Schezwan pepper or szechuan pepper or Sichuan pepper, also known as Chinese coriander is the dried outer husks of the prickly ash shrub belonging to the genus Zanthoxylum. In spite of its name, schezwan pepper is not at all related to black pepper or the chili pepper. This spice is commonly used in Chinese, Indian, and Nepali cuisine and is also one of the ingredients of the five spice powder. It is known as Triphal, Teppal, (Konkani), timur/timbur (Nepali), yer ma (tibetian), thingye (Bhutanese) or Faraga. Szechuan pepper is widely used in Sichuan region of China and known as huā jiāo or shān jiāo. These Szechwan peppercorns are dark rust coloured. Stems are thin and hairy with open ends.The tiny pods are usually roasted and crushed before adding to dishes. Since the seeds inside the husk have a grainy texture, they are often discarded and only the husk is used. In addition to imparting a unique flavor and aroma to the dishes, Schezwan pepper produces a tingling and strange numbness in the mouth. When combined with chili peppers, it is believed that this numbing sensation reduces the heat of the chili peppers.
Nutritional value of Schezwan pepper
A popular ingredient in East Asian cooking, Schezwan pepper is an excellent source of many nutrients including vitamins, minerals, essential oils, and antioxidants. It is the essential oils present in them that give these peppers their unique taste and pungency. Schezwan pepper contains terpenes such as β-myrcene, citronellal, cineol, dipentene limonene, geraniol and linalool, which accounts for their aroma and flavor. This spice happens to be a good source of vitamins such as vitamin-A, carotenes, pyridoxine, and thiamin. It also contains several essential minerals like copper, iron, potassium, phosphorous, manganese, selenium and zinc. Schezwan pepper contains a bioactive compound known as hydroxy-alpha sanshool that produces the tingling numbness in your mouth when you eat it.
Health benefits of Schezwan pepper
Sichuan peppercorns is not just an aromatic spice, but is also believed to have a number of health benefits. Traditional Chinese medicine considers this spice to be a useful remedy for curing several illnesses. Given below are some of the health benefits of Schezwan pepper:
Schezwan pepper improves digestion
Szechuan peppercorn aid in the process of digestion by increasing the production and release of enzymes and gastro-intestinal juice in the gut. Schezuan pepper is long known for its carminative properties. It helps prevent flatulence and helps digestion.
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Schezwan pepper may reduce high blood pressure
According to a Japanese study, Schezwan pepper is capable of dilating the blood vessels, thus allowing normal blood circulation and preventing high blood pressure.
Schezwan pepper has anti-aging properties
Studies reveal that an extract obtained from the outer husks of schezwan pepper may produce short term and long term anti-wrinkle effects. Moreover, the high amounts of antioxidants in this spice scavenge the free radicals that cause oxidation stress to the cells.
Schezwan pepper has anti-inflammatory properties
Schezwan pepper is found to have anti-inflammatory properties and hence is considered to be an effective remedy for arthritis and other inflammatory conditions.
Schezwan pepper acts as a diuretic
Schezwan pepper in small doses is found to have diuretic action, which prevents water retention in the body by increasing the frequency the urination.
[Read more about benefits of pepper]
Schezwan pepper may help with chronic pain
A new study examining the effects of sichuan peppercorns reveals the complex relationship between the senses of taste and touch. According to researchers, the new findings could help us better understand the causes of tingling sensations in patients suffering from chronic pain. The researchers found out that a unique active compound in the schezwan pepper, called hydroxy-alpha sanshool, activates certain RA1 fibers and sends a very specific signal to the brain. Schezwan pepper and physical touch sensations both share this same pathway to the brain. These studies could help to understand the fundamental processes taking place in the brain that is associated with these sensations, and how they are connected to pain in many cases.
Sichuan pepper against Cancer
Latest studies point to active ingredients in Sichuan peppers which have potential to cure cancer. This study finds that ingredients in schezwan pepper inhibits abnormal activation of cells which result in cancers of pancreas, breast and prostate. The extract was found to inhibit growth of cancerous breast cells without affecting normal cells.
Benefits of Sichuan pepper oil
Essential oil is extracted from Sichuan pepper and is available as Sichuan pepper oil or Bunge prickly ash oil or huajiao oil. It is often used in cooking noodles and other vegetables. Chinese medicine form has appreciated health benefits of hua Jiao oil for its anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. Recent studies stuggest Anti-microbial and antibacterial property of Hua Jiao Oil.
Culinary uses of Schezwan pepper
Schezwan pepper corns are either used whole or ground as a spice in cooking. However, it is the powdered pericarp of the fruit that is used widely and popularly. The peppery flavor and aroma can be enhanced by deep frying the pericarp. Schezwan pepper is a common ingredient in many cuisines of the world such as Chinese, Japanese, Tibetan, Korean, Bhutanese, Nepalese and Indian cuisines. This spice is used in cooking meat dishes throughout the world. Hua Jiao yen is a condiment prepared by mixing schezwan pepper and salt, and roasting them in a wok. This condiment is used to accompany pork, chicken and duck dishes. Schezwan pepper is one of the ingredients in the Chinese five spice powder as well as the Japanese seven flavor spice mixture. In Sumatran cuisine a chilli paste, which accompanies meat and other dishes is made with these peppercorns and other ingredients. Schezwan pepper is also used in making momo, which a dumpling stuffed with cheese, meat, vegetables, ginger, garlic and onion.
There are many different species of Szechwan pepper, each having its own distinctive flavor. The characteristic mouth numbing property of schezwan pepper makes it more of an experience than a flavor. The experience can sometimes be unnerving in the beginning but as you eat it more often, it can become quite addictive. Once you have started liking this spice, you’ll find that there are endless ways of using it in cooking.
Some szechuan peppercorn recipes
Momos with sichuan peppers are famous in Himalayan regions of Tibet, Bhutan and Nepal. Try out this mouth watering Tibetan Beef and Sichuan Peppercorn Dumplings (‘Sha Momo’) recipe by Andrea Nguyen or this authentic Tibetan momo recipe. This spicy sichuan noodles recipe by Ken Hom on BBC is incomplete without special ingredient of Sichuan pepper. Why not try Sichuan pepper flavor popcorn or – Sichuan Poppercorn. Just pop some corns and mix them with butter and pinch of Szechwan peppercorns.Image Credits: The Mala project