Sichuan Peppercorns (Hua Jiao)

szechuan peppercornSichuan Peppercorns, Fagara or Hua Jiao in Chinese Pinyin, is one of very common spices used in Chinese cuisine, especially dishes in Sichuan Chinese restaurant. More than that, as one of a useful herbs it cures serious illness. In the practice of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), this slightly spicy, warm herb is often used to stimulate the taste buds to take more food, warm the body, get rid of cold and dampness, and protect the stomach and spleen.

What are Szechuan peppercorns?

No matter being called Sichuan, Szechuan, or Szechwan peppercorns, it refers to the dried ripe pods of Zanthoxylum schinifolium Sieb. et Zucc. Or pepper Z. bungeanum Maxim., which are in the family of Rutaceae in China. Peppercorn as it is named, it is not a real pepper at all, conventionally at least. Instead, it is kind of berry grown on the plant called Chinese prickly ash. In addition, its seeds, known as Zanthoxyli Semen, or Jiao Mu, are also used medicinally. It can be found in most parts of China, but it is named schezwan pepper corn simply because the product there is of the best quality. And sometimes it is called Chinese flower pepper and Sichuan numbing pepper because its unique spicy and hot taste.

The medicinal Szechuan peppercorns are usually collected in fall when the fruits are ripe. Afterwards the impurities should be removed before drying them in the sun. And then the pods are isolated from the seeds because they are used in different purposes medicinally.

Sichuan peppercorns health benefits

As mentioned earlier, this is also a very valuable herb that can be of big help to a variety of diseases. So now let’s take a look at what exactly this herb can do to us.

Chemical composition

Zanthoxylum bungeanum Maxim. contains volatile oil, which has limonene and cumyl alcohol. In addition, it also consists of geraniol, phytosterols, and unsaturated fatty acids. Zanthoxylum schinifolium Sieb. et Zucc. contains volatile oil, which has isoanethole (estragole, methyl chavicol), bergapten and benzoic acid. Both of these two volatile oils still include α-pinene, β-pinene, sabinene, β-phellandrene, β-ocimene-X, α-terpineol, linalool, terpineol-4, α-terpineol, trans-caryophyllene, terpineol acetate, humulene, and so on.

Modern pharmacological action

  • It can antagonize experimental gastric ulcer of animals;
  • It has two-way adjustment in the in vitro experiments as an animal model for humans. That’s to say, it excites when in small dose and inhibits when in large dose;
  • It has anti-inflammatory and analgesic effect;
  • Its volatile oil has a certain inhibition and killing effect on 11 kinds of dermatophytes and 4 kinds of deep funguses, among which microsporum lanosum and trichophyton rubrum are the most sensitive. What’s more, it kills the sarcoptic mites too.

Related common Chinese herbal formulas

Schezuan peppers are initially shown in the Classic of Poetry (Shi Jing), which was allegedly compiled by Confucius (551–479 bc). In Ancient China, Szechuan peppercorn was often steeped in wine to add special flavor. And Qi Min Yao Shu (Main techniques for the welfare of the people) also mentioned this herb a couple times that it was used for seasoning. Besides, in his famous Ben Cao Gang Mu (Compendium of Materia Medica), Li shizhen clearly states that this herb has the acrid and numbing sensation. Now this tongue-tingling flavor has become a major feature of Sichuan cuisine and is widely used by many chefs.

From the point of TCM, it is acrid and warm in nature. And it covers a few different channels, such as spleen, kidney, and stomach. Its main functions are to warm the middle burner in order to relieve pain, kill parasites to relieve itching. Its basic uses and indications are crymodynia in stomach duct and abdomen, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal pain due to parasitic infestation, ascariasis, and itching due to eczema. Usual dosage is from 3 to 6 grams, in decoction typically. External uses include fumigation and washing, in appropriate amount.

Da Jian Zhong Tang

Da Jan Zhong Tang comes from Jin Gui Yao Lue (Essential Prescriptions of the Golden Coffer). Main herbal ingredients are Chuan Jiao, Gan Jiang (Dried Ginger Root), and Ren Shen (Ginseng Root). This formula is good at treating deficiency-cold in spleen and stomach, abdominal cold pain, vomiting, and loss of appetite.

Chuan Jiao Wan

Chuan Jiao Wan is drawn from Xiao Er Wei Sheng Zhong Wei Fang Lun (Treatise on Formulas for Infantile Health Care). The combination of Rou Dou Kou (Nutmeg Seeds) is able to cure damp-cold induced injuries in summer and nonstop diarrhea.

Wu Mei Wan

Wu Mei Wan is from Shang Han Lun (On Cold Damage). Other major herbs include Wu Mei (Mume Fruit), Gan Jiang (Dried Ginger Root), and Huang Bai (Phellodendron). This is a major prescription used for worm accumulation abdominal pain, extremely cold limbs, annoy, and vomiting of ascaris.

Jiao Zhu Wan

Jiao Zhu Wan is a formula from Pu Ji Fang (Prescriptions of Universal Relief). The other herb is Cang Zhu (Atractylodes). This combination is mainly formulated for Yang deficiency in spleen and stomach, cold-damp stagnation, watery diarrhea, and indigestion.

Jiao Zhu Tang

Jiao Zhu Tang is from Yi Ji Bao Jian (Precious Mirror of the Records of Medicine). It is mainly designed for woman pruritus vulvae, which is so unbearable that nothing but hot soup can end it. Other herbs include Wu Zhu Yu (Evodia Fruit), She Chuang Zi (Cnidium seed), Li Lu (Veratrum), and so on.

Cooking with Szechuan peppercorns

Sichuan peppercorns are one of the most used spices in Sichuan dishes. As one of the famous Chinese Five Spice, it is commonly used in the preparation of the sauce, marinating food, and stewing meats in order to get rid of the undesirable smell while adding enjoyable flavor. As a result, it can be found frequently in so many popular Szechuan peppercorn recipes, such as Chuan Jiao chicken, Szechuan hot pot, Szechuan pepper duck, Sichuan peppercorn eggplant, Sichuan pepper fish, Sichuan peppercorn fish recipe, Sichuan peppercorns steak, Sichuan peppercorns tofu, and more. However, how to use these spices and herbs to maximize their distinct flavor? Here are some tips for you if you want to cook them at home. Thankfully, you can buy this spice in the United States now since the ban has been lifted since 2005.

1. Make fried oil. Fry them with vegetable oil till they become slightly yellow. And keep the oil for salad;
2. Prepare sauce. Wash and grind the peppers, and then blend them with the well-chopped green onion stalks and leaves, a little sesame oil, and soy sauce. That is what you want to pour in the cooked meat to induce the tasty flavor.
3. Generate flavored water. Wrap the peppers with gauze, add water and boil. When it is ready, this spicy water is ideal for cooking seasoning, meat stuffing, and shredded meat.
4. Fry the peppers quickly in hot oil, then cook the food with sauce and water. To be specific, when cooking first put in a few grains of Sichuan peppercorns in hot oil, and then add other ingredients after the peppers turn black with yellow. The taste will be really great.

Potential Sichuan Peppercorns side effects and contraindications

Cinnamon, star anise, fennel, Schezuan peppers and other natural spices have a certain toxicity and mutagenicity. That’s to say, the evocator can change the genetic function of the normal tissue cells and then induce malignancy. In addition, the seasoning such as Chinese 5 Spice is hot in nature, which may cause constipation and flatulence in summer, especially in people who has high internal heat. Taken in this sense, excessive intake of such spices and herbs is inadvisable. Specifically, schezwan pepper corn and star anise contain safrole, which may induce liver cancer.

From the point of view of TCM, Sichuan Peppercorns (Hua Jiao) are suitable for general population. However, it should be avoided during pregnancy and by those diagnosed with fire excess from Yin deficiency.

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