Sanshô peppers, a culinary treasure

08 Jun 2016 in Food Culture

Have you heard of Sanshô peppers? Sanshô is often compared to the Sichuan pepper, though it is not at all related to this famed spice. Discover the secrets of this great japanese berry!

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Sanshô peppers, this berry, which grows in the volcanic foothills of the mountainous areas of Japan has been one of the cornerstones of Japanese cuisine for thousands of years and its lemony aromas are beginning to spread throughout the world. Its taste is so unique that French chefs are already beginning to use it in their dishes.

Sanshô is often compared to the Sichuan pepper, though it is not at all related to this famed spice. The plant is a kind of prickly ash in the rutaceae family, which grows in the wild, especially in the south of Honshu Island in the Wakayama Prefecture. This area alone produces 80% of the archipelago’s output. However, other spicier varieties grow in the foothills of the Japanese Alps or in the Kochi Prefecture in the south of Shikoku Island.

The most atypical variety can only be found within a 5-kilometre radius in the Takahara river valley, in the Gifu Prefecture. These berries have a unique flavour, and are also smaller and more fragrant than the more common varieties of sanshô berries. This is most likely due to the altitude – 800 metres – and to the local temperatures, as well as the presence of the Okuhida Onsen-gô hot water springs.

The plant begins to bear sprouts and flowers after the pollination period in early May, this is called “hanasanshô”. The harvest in early June is eagerly awaited as they are used in Kaiseki cuisine. This refined cuisine is made up of seasonal dishes, served up in small portions. You can taste it during your stay at Hoshino Resorts KAI Enshu in the ShizuokaPrefecture. The first fruits, the “misanshô”, are picked around the end of the month, and the last ripe berries are picked throughout July and August.  

After the harvest the berries are left to dry in the shade for a day or two, and then in the sun until they crack open, making it possible to extract the whole fruit. Part of the berries are cooked and pickled to make sanshô condiments; while its pericarp is transformed into a powder that is used as seasoning and is perfect to provide flavour to raw or grilled fish and meat.

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