Sichuan peppercorn (花椒) & how to grind it

Sichuan peppercorn (花椒, aka Szechuan peppercorn or Chinese peppercorn) is one of the most important spices used in the Chinese kitchen. It has an unusual aroma and creates a unique sensation in your mouth.

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“According to Harold McGee in On Food and Cooking, 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 electric current (touching the terminals of a nine-volt battery to the tongue).”      —Wikipedia

That’s why Chinese from previous generations used Sichuan peppercorn as a remedy to relieve toothache. Put a few of them on the offending tooth, then bite and hold. After a while, you won’t feel any toothache but an overwhelming numbing sensation (I can’t tell you which is less unpleasant. Have a try if you are curious!).

As its name suggests, Sichuan peppercorn is a key spice for Sichuan (a province in southwest China) cuisine. It often pairs with chilli, creating a flavour combination called Mala (麻辣), meaning numbing and spicy. Just like hot chilli, Sichuan peppercorn is an acquired taste. Some people are put off at first. However, it’s addictive once you become accustomed to it. Many popular dishes, such as Mapo tofu, Dan Dan noodles, Kung Pao chicken, Chongqing hotpot and Mouth-watering chicken, are all based on Mala seasoning. In fact, Sichuan peppercorns are widely used by cooks from other regions of China as well.

Sichuan peppercorns are used in two forms: whole for stir-frying, braising, hotpot; ground for salad dressing, sauce, dumpling seasoning, marinating, etc. It’s also used in Chinese five-spice powder. Just like black pepper, freshly ground Sichuan peppercorn tastes much better than shop-bought powder ones. However, unlike grinding black pepper, Sichuan peppercorn needs to be toasted first, then ground in a mortar or a spice grinder.

As shown in the images, Sichuan peppercorn has a reddish colour and similar to black pepper in size, but we only use the husks. It’s available in mainstream British supermarkets and shops specialised in Asian food. Avoid purchasing peppercorns which are brownish or contain too much black seeds (They should be removed from the husks).

Sichuan peppercorn (花椒) & how to grind it
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Sichuan peppercorn (花椒) & how to grind it


  • Whole Sichuan peppercorns


  1. Look through the peppercorns. Discard all the black seeds.
  2. Toast the peppercorns in a pan on low heat until they are fragrant.
  3. Grind in a mortar or a spice grinder when they are completely cool.
  4. Sift with a sieve. Use the fine powder for recipes.


18 thoughts

  1. I tried some Huang Fei Hong peanuts and now I’ve acquired the taste for Sichuan pepper. I noticed the peanuts had whole peppercorn husks, so searched for Sichuan husks and found your article. My first impression was piney notes and citrus, then I noticed the numbing. I actually said it feels like testing a 9 volt battery on my tongue, just like the Wikipedia article states. I also noticed that the flavor other foods is amplified when eaten after Sichuan peppers, as if the Suchuan pepper is supercharging your taste buds.

  2. After the peppercorns are toasted and cooled, how long can you leave them in the spice grinder? Do they have to be used within a few days, or do they last a while?

  3. I used schiuan pepper after crushing in mortar pestle in kung pao chicken but i felt like sand particles while eating it. Is the texture is lime this or i made some mistake in grinding it? Thanks.

    1. Ground Sichuan pepper shouldn’t have sand like texture. When grinding, please pay attention to two important steps that I mentioned in the recipe above: 1. Discard all the black seeds inside the husks if you find any. 2. After grinding, make sure you sift it with a sieve and use only the fine power which has gone through the sieve. I hope this is helpful to you. Happy cooking!

  4. Thanks for this useful advice. I’ve been using Sich. peppercorn for a while now, toasting it whenever the recipe called for it, but never before grinding it. I will do that for sure, next time.

    Everytime I ground it (before) and used it in relatively royal amounts, the peppercorn left – besides the citrus taste and numbing – also a quite bitter aftertaste. Is this because I didn’t toast is or do I need to look for another brand?

    1. Hi Paul, Sichuan pepper shouldn’t taste overly bitter. The toasting process is to bring out the favour and I don’t think it has anything to do with changing the bitterness.
      Please check two things: 1. Is there any black seeds left in the husks? If so, remove them before grinding. 2. Has your peppercorn been stored in an air-tight container? / Has it passed the used-by date? Newly packed Sichuan pepper do tastes much better.
      The quality of Sichuan pepper vary among brands. Try another one if you wish. Happy cooking!

  5. Hi Wei,
    1. Could you tell something about the difference between red en green Sichuan peppercorn?

    2. Slightly off-topic: in what way is Sichuan pepper best used to infuse stir fried meat with the typical taste and numbing effect? Like, stir fry the pepper first and then add the meat, or maybe use ground pepper? I noticed I cant turn the heat in the wok too high while stir frying with the (whole) peppercorns, they burn easily. But what if the recipe calls for stir frying the meat on a high temperature?

    1. 1. Compare to regular dark red Sichuan peppercorn, green Sichuan peppercorn (麻椒) has a stronger citrus fragrance and creates a more powerful numbing sensation. So if you enjoy the acquired taste of Sichuan pepper, you should try the green variety.
      2. If you really want to emphasize the numbing effect, I suggest you add freshly ground Sichuan pepper right before you dish out the stir-fried meat. Sprinkle then give everything a quick stir. Just like how you would cook the famous Mapo Tofu.

  6. I enjoy the flavour if these so much I know have a pepper grinder dedicated to Szechuan peppercorns on my table, dinner guests beware. Thanks for the article.

  7. hi… Good day…is this also present in chili garlic sauce? one used in chinese fast food… (Mandarin) to be exact.. thanks…

    1. Sichuan peppercorn is widely used in Chinese cuisine. But I’m not sure what you mean exactly by “Chilli garlic sauce”. Chinese fast food is also a very general concept. So I’m afraid I don’t have a straight answer to your question.

  8. Thank you for explaining about Sichuan peppercorns. I had no idea you should remove the black seeds. I just received some from a mail order source and was disappointed there were not MORE seeds. LOL Now I know how to use them.

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