Ahh, delicious Sichuan Pepper. I wish there were better sources here in the US.
Note that these aren't really "peppers," so the post might be edited.
I believe they are berries from the prickly ash tree (someone can check me on that...). So, I don't think capsicum is involved (again, Sichuan cooks, correct me if I'm wrong). They are called "pepper corns" because of being the same basic size as peppercorns. The "hot" that you experience in Sichuan food comes from actual hot peppers that are also in the dish. The "numbing" comes from the Sichuan "pepper."
The post is fine; they're commonly known as Sichuan peppercorns. "Pepper" isn't a terribly precise term to begin with; chile "peppers" were called peppers by Europeans because of their spiciness (analogous to the black pepper they already knew about).
For a source, I get mine from www.penzeys.com (I used to live across the street from their store in Madison). Look for "Szechuan."
Well David does seem to be confusing them for a chile. The more important thing to note is that Sichuan Peppercorns don't contain any capsaicin and are not themselves spicy. They're sort of lemony and numbing. They do get combined with chiles most of the time though, so that and the fact that they were banned in the US for a long time is probably the source of confusion.
Discovered these on a trip to Beijing and loved them. Thought I was smuggling several bags back with me after being told they were banned in the states, but the ban was lifted several years ago. So much fun to cook with. Yum. I'm going to make something tonight.
define "commonly". I've never personally seen them sold as anything but "chinese prickly ash". Maybe we just shop in different places. I've always shopped at Ranch 99 in LA or SF or friends have brought them from China for me and the package says "chinese prickly ash". I've never seen a package that says "Sichuan Peppercorns" and infact a quoted search ("chinese prickly ash") brings up 450k hits where as a quoted search for ("Sichuan Peppercorns") only brings up 75k hits and a quoted search for ("Szechuan peppercorns") only 50k hits.
ps: quoted search means surrounding the search terms in double quotes so the results are for the exact phrase in quotes and not pages that contain just one or more of the individual words.
I tend to call it Sichuan spice to avoid the confusion. Especially since it's often cooked with chile peppers. And isn't hot, but more of a wintergreenish type of sensation.
Call it that and everyone in China knows what you are talking about.
And as no one has mentioned it yet, they are in the citrus family. Which really makes sense when you look closely or taste them. There's a mutated dried lemon vibe (look and taste).
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