Friday, September 9, 2011

Zanthoxylum simulans with fruit and Z. piperitum without

Sichuan pepper is one of the five spices in Chinese Five-spice powder (along with star-anise, cloves, cinnamon, and ground fennel seeds), and one of the major seasonings in Szechuan cuisine. Sichuan pepper is the dried husks of various species of Zanthoxylum, including simulans and piperitum. They're members of the Rutaceae and have that pharmaceutical smell that I associate with Rue and Euodia. It's a large genus with well over 200 members. We have, in addition to the two pictured species, Z. alatum, a plant more than adequately armed with ferocious thorns. The plants are supposedly dioecious and non-parthenocarpic. That would explain why the two large specimens of Z. piperitum don't set fruit, at least it would if we assume they're both males or both females. It doesn't explain why Z. simulans, a single plant, does set fruit. There are two possibilities: one, it has crossed with the Z. alatum about 100' away, or two, it actually can produce fruit parthenocarpically. Though the bulk of the literature seems to deny that possibility, I vaguely remember reading in a forum or letter somewhere that single females of this species do in fact produce fruit. I talked to Stefan and he tells me he's not certain that this species is correctly identified. We'll work on that. Since I ate a fruit yesterday I hope it's at least close enough not to be poisonous. I talked Joan, Carole, and Chris into sampling them as well, but I don't think any of them actually ate the seeds like I did. I read that they're toxic only in large quantities.

The flavor is singular and unforgettable; on initially touching the fruit I received a tingling sensation in my lips, biting into the seed (which is not necessary as all the flavor is in the pericarp) produced produced a heightened level of tingling, not unlike the feeling you get from touching your tongue to both terminals of a nine-volt battery. Later there is some numbing of the tip of the tongue and the lips. Wow. The flavor seemed to me acidic in the sense that it was citrusy. That makes sense for a plant in the rutaceae, but I read that the chemistry is actually basic. Both Carole and Chris remember eating dishes with Sichuan pepper as a seasoning so I looked for recepies and found another cool food site; I'm sure there are more food sites than plant sites, hey we all eat. Plus I spend more time among plants, still,whenever I spend much Linktime online with food, I'm always amazed and impressed. 11 Scihuan peppercorn recipies.

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