Sichuan Pepper Berry Oil. 花椒油

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASichuan pepper berry, in its dried form, is well known and is an exotic addition to many a dish from that province of China. Its finely ground powder forms one of the ingredients in five spice powder, along with star anise, cinnamon, fennel and cloves. Less is known about the oil that is extracted from the berry. The pepper berry, although tingling and a little hot, is not related to regular pepper or to chilli.

We came across a factory producing Chinese pepper oil, 花椒油, located in Meishan, quite by chance. We were driving back to Chengdu after one glorious week of visiting ancient historic walled cities, restored Tang Dynasty houses, Buddhist temples, mountain streams dissecting lush green jungles, as well as the ‘Big Buddha’ in Leshan and the temples of Mt Emei, when Tia asked if we would like to visit the factory.

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A big fan of the Sichuan pepper berry, I had to investigate further. This industry has thrived for more than 2000 years. In those days, the berry was harvested and the oil was extracted using these ancient wood and stone mills.

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Today, the oil is extracted in the same way as olive oil and stored in vast stainless steel vats, then bottled and shipped around the world. It is an extensive, modern factory and well worth a visit to see such an unusual industry.

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There is a quaint museum next to the factory with dioramas showing the production of this oil in ancient times, as well as kitchenalia from more recent times, including enamel ware from the Cultural Revolution, along with a restaurant.

The oil, like the berry, produces a tingling, numbing sensation on the tongue and lips: a few drops added to the top of MaPo Dofu or a Vegetable stir fry is sensational, or with noodles, ginger, brown sugar, vinegar and greens.

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I really wanted to buy a small bottle at the Hong Ya County Yaomazi Food Company but the thought of the jar breaking and leaking pepper oil over my luggage was a strong deterrent. It can be purchased in Melbourne in Chinese grocery stores but is hard to recognise. Just ask for Sichuan Pepper oil and someone in the store will find it for you. Like sesame oil, a little goes a long way.

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15 thoughts on “Sichuan Pepper Berry Oil. 花椒油”

    1. It is true- I often lug all sorts of pottery back from Italy and have brought back a stone Uleg from Indonesia but this time I resisted. I had a side trip to Indonesia on the way back for another month so decided to be sensible for a change. The one I purchased in Preston is not by the same company- but it has the same taste.

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  1. I too will have a look for Sichuan pepper berry oil… I love MaPo Dofu! I also love the pics of the kitchealia and enamel ware… You can imagine how excited I was a few weeks ago to find an old enamel dish decorated with a rose in one of the local second hand stores!

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  2. Wow! I use Szechuan peppers, but have never seen this oil. I must have look next time I visit our local Chinese supermarket. I absolutely love your documentary of the oil production and the fab photo of the green peppers.

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