Any food that can make your tongue tingle has got to be worth a taste.
I’m not talking a seltzer-like zippiness or even a searing chili heat. I mean literally tingling because your tongue is at once numb and buzzingly alive.
That is the power of the Sichuan pepper (also called Sichuan peppercorn). But why would you want to (albeit mildly) numb your mouth? Because aside from the basic coolness of a tingling tongue, that sensation also changes the way you taste food seasoned with the pepper, adding a wonderful punchy vibrancy and warmth unlike anything else.
First, the basics. Despite appearances, Sichuan pepper is not a true peppercorn. It is the dried rind of the berry-like fruit of the prickly ash tree. And chances are, you’ve had it before. Sichuan pepper is a basic component of Chinese five-spice powder. As its name suggests, the spice has left a serious thumbprint on the cuisine of China’s Sichuan province. It also is used in Japan, where it is called sansho.