Sichuan/Szechuan pepper

I’ve been using Szechuan pepper, aka Prickly Ash, aka Zanthoxylum simulans for years. Until recently, it has been purchased at the local Asian market, but I read reviews about Soeos, being fresher, better quality. so, I picked up a 4 oz, bag.
Any package of this spice should be closely examined for sticks, black seeds and thorns! The red husks, on the right, are what one uses.

Indeed, despite the small amount of debris, the spice had a superior, fresher aroma than other sources. There were fewer seeds and more red husks. The numbing and flavor were excellent.

Making a powder with the husks is difficult, at least with a grain mill, which easily grinds other spices. The fiber and resin clog the burrs, so burr rotation reversal is needed. If anyone has a great way to powder this, I’d like to know. I thought about using the grinding blade on a Vitamix, but I only want to make 1/2 cup at a time and heat generation is best avoided. A large, stone mortar and pestle was equally slow, more tedious. Experienced suggestions welcome!


High five. I sorted out the debris like you too. How did you do it? I watched a video and copied the Chinese farmers. I used a wide hole siever – debris like stick, heavy seeds and others are heavier and will go through faster. It is not perfect in one shot, but after I went through 3 rounds or so. It cleaned up very nice.

I also tried to grind Szechuan peppercorns, and it didn’t seem to work very efficiently in my manual burr grinder. I think they weight a little too light. I remember having better experience with a small electric blade grinder. I usually use mortar and pestle, but that is simply because I don’t use a lot of a time, and I prefer to grind them before use to get the most flavor.

In my experience, Penzey’s Szechuan peppercorns blow all the others I’ve found out of the water. There are almost no sticks/seeds whatsoever. And they are extremely potent and fresh. I use about half as much.

Like you, I struggled to powder them until I repurposed a cheap disposable pink salt grinder from the grocery store (Aldi). Works like a charm.


Since there was only 4 oz., I poured a small amount on a plate and picked through it. This brand had far fewer seeds and closed pods (with seeds). I store the whole pods and powder, vacuum-sealed, in the freezer, like I do with most dry spices.

The grain mill has adjustable burrs and eventually produced a powder as fine as bread flour, though it took forever! I filled and tightly packed a spice jar (less air). I’ll add an oxygen absorbing packet in there. I keep a supply of these, since I freeze dry food and they allow long-term storage (20 years!) without significant flavor loss or change. Vacuum-sealing the jars and adding the O2 absorber is a good system, since the container volume is less relative to how many absorber packets one needs; they’re basically insurance. A tiny amount of air must get in as the lids seal.

Thanks Christina! I’ll have to try Penzey’s. Not sure if my wrist will take the salt mill method; I try to fill a spice jar per batch. Worth a try though.

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I have a baratza burr coffee grinder that I no longer use as I have since purchased a suer automatic gaga academia. So, the coffee grinder is left on the counter , next to my range and I use that to grind all my peppercorn, including Szechuan peppercorn.

However, it grinds them too fine and so, when I want a coarser grind, I take out my Krups electric grinder which I used to use for pepper but now inside my cupboard for spices and grind my pepper

Never. had problem with my Sichuan peppercorn with debris but , I do not remember where I bought it from as I bought a large quantity 2-3 years ago, and I am the only one who likes it, so it wil take me another 2-3 years to finish that batch.

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You’re grinding without toasting first? I imagine that would be tedious! Toasting brings out the aromas and enables easier grinding.

I lightly toast in a pan, let cool for a few minutes. use a mortar and pestle to grind, and sift through a mesh strainer. I don’t squeeze till the last drop, and I lose some mass as a result, but I get big enough bags it doesn’t matter. The flavors degrade rapidly, so I make only enough to last me for the next two weeks—- I can’t imagine needing to do 1/2 a cup.

To be honest, I’ll shake everything in a bowl so some of the inner seeds fall to the bottom, but I’m not super diligent about removing all of them and smaller twigs. Though, I can’t recall my brands ever having those shark tooth pieces in your picture.

Some brands in the Bay Area are in this thread. Not sure if you can find them online. Sichuan ingredients (SFBA)

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I’ve only used them twice. I think I had Penzeys, and I didn’t sort out anything. Just ground in my propeller grinder that I use for all spices.

Interesting info that burr grinders might be less effective for these pppercorns than for other spices. Like ccj downlist, I have a Baratza burr mill for coffee and am thinking of upgrading it. I’d assumed it would be awesome for spices.

Additionally, I’m getting an antique wooden manual mill soon from my mother–it’s been in my family for over a hundred years. I made garam masala with it when I last visited her, and it was awesome. That’s why she’s sending it to me. She knows what a food enthusiast I am, and she never uses it for actual cooking. I’m looking at my great-great-great grandfather there (like California Gold-Rush era). Sweet.


I have a dedicated Mr. Coffee coffee grinder for chopping spices. It works well enough and has a nice self-sweep feature inside the canister.

I do not toast them, but gently warm them first to be completely dry (dehydrator set at about 110 F for 15 minutes). If you smell the aromas and they aren’t captured in the food, the flavors will be weakened. What you smell is volatiles, lost in the air. Without air and frozen, the powder keeps many months without loss of flavor. I follow pretty much the same techniques as Huang Su-Hei and Kian Lam Kho; the pepper is added to hot wok oil, along with whatever other aromatics are called for, garlic, ginger, etc. When the fragrances rise, the wok is cooled by adding main ingredients.

Unlike many Indian spices, I’ve not heard of toasting Szechuan pepper first. In the many books I’ve read, own, it’s not mentioned. In the US, I’m pretty sure it’s mandatory that the spice is heat-treated to 70 degrees C/158 F. The Citrus canker bacteria can, theoretically be transmitted by the product. I’m pretty sure this practice is still followed with all imports, but I may be mistaken.

For braising and long-cooked sauces, I often use them whole and sieve them out later.

The burrs I refer to are unlike a coffee grinder’s, so may behave worse! I’m using a grain mill, which has two pressure -adjusted stainless burr plates. I normally use it for toasted Buckwheat flour, golden Whole wheat flour, grinding dal and Idli rice for instant Idli flour. The fineness is completely adjustable. My Zassenhaus coffee mill might work better, but it’s my coffee mill!:coffee:

Might be too hard to clean. Hot and numbing java!

I like having the powder RTU. Many of the recipes take a long time to assemble without having to grind and clean up a mill every time I use the spice. It’s much faster to re-vacuum the jar after tossing in an oxygen absorber. Again, this, and freezing is key. I’ll have to try some of the other grinders mentioned above. Many thanks for all the suggestions!

During the grinding, straw-colored bits of husk appear, with the resinous skin removed. I thought about tossing this fibrous component, but put a couple between my front teeth and chewed them, just to see. Surprisingly, there is a lot of flavor and numbing inside that tough husk core; so, in they went.

Oh, I didn’t realize you were dehydrating them! Freezing sounds like a great idea too.

As an aromatic, I’ll throw them in whole (and don’t fish them out since that’s part of the fun :-)). The powder I’ll only add later in cooking.

I first learned to toast them from Barbara Tropp’s Modern art of Chinese Cooking and the practice continues in Fuchsia Dunlop’s books (she says “roasting”) and China the Cookbook. Huang Su-Hei’s books are classics, concise as hell, and introduced me to dishes I didn’t see in restaurants for decades. But they were written for a Taiwanese and international audience in the 80s, when certain ingredients weren’t available, and I’ve found them to cut corners or be seasoned for lower quality ingredients.

According to the article cited below, the heating restriction has recently been removed, but some companies still continue the practice. That said, some of the most potent red and greens I’ve eaten are the ones that pool at the bottom of bags of Huang fei hong peanuts :slight_smile:

Thanks for the good news about the heat-treatment being discontinued! That may explain the big difference in the quality in various brands and the noticeably less fragrant and dull-colored versions (age of product aside).

A 4 oz. bag of Soeos is about the same price as 1 oz. of Penzy’s, at least on Amazon. The bag had a total of three thorns and not many seeds. The main difference was the aroma, when I opened the bag, which was very intense and rich.

For those who have not read Phoenix Claws and Jade Trees, by Kian Lam Kho, It’s one of my favorite books, going into great detail about the various styles and techniques of authentic Chinese Cooking. It’s a beautiful work, very well designed and full of interesting historical tidbits . Still, in any traditional Chinese cook book, there are going to be items which are not in everyone’s pantry, e.g. Sea Cucumber and Soon Hock. The bulk of recipes’ ingredient listings are attainable, though.

His introduction to Kung Pao Chicken: “Kung Pao Chicken is one of those takeout dishes that is usually covered by a landslide of sickeningly sweet brown sauce. It would not be recognized by anyone arriving in the United States from China.”


Taylor Halliday has written a few articles on Sichuan Peppercorns and concludes in the following that the heat treatment, on peppercorns fresh from Sichuan province, don’t diminish the taste much. We are left to assume that low quality product or staleness from sitting shelves (perhaps exacerbated by the heat treatment) is why Sichuan peppercorns sucked in the US from 1968 to 2005, and in most cases still are awful.

The first Sichuan Peppercorns I tasted were purchased from Kan Man Food on Canal St. in NY in the late 90s. A worker denied they carried the product, but I found a dust covered package nonetheless, and chanced that “prickly ash” might be code for what I was looking for. I remember making a salt and Sichuan peppercorns powder, tossing it on a corn cob, and enjoying the numbing sensation across my lips and cheeks, in full denial of the rank acrid flavor.

I’ve read accounts of Sichuan food having a golden age in NY in the early 70s, as pre-revolution Sichuan chefs living in Taiwan availed themselves to the lifting of immigration restrictions a few years earlier, and introduced their spicy cuisine before it got dumbed down for the masses. Has anyone read accounts from back then of what the chefs thought about ingredient quality in the US? Or can anyone, perhaps @souperman, speak to their experience then and now?

Great read, thanks for linking!

You are right re a lot of recipe’s introduced to the US as Chinese cuisine served I n restaurant and fast food chains are to me, sickening sweet. It was invented for American palate.

I am fortunate enough to have bought a bag of Sichuan peppercorn that I often toast slightly before placing them in the burr grinder ( originally, for coffee but now, dedicated to grinding peppers) Often, I forget to toast them, so I just grind them. I did not notice any particular difference but alas, my son does not like the numbing sensation so I seldom use them.

Back home in the Philippines where I was born and grew up, we add this Szechuan peppercorn to very fine salt ( which was rare there then as our table salt was coarse sea salt ) , dip our fried squabs after spritzing it with lemon, another imported delicacy as there are no. lemons ( they substitute calamansi, similar to key lime) in the Philippines. This is often one of the courses in Fujian party called 'LAURIAT", celebration typically for wedding, engagement, birthday etc. Tradition is that no one is allowed around the table to touch the squab until the eldest around the table dips his chopstick into one of the squabs. We eat it , head and all. Mmmmm I can still taste the aroma.

One of the course is also Sea cucumber. I never liked that. The other course I fondly remember is abalone cooked with large chinese mushroom and baby bok choy.

When I first arrived in the US, I found those Mexican canned abalone to be over $100, usually in locked cabinets at the Chinese stores. I had only used it once here when an uncle came to visit. Later, I found some very reasonable canned abalone available from the Asian store for around $10.99. They are also from Mexico, in those pinkish orange label almost similar to the overpriced abalones .They are just as tasty , soft, the only difference would be the size. I buy them, slice abalone into thin quarter inch or so, save the juice ( one of the best part), reconstitute and saute my mushroom adding ginger, garlic etc and soy sauce as well as a bit of cider vinegar, add the bok choy, correct the seasoning, then a very small amount of chicken broth perhaps, half a cup or so, a bit of cornstarch or I use exclusively sweet potato starch to thicken very slightly, then when the starch is cooked, add my abalone and the broth, add sesame oil. I still serve them to myself or my chinese relatives as son does not eat mushroom on Christmas and or new Year. If you like authentic chinese food not served at restaurants, this is one fo them. Just remember not to add the very soft abalone and the juice until the last minute or it gets tough.

I remember being in Carmel a few times, wanting to eat abalone . Well, they serve that there but my husband would always be disappointed and would say to the waiter" Tell the chef to try my wife’s recipe for abalone. This is tough, and tasteless"

Interesting about that book, wander if there is a recipe for pig or calves brain, deep fried after rolling in some kind of starch, perhaps sweet potato flour, served piping hot with powdered sugar. This is often dessert including almond float and lychee which I am serving today when my son and his guests arrives from their weekend outing. However, I just realized one of the guests is vegan, and may not eat it as gelatin is from pig’s or cow’s protein.

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Abalone and mushroom recipe, must try!! Love this dish, not available too often. Bet this recipe would also be good with some velvety goose web, truly decadent.

Memories of eating abalone straight out of the can many many years ago. Not as expensive then, but still only a rare occasional luxury.

I’ve been on the West Coast since 1962, and spent almost no time in NYC in the 70’s, so I can’t answer that. It was a Taiwanese chef that created General Tso’s chicken, after all, and I’m dubious that New Yorkers would have more hunger for “the real thing” than West Coasters. When the Taiwanese chefs started showing up in SF, they tended to focus on Shanghainese food.

When the U.S. began readmitting heat-treated Sichuan peppercorns, I asked Fuchsia Dunlop the same question on one of the social media platforms and she confirmed that the peppercorns suffered little from the treatment. The heat treatment is pretty minimal,140° for 20 minutes, and peppercorns probably suffered worse treatment sitting in open-air markets in the sun allday in China.

San Francisco’s Chinese population in the 70s was still overwhelmingly Cantonese, with little use for the product. When the Feds busted a few markets for carrying illicit Sichuan peppercorns, they found that some of the product had been on the shelves so long that the shop owners had forgotten about them, and some weren’t even aware of what they were.

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at 10.99 , it is very reasonble. here it is NORTH OCEAN ABALONE fr MEXICO
It is not calmex but is quite good for that price rather than 118.00
here is website free S/h if u cannot find it locally worth it if u buy 4-5 cans
hmm remembering shark’s fin and bird nest soup too

I have never been a fan of gen tso chicken . too sweet for my taste
my mother makes something similar , I guess it is gen tso as she calls it almost similar to tso but she uses pork chop, not very sweet but with almost same ingredient, I call it sweet sour pork. I add chunks of pineapple, carrots, pepper, tomatoes, sour, hot and sweet but not as sweet as gen tso

How do you think the quality compares to abalone? This is labeled as “topshell” and I’ve seen them as “locos” as well. The price is more affordable than Calmex, that’s for sure.

oh my god, maybe I made a mistake! Mea Culpa !

I saw them a few years ago on the shelf of Maxim grocery store, for 10.99 as abalone , in an orange label, very similar to Calmex. fduring the Christmas holiday. Had been buying from them, and am pretty sure it has the chinese word abalone. I have since retired 6 years ago, Maxim has closed ( to my disappointment) and found a can which I thought was abalone in the chinese supermarket GW ( Great Wall) last year. Bought a few cans, shared it with my sister as my son does not like mushroom but I do not remember the brand name.

Called GW this morning, the saleslady in her limited English told me they have 4 kinds, the one that is 10.99 is called North Ocean brand. I googled and forwarded that info to. you.

Perhaps, what I had been buying is North Ocean, cannot remember but it is definitely in that price range , looks like the Calmex brand logo, and taste very similar to Calmex abalone. I left a can with my sister. She can read Chinese character better than I can, and has since used that can but she also thought it is abalone.

Just checked the website, I forwarded u earlier. cannot read all the words in Chinese but the words of jade, gold and Pao ) is on the label. abalone is Pao Hee in my dialect ( 鲍鱼) . The north ocean brand has the first character Pao but not the second character her fish in it.

So, I am totally confused now. Until I go back to the store, I would not know the answer. Perhaps I was buying top conch shellfish, but if I did, I would say I wil lbuy it again and again when available as it beats the price of Calmex abalone. As for tase, I do not know if that is very different esp if you just cook it the way I do, add it at the last minute for a second to nuke it.