: sternbean
                      sternbean Oct 16, 2012 10:19 AM

                      As I write this, my mouth is singing. I made a few dishes using the new green prickly ash that my colleague brought from China, and the red ones that I brought back myself. I can safely say this had nothing to do with whether the prickly ash is green or red. Both varieties that I got from china a both quite powerful, and the green maybe a bit more than the red. The crap I got from Penzey's spices was the problem.. Stupid me for continuing to use it even after I brought back the red ones from China - I should have just popped one in my mouth and it would have been immediately apparent. Thanks for bearing with me.

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