Szechuan Pepper Tree (Zanthoxylum bungeanum)
This is considered the Chinese version of the Japanese sansho tree. Much the same in many respects it differs in two main ways. The berries are less strongly flavoured and less peppery than sansho with less of the unique, lingering, citrussy spice that is characteristic of sansho. Don’t let that fool you though, both leaves and berries still pack a tremendous punch with a strong flavour of citrus and herb and plenty of peppery spice that tingles and lingers in the mouth.
In its favour, the Szechuan tree is monoecious, this means a single tree will produce fruit, however, as yield is increased by cross fertilisation, we offer the trees in pairs for best results.
The trees are easy to grow, they are delivered 10-20 cm tall in 8cm pots. They will grow best in full sun, are hardy to -15ºC and will tolerate all soil conditions with good drainage. They have a bush habit but can be pruned to a single stem to form a tree. Typically, they will grow to 3m by 2m in 10 years; they can be raised in a pot and the plant makes a good bonsai for those with the skills to prove it. If growing in a pot use compost sold as suitable for citrus and fertilise with citrus feed, follow directions of the product regarding frequency and dosage. Do not over water, it is best to let the compost almost dry out before watering again.
Peppercorns are ready to harvest when the red seedcases open to reveal the black seed inside. Pick the florets whole, dry them and they are ready to use; seeds do not carry flavour but are edible, so you can choose to remove or not. Any shells that do not open naturally on the tree can still be harvested and dried. A peppermill or pestle and mortar both work well for grinding; to best preserve flavour long term, store the dry, whole florets in an airtight container, they will also freeze.
Use Szechuan pepper in place of black pepper and very soon you will discover myriad ways to enjoy it beyond the classic Chinese dishes where it is the star; fish and chicken curries, stews, noodles, soups and tofu dishes are all livened up with this wonderfully flavourful and punchy pepper with the lingering tingle.