Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Numbing Pepper (花椒)


Hua Jiao, Sichuan pepper, flower pepper, numbing pepper, thorny ash berry, fagara, sansho, and anise pepper to name a few. This pepper may have many names, but only one unmistakable flavor, and aroma. Oh the beautiful fragrance this lovely looking little flower peppercorn gives off. It's fragrance is flowery, and not at all pungent, but a little like anesthesia from the dentist, and unmistakable when it's being toasted. The taste isn't hot, but instead it numbs your tongue, with a slight lemon metal tasting sting. But even thought it's referred to as a flower pepper, it's is not a flower, or a peppercorn at all. It's actually a berry from the thorny ash tree indigenous to China. Inside this berry hides the seed that can cause so much tongue numbing pleasure. The blend from Sichuan is recognized as the best, even though there are six known varieties of this spice. According to Harold McGee (On Food And Cooking: The Science And Lore Of The Kitchen, second edition, p429, 2004), they are not simply pungent; "they produce a strange tingling, buzzing, numbing sensation that is something like the effect of carbonated drinks or of a mild electrical current (touching the terminals of a nine-volt battery to the tongue). This is a must for most every Sichuan dish, and a condiment on every Sichuan cooks counter.

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