Green Sichuan peppercorns (qīng huājiāo, 青花椒) are cousins of the more popular red Sichuan peppercorns.
Like their red kin, green Sichuan peppercorns are not spicy-hot. Instead, they taste citrus-like and produce numbing micro-vibrations in the mouth when eaten, setting the stage for spicy chilies in classic Sichuan cuisine. This spicy, numbing combination is known as “ma la” in Chinese (麻辣).
While red Sichuan peppercorns remain more widely known, the green berries have seen an uptick in popularity in Sichuan Province over the last several years. Read on to learn more!
What Are Green Sichuan Peppercorns? How Do They Taste?
Green Sichuan peppercorns are harvested from a different type of prickly-ash tree, and contrary to some beliefs, they do not turn red when mature.
They typically give off a stronger citrus perfume and cause a more intense mouth numbness, or “ma,” than their red counterparts. Their flavor is also somewhat more herbal and earthy than that of the red variety.
How To Use Green Sichuan Peppercorns
Like red Sichuan peppercorns, chefs can use the green version to season savory, spicy Sichuan dishes. Their bright, citrus aroma makes them a great addition to many recipes for seafood, chicken, and vegetables.
We especially love them in this recipe for Sichuan Boiled Fish, but the possibilities are limited to your imagination.
Sauté entire husks in oil with chilis, simmer them in soups during cooking, or add a dash of ground or chopped green Sichuan peppercorns to a completed dish or sauce.
Because the green variety are much more numbing than the red variety, use them much more sparingly. (Unless you want to feel like you just got a shot of novocaine at the dentist!)
Buying & Storing
Sichuan peppercorns of all types were banned from importation into the United States for many years. The ban was lifted in 2004, with the caveat that the berries must be heated to a certain temperature before shipment. This ensures that they do not carry a certain disease harmful to U.S. citrus trees.
Nevertheless, Sichuan peppercorns can still be tough to find on American soil unless you have a well-stocked Chinese market nearby. Plus, the green berries tend to be even more rare.
Search for them at Asian markets or specialty herb and spice shops under names like “flower pepper” and “prickly-ash,” but you can also find them online.
The peppercorns should be bright army green and release a refreshing citrus scent as soon as you open the bag. Fewer seeds and stems in the bag usually indicates higher quality.
Seal whole Sichuan peppercorns in an airtight container. Store them in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight. They’ll last for a few years like this. Ground peppercorns have a much shorter shelf life of months, after which time they will begin to lose their fragrance and mouth-numbing quality.
Substitutions for Green Sichuan Peppercorns
Regular red Sichuan peppercorns have a slightly different flavor and aren’t quite so intensely numbing. They are also more common and can certainly stand in for green peppercorns if necessary.
For more information on the red variety, check out our article on Red Sichuan Peppercorns.