Translated by Allie
Sansho Pepper - Japanese Encyclopedia
Written by ニコ
Sansho is one of the typical Japanese spices with a unique fresh aroma. The spicy sensation which it leaves when you taste it is said to increase one's appetite. It is really necessary when in Japanese dishes such as unagi eel and yakitori.
Sansho is one of the typical Japanese spices used in various dishes. Its distinctive feature is the unique refreshing aroma and spicy taste. It is the main component in sansho pepper, whose spicy taste is said to be good for the health. Be careful however that it might be pretty strong, so please do not take too much at a time. In Japan, there is an expression referring to people or things that one shouldn't underestimate, as they may be small in size, but they have many talents and a cheerful personality. It says "sansho pepper may be small, but it gives you sharp, tingling sensation". As you might be able to tell from this expression, sansho pepper has been loved by the Japanese for a long time. We will explain in detail the features of sansho, which is an essential Japanese spice.
What is Sansho Pepper?
Sansho pepper is the fruit of a shrub that grows in Japan and the southern Korean Peninsula. In Japan, it is not only produced by farmers but it can also be found growing in the wild in mountainous areas. The parts which can be eaten and used for making spices are mainly the leaves and the seeds.
1. Fresh Leaves
The leaves of the sansho are called ki no me (buds of the Japanese pepper tree) and are harvested in spring. It is not spicy at all. You can garnish dishes with it to give them a special aroma and color, as well as mix it into miso after chopping it up.
The seeds are harvested in early summer and are 3 to 5 mm in diameter. When eaten, they will cause a strong numbing feeling on your tongue. You can use it together with kombu (edible kelp) to cook Tsukudani (seaweed or seafood simmered in sweetened soy sauce) or add it to other dishes in order to get rid of the fish odor.
3. Sansho Powder
Dishes Often Served with Sansho Pepper
Sansho Pepper as a Souvenir
As explained above, sansho can be used in various ways. However, the fresh leaves and seeds cannot be stored for a long time. Sansho powder is the easiest to use and bring back as a souvenir from Japan. The price per bottle is pretty reasonable, starting from 100 yen. You can find it at supermarkets all year around. Chrimen sansho (dried whitebait with sansho powder), which is a famous souvenir from Kyoto and tsukudani with sansho pepper packed in a vacuum bag would also make good souvenirs. Luckily, sansho pepper matches well with western dishes. We recommend you add it to your steak sauce and dressing. It could be a good idea to buy one for yourself as well for your friends.