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Types of pepper: Szechuan pepper

Szechuan pepper, the noble spice from the heart of the Middle Kingdom

The currently almost 82 million inhabitants of the central Chinese Sichuan Province are not only justifiably proud of the Szechuan pepper, named after their homeland and world-famous for its fine aromas. The traditional, nationwide popular and widely recognized regional cuisine, to which the four basic properties fresh, spicy, hot and fragrant are ascribed, enjoys the reputation in China of being one of the four pillars of Chinese cuisine. Among the spices, the seed pods of the plants of the genus play a particular role Zanthoxylum from the family Rutaceae (Rhombus plants) play a major role: The Szechuan pepper, which is indispensable in dishes and spice mixtures from Sichuan, such as in the typical “five-spice powder”, in the hot mala sauce and in the “Huoguo” hot pot, is made from the dried, wrinkled and red-brown to black seed pods of Zanthoxylum piperitum, Zanthoxylum simulans and Zanthoxylum schinifolium produced. Related to the citrus plants (Citrus), but not to the pepper plants (Piperaceae), Szechuan pepper is therefore not “real pepper” (Piper nigrum). Nevertheless, the globally popular spice is grown and used throughout Asia and especially in central China, the Himalayan region, in Tibet, as well as in Japan and Korea.

Szechuan pepper: unique in taste

Chemical and neurological processes create a unique taste

Szechuan pepper has different surnames and designations depending on the country, region and origin, so it is also under the synonyms anise pepper, flower, blossom, mountain or spice pepper and lemon pepper as well as Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian or Nepalese pepper in specialty shops and online shops Find. According to the unanimous opinion of mostly enthusiastic consumers and cooks, Szechuan pepper owes its great popularity mainly to the finely pronounced and complex flavors that harmonize with one another. The most important properties are often fresh citrus flavor as well as a slight tingling with brief but pleasant numbness in the mouth, comparable to that after consuming carbonated drinks. This interesting effect of Szechuan pepper is mainly due to the up to 3% chemical amides in its seed capsules, which act directly on the appendages of the nerve cells (afferents). In English, this substance, which occurs generally in the genus Zanthoxylum and is derived from the Japanese name for Szechuan pepper “sanshool”, is called “Hydroxy alpha sanshool“(2-Hydroxyisobutylamine) called. Szechuan pepper as a product of the Zanthoxylum plant also has that Lignan sesaminwhich, from a medical point of view, can serve as a prophylaxis for cardiovascular diseases and other chronic diseases.

Whether by the sea or in the high mountains: Szechuan pepper is loved all over Asia

Szechuan pepper is one of the few spices that grows in the Himalayan mountains
In addition to being dried in the sun, Szechuan pepper or its leaves, flowers and fruits are also used fresh or unripe, for example in the Japanese spice pastes "Kinome" and "Misansho", which are often used as a garnish on soups or when preparing fish come. In China itself, an oil mixed with Szechuan pepper, brown sugar and ginger for spicy noodle dishes as well as the spice mixture “Hua jiao yan” made from salt and Szechuan pepper are widely used as a sauce base for chicken, duck and pork. The Indonesian national cuisine "Batak" uses the spice Andaliman (Zanthoxylum acanthopodium), which is closely related to Szechuan pepper, together with chillies and herbs as the basic ingredient for the hot sauce "Sambal tinombur" for grilled pork and boiled carp. A specialty from the Tapanuli region in northern Sumatra is “arsik”, carp or red snapper with andaliman, ginger, shallots, garlic, turmeric root and chilli. Szechuan pepper also has a special status in the high mountains of the Himalayas, as only a few herbs and plants grow there due to the unfavorable climate and the high altitude. A typical dish in Bhutan, Nepal and Tibet with Szechuan pepper is, for example, “Momo”: steamed dumplings comparable to Maultaschen, ravioli or pelmeni with fillings made from vegetables and / or chicken, pork or goat meat, usually in or with a Broth or tomato soup can be served.

Grill, pan, saucepan or bottle: Sezchuan pepper makes all the difference

Other typical dishes and dishes from the Asian region, which would be almost unthinkable without the coveted spice, are, for example, sliced ​​and briefly roasted lamb with sweet peppers, chilies and roasted Szechuan pepper ("sanjiao bao yangrou") from China, pickled vegetables (" tsukemono "), grilled or braised beef or poultry (" teriyaki ") as well as seafood, algae or meat in soy sauce and Szechuan pepper (" tsukudani ") from Japan. From there, more precisely from the area of ​​Kyoto on Mount Kurama, a well-known growing area for Szechuan pepper, sardines ("chirimen jako") cooked in soy sauce and with whole Szechuan seed pods come from. Sezchuan pepper has also established itself stably in European kitchens over the past few years. In our latitudes it is mainly found in pepper mixes for the spice mill, dips, sauces, marinades, pickles and stocks as well as in broths and soups. As in its original homeland, it is also used in this country as a spice for grilled poultry, veal, lamb, beef and pork. Szechuan pepper also goes well with legumes like peas and lentils, as well as with carrots, pumpkin, Swiss chard and cabbage. A little insider tip for refining local vegetables with the fine pepper is celery puree, fruit salads with melon, nectarine or peach as well as chocolate desserts, pralines and sweet liqueurs with the exotic citrus taste can also be interestingly supplemented.

Szechuan pepper is not only delicious, but also good for the internal organs

In the dietetics (nutritional theory) of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), Szechuan pepper also plays an important role, which has been proven in the seeds, fruits and leaves of the species Zanthoxylum piperitum Antioxidants are primarily used to treat indigestion and fight parasites. In combination with other herbs, Szechuan pepper also heals stomach and abdominal pain as well as nausea. It works quite effectively as a wormer, but should not be taken during pregnancy. As is common in TCM, certain organs are also assigned to the Szechuan pepper, for the smooth functioning of which it is said to be most useful. The spice is said to have good influence spleen and Kidneys have, expel moisture, dispel cold, relieve flatulence, strengthen the stomach, have a dehydrating effect and, in general, warm the body from the inside. In Japan, Szechuan pepper is valued as a natural antidote against fish poisoning. Regardless of the explanations that sometimes seem esoteric from the western point of view, it has now been scientifically proven that many of the approximately 250 different Zanthoxylum species actually contain some very interesting and health-promoting ingredients. These include primarily alkamides to strengthen the immune system, amides, which were previously used as antibiotics, and the alkaloids, which are helpful in the treatment of Parkinson's and meningitis.

In North America, Szechuan pepper has long been undesirable as an uninvited guest

For decades, however, people in the USA were less convinced of the proven health benefits than of the potential biological dangers of Szechuan pepper for indigenous botany. Between 1968 and 2003, the import of the spice, similar to that of pink pepper (Brazilian pepper tree), was strictly prohibited there since 1981. The main aim of the ban was to curb the feared spread of the so-called "lemon plague" caused by gram-negative bacteria of the genus Xanthomonas and which has not yet been curable and which was feared to have fatal consequences for the citrus and orange industries in Florida and California. After the restrictions by the health and agricultural authorities were lifted, Szechuan pepper can now be re-imported into the USA, but it has to be proven that it has been heated to approx. 70 ° C beforehand. In Europe and Germany, the fundamental concerns about the plant genus Zanthoxylum were neither shared nor shared, here the plants have been designed as ornamental plants in the form of small bonsai trees for several years and are increasingly being sold to hobby gardeners. Basically, Szechuan pepper is a right one robust plantwhich is also suitable for the home garden, provided that some advice for care and rearing is observed.

Zanthoxylum plants can survive cold European winters with a little care

Zanthoxylum piperitum prefers a bright location, but out of direct sunlight, in summer it is best placed in the Penumbra. In the hot season, Szechuan pepper needs sufficient water, but waterlogging should be avoided as much as possible. In a sufficiently permeable substrate made up of two parts of humus and one part of lava granulate, the pepper bonsai should be watered as soon as the first layer of soil begins to dry. The recommended fertilization is carried out weekly during the growth phase between spring and autumn. Wiring can often be dispensed with when designing the pepper tree; instead, suitable cutting and possible tensioning of the branches and twigs ensure the further development of the desired shape. The branches should be allowed to grow until they have four or more leaves and then cut to two or three leaves. Leaf pruning is generally not necessary, but root pruning is usually well tolerated. Similar floristic notes also apply to other types of rhombus plants in this regard, however, Zanthoxylum simulans, for example, is characterized by an astonishingly high tolerance to frost of up to -20 ° C.

Proper storage makes Szechuan pepper durable and edible for a year

If, on the other hand, you trust your cooking skills rather than your “green thumb”, you can of course purchase Szechuan pepper from specialist shops or order it online with just a few clicks. When storing and using in the kitchen, only a few basic advice should be heeded in order to protect the very volatile aroma of Szechuan pepper from harmful contact with oxygen. So it's best to keep the seed pods dryand cool as protected from air and light in this way it retains its fine taste for up to a year. Szechuan pepper, like black pepper, can be used whole, ground or pounded in a mortar; it achieves the highest intensity if it is ground or mortarized shortly before use. For recipes with whole peppercorns, leave them in a disposable tea bag for the last 5 minutes of the cooking time and then remove them before serving. As a particularly intense and rich spice, Szechuan pepper can be used sparingly, a few seed pods are usually sufficient. It unfolds its optimal aroma when it is prepared cold or when the heat is only mildly below the boiling point; the delicate spice does not tolerate too long cooking. Szechuan pepper can be combined well with other types of pepper in the spice mill, and it also harmonizes very well with chilli, galangal, ginger, garlic and lemongrass.

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