There’s the black pepper of “salt and pepper” fame, and then there is sansho pepper. Sansho is a pepper native only to Japan, parts of the Korean Peninsula and China, and as a result finds its way into a number of Asian dishes. If you think red pepper is the only place that spice comes from in Japanese cuisine, you’ve got a bit of sting coming your way!
A closer relative to sansho than the black pepper used in Western foods would be the Sichuan pepper. If you’ve ever had that pepper in your Chinese food in an appreciable amount, you probably noticed the tongue numbing effects it can have. Sansho is the same in this regard, but even stronger. Yet it is not pure heat alone that you get from the use of sansho; the citrus undertones also impress many a black pepper aficionado. Sansho, which is actually more of a yellow than black once processed, should be used sparingly.
Peppery flavors are most often added to food through the use of shichimi, a seven spice blend that includes red pepper, and also sansho. It is as a member of the shichimi team that sansho finds its way into soups, slow cooked items, grilled items, and so much more, as shichimi is a staple of the Japanese restaurant tabletop.
Japan’s Wakayama Prefecture is the sansho capital, and the pepper seeds are generally harvested in the September to October time frame, but you can enjoy sansho pepper anytime of year, anywhere in Japan.
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