Small piles of red and brown peppercorns on concrete.
Courtesy The Mala Market

Test Your Spicy Food Tolerance with Mouth-Numbing Sichuan Peppercorns

Sichuan peppercorns, a staple of this regional Chinese cuisine, imparts an addictive sting on the tongue.
By Aileen Kwun
September 12, 2020
2 minute read

Sichuan cuisine, named for the subtropical province of China where it originates from, is characterized by a diversity of flavors. The most popular of these, málà (a portmanteau meaning “numbing and spicy”), is marked by deep and pungent, peppery notes that you not only taste but feel on the tongue. The signature Sichuan peppercorn, pink in color with a blistering texture, imparts the tingly, mouth-numbing sensation that adds a sensual dimension to a range of spicy, salty, sweet, pungent, sour, bitter, and smoky flavors. Intensely fragrant, it pairs well with aromatics such as garlic, ginger, aniseed, cinnamon, and red chili peppers, and its distinctive sting might send you reaching for a glass of cold water—which strangely multiplies the addicting blitz in your mouth.

Until 2005, the U.S. considered Sichuan peppercorns to be contraband; nowadays, you can find the little pink orbs in trendy cocktails that play on its citrus and camphor-like aromas. As this complex and diverse cuisine continues to grow in popularity, you can increasingly find specialty spices at more and more stores. For some of the best quality Sichuan spices this side of the Pacific, look to the Nashville-based importer The Mala Market, an online purveyor that stocks top-grade ingredients directly from Sichuan province. Here, in one fell swoop, you can find varieties of soy sauce, vinegar, bean paste, chili oil, dried chilis, spice blends, and, of course, peppercorns, along with a blog of recipes to kick-start your culinary adventures.