Sichuan peppercorns are reddish-brown seeds native to the Chinese province of Sichuan. This spice is famous for its tingling and numbing flavour, essential to many flavorful Szechuan cuisines.
It is usually famed for its use in Chinese dishes, so it can be challenging to find outside Asia. If you want to enjoy some unique and heat flavour notes but Sichuan peppercorns are unavailable in your area, read on to learn about the best Sichuan peppercorn substitute.
What are Sichuan peppercorns?
There are five essential spices that are used in Sichuan and Chinese cuisine, and Sichuan peppercorn is the key ingredient in these spices. No classic Sichuan cuisine is complete without adding these tiny berries that taste like black pepper but creates a tingling sensation (cool heat) in the mouth. It is also known as Sichuan peppercorn, which is produced from the husk of seeds of prickly ash scrub (Zanthoxylum).
This fragrant spice can be used whole and grounded and goes well with herbs and spices to enhance the recipe’s flavour. Food made with Sichuan peppercorns offers a variety of flavours like spicy, salty, flowery, bitter, sweet, smoky and sweet. This fragrant spice offers a fruity aftertaste, and its tingling sensation is difficult to replicate.
However it is a very versatile and essential ingredient to have on hand, but it is difficult to find at your local supermarket if you are in the UK. You can use the Sichuan peppercorn substitute to give your cuisines a similar spicy flavour.
What flavours work with Sichuan peppercorns?
Sichuan peppercorns are the essential ingredient used in Sichuan dishes that give them spicy flavour and mouth-numbing quality. They have the best-loved flavour profile of the Sichuan cuisines. When used with spicy Chinese chillies, they create a unique flavour called ‘numbing spicy’ or ‘mala’.
They can be used raw and ground, so they work well in stir-fries with veggies and chillies. However, try not to bite into a whole Sichuan peppercorn husk; it can be an intense experience.
When it is used as a seasoning for cured meats, braises and roast meat, you will experience a great flavour. These pink-reddish peppercorns are an accent flavour for seafood, pork, poultry and tofu dishes. They also work well with bold flavours such as sesame, soy and ginger.
What textures work with Sichuan peppercorns?
This aromatic Chinese native peppercorn works best with super-firm tofu, soft seafood, tender chicken and chewy ramen noodles.
Varieties of Sichuan peppercorns
Red and green peppercorns are the two main kinds of Sichuan peppercorns. The red variety has earthy depth, while green peppercorns are more floral. The most common variety of Sichuan peppercorns is red and harvested from different types of Zanthoxylum-prickly ash trees. While green Sichuan peppercorns are rare, and they don’t turn red in colour when mature. Compared to their red counterparts, green peppercorns cause a more intense tingling sensation and mouth numbness and give off a citrus aroma.
What Does It Taste Like?
Sichuan peppercorns taste slightly bitter and create a tingling sensation on the lips and tongue when you consume them. They leave a citrusy and juicy aftertaste, so don’t expect too much spiciness as other peppercorns.
At first, you will find it bitter when you bite it and then feel a sour taste accompanied by numbing due to the presence of hydroxy-alpha sanshool. Its sour taste is due to the citrusy aftertaste. Mouth numbness takes a while to settle.
How to cook with it?
You can cook with Sichuan peppercorns in a variety of ways. The most common use of these dried berries is stir-fried dishes. The stir-frying technique originated in China and is common for tossing Sichuan peppercorns.
They can also be used in braising, combining both moist heat cooking (steaming) and dry heat cooking (covered roasting). In this cooking method, add them to another ingredient, like meat, in a frying pan and cook them together.
Other than these cooking techniques, you can use them for seasoning. Add mouth numbness, creating peppercorns in spice and grind them. Sprinkle it on food during cooking.
Sichuan Peppercorns Substitutes
There are some best substitutes for Sichuan peppercorns, but they may only partially replace them. This includes Tellicherry peppercorns, grains of paradise, black pepper, white pepper, Tasmanian pepper, Sumac, Sichuan peppercorn oil, black pepper and coriander seeds. Its tingling sensation is difficult to replicate, but these substitutes have almost the same flavour profile.
1) Tellicherry Peppercorn
It comes from the same vine as regular black pepper. That’s why its taste is similar to black pepper, but it has a bit of citrus flavour, making it a good substitute for Sichuan peppercorn. You can substitute Tellicherry peppercorn in a 1:1 ratio.
It is considered the best pepper in the world due to its rich and balanced flavour. Moreover, it is very versatile, which means you can use it in stir-fry dishes and stand-alone seasoning as a substitute for Sichuan pepper.
However, these peppercorns are hard to come by, which can be a problem if you are considering them as a Sichuan pepper substitute. You may find Tellicherry peppercorns in South Asian speciality or Indian stores or order them online.
2) Tasmanian Pepper
Tasmanian pepper is little dark berries native to Southeast Australia and woodlands. They are not related to peppercorns, but they look the same. Their smell is similar to Juniper.
This bushfood condiment is sweet and fruity at first, with a peppery aftertaste. Their flavour can be described as woodsy, peppery and floral. If you use it as a substitute for Szechuan peppercorn, use it a bit more, as it is a little milder.
3) Grains of paradise
Native to Africa, this spice belongs to the ginger family. Grains of paradise or alligator pepper is a similar black pepper and has a citrusy aftertaste, making an excellent substitute for Szechuan peppers. It is primarily used in West African and North African countries. Closely related to cardamom, this aromatic spice can be used in any dish that calls Szechuan peppercorns.
4) Black pepper and coriander seeds
The combination of coriander seeds and black pepper gives your dishes a hint of Szechuan pepper flavour. They can be used separately. This spice has a pine and citrus flavour mixed with it. If you don’t like the numbing effect of Sichuan peppers, you can use them as a substitute due to their milder flavour.
5) White pepper
Another good alternative to Sichuan pepper is white pepper which is a common ingredient in Chinese cuisine. It has a milder flavour that goes well with seafood. It is described as hot, floral and pungent when freshly ground. However, fully ripened berries have earthy and complex flavours. People usually prefer it for its heat over other peppercorns.
Use it in similar amounts as a Sichuan peppercorn substitute, as too much white pepper can leave a grassy flavour. Its milder flavour makes it an excellent addition to lighter dishes where black peppercorns would overpower the dish.
6) Black pepper
Black pepper can be used as a substitute for Sichuan peppercorn due to its hot, peppery and earthy taste, but it doesn’t have the complex flavour that Sichuan peppercorns are popular for. However, like Sichuan peppers, it will add a kick of heat to any dish.
The great thing about black pepper is that it is available in your kitchen, which makes it an easy replacement for these pink-reddish berries. As it has a pungent flavour, it works well in stir-fries, soups, savoury dishes and flavouring vegetables. However, they do not have the citrusy and fruity flavour of Sichuan peppers. You can add lemon juice to the mix to enjoy that citrusy flavour.
7) Sichuan peppercorn oil
Sichuan peppercorn oil is used to enhance the flavour of any dish. Sichuan peppers are marinated in neutral oil for half an hour and then strain the peppers. It can make any dish succulent and well-rounded. However it may be difficult to find, but it can be a great Sichuan peppercorn. You can use it in stews, sauces, soups and dressings to replace Sichuan peppers. Moreover, Sichuan peppercorn oil can be a great addition to seafood, grilled vegetables and meat. If you can’t find this speciality oil in your local supermarket, find them in an Asian speciality store in your area or make your own Sichuan peppercorn oil if Sichuan peppers are available in your pantry.
Sumac is native to the Middle East, that’s flavour is much like Juniper than Sichuan peppers. It is made from dried wine-colour berries, which have lemon-lime tartness compared to the subtle fruitiness of Szechuan peppercorns.
It is citrusy and even tastes sour and bitter, like vinegar. So use a small amount of sumac. After cooking, you can use it as a seasoning, and its addition can give your dish an exotic twist. Sprinkle it directly over the dish to enhance flavour.
Moreover, it goes well on lighter dishes and salads. Its flavours are hard to go wrong and can serve as accent seasoning for meat.
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