Da Hong Pao Sichuan Pepper (Szechuan Peppercorn, Hua Jiao)
The top grade of red Sichuan pepper should have a strong citrusy fragrance and taste as well as an intense tingly, numbing quality. This electrifying spice may be shocking at first, but both its flavor and sensation quickly become addictive—and especially so when it is combined with chilies to create the defining taste of Sichuan, málà, "má" meaning numbing and "là," spicy hot.
In China, Sichuan pepper goes by the name hua jiao, or flower pepper. This da hong pao, or big red robe, variety is a single-origin hua jiao grown in the Wudu area of Gansu Province. As its name implies, da hong pao is a bright-red, large variety of Sichuan pepper, often opening into a six-petaled flower when dried and fully dislodging its gritty seeds (which are never eaten). We also carry a special grade of da hong pao that we call Flower Pepper because it is sorted to include a high percentage of these large and lovely flowers.
Taste-wise, da hong pao is warm and woodsy, in contrast to the bright, floral overtones of our other red Sichuan pepper, Qingxi Tribute Pepper.
Sichuan pepper is a member of the Rutaceae citrus family in the Zanthoxylum botanical genus, which includes numerous edible species and varieties of both red and green Sichuan pepper. However, its signature tingly quality is a product of the hydroxy-alpha sanshool molecule. This unique botanical compound binds to tactile touch and vibration receptors (instead of taste receptors, like sweet or sour). Through these tactile receptors in your mouth and lips, sanshool targets the chemical touch pathway and activates paresthesia-inducing somatosensory neurons. In other words, it makes your brain think your mouth is physically vibrating, thus going numb.
Our hua jiao is particularly potent, as it has not undergone the once-required heat-treatment process that for so long robbed Sichuan pepper of some of its punch in the U.S.
These peppercorns are hand-picked and dried by the farmers before our buyer chooses the best and has them machine-sorted once and hand-sorted twice, as only the top grades are. This insures only opened seed pods and no seeds, which appear in abundance in lower-quality Sichuan pepper. We at The Mala Market hand-package them weekly to insure freshness.
Usage: Sichuan peppercorns should not be eaten whole unless you want a real jolt, but they are fairly easy to eat around in dishes that use them whole. More frequently they are toasted and ground to a coarse or fine powder. Alternatively, you can heat them in hot oil to infuse the flavor and remove the peppercorns altogether.
To grind: Sort Sichuan peppercorns and discard any stray black seeds, twigs or thorns. Toast in a dry skillet or oven until pods start to smell very fragrant, but do not brown them. Let peppercorns cool, then grind in a spice or coffee grinder or in a mortar & pestle to your desired coarseness. If you desire a fine powder, sift out any yellow husks that don't break down. Sichuan pepper powder will retain its potent flavor and numbing punch for only a few weeks, so grind in small batches. (And never buy pre-ground Sichuan pepper powder if you want to experience the numbing quality of the spice.)
To learn more about the history of Sichuan pepper in the U.S. and current sourcing in China, read this article we reported for Roads & Kingdoms and Anthony Bourdain's Parts Unknown.
Source: Grown in Wudu, Gansu Province
Size: 2 ounces (57 grams); 1 cup by volume
Ingredients: Single-origin Sichuan pepper. No additives or preservatives. Non-irradiated and non heat-treated