The U.S. ban on Sichuan peppercorn imports was lifted in 2005 and the spicy numbing pods have been making their rounds in food-centric circles. Yes, you can buy the Asian spice online and even at Whole Foods! Chinese markets have a big supply these days too. The kind that’s typically found is brick-colored and mostly comprised of potent husks occasionally still holding a dark colored seed. The flavor is menthol like. My tongue usually goes numb from the edges to the center.
It’s a strange Asian spice. The first time I tasted Sichuan peppercorn, I thought I was going to die, like someone had slipped me something. When my dad tried some Chinese candy with Sichuan peppercorn (I got them in Chengdu), he was alarmed by the flavor and effect. “What’s going on?!” he said.
But there’s a wide range of Sichuan peppercorns and I’ve been collecting them in my spice drawer and freezer. The spice is used in many parts of Asian, not just Sichuan, which is why there are variations. Here are four that I’ve gathered: