Discover fagara or Szechuan pepper! A distinct spice, but not as pungent as black pepper

Imagine a spicy yet lemony taste that creates an unusual but pleasant sensation on the tongue.

This is Szechuan pepper or fagara.

A key element of traditional Chinese dishes as well as a healthy addition to your diet.

Why is the name of this spice a bit misleading?

What dishes do they go best with?

Follow the footsteps of this interesting spice with us.

What is Szechuan Pepper?

Szechuan pepper, or fagar if you prefer, is a spice that comes from the bark of a shrub called Zanthoxylum piperitum in Latin, which belongs to the Rutaceae family, just like citrus. In addition to these two most commonly used names, it is sometimes called Chinese or Japanese pepper depending on the country of origin.

It is one of the oldest Chinese spices, together with fennel, star anise, cloves and cinnamon, it is part of the well-known spice mixture of five scents, and thus also a number of classic dishes of Chinese cuisine.

Harvested only once a year at the end of summer, the tiny bumpy fruits are carefully picked by hand from thorny branches and laid out to dry naturally in the hot sun. When dried, the fruits open into a characteristic “flower shape,” which earned the spice the nickname hua jiao, or “flower pepper.”

However, the name “pepper” is not a very happy name in this respect, because the yellow pepper tree is not related to the black pepper tree (Piper nigrum), from which black, white, green and red pepper comes.

The yellowwood pepper tree from which Szechuan pepper comes.

What does fagara look like?

Interestingly, only the skins around the seeds are used as a spice, while the seeds themselves are discarded because they are too grainy and bitter. The skins can have a different color depending on the origin, from red, which is typical of varieties from China, through the reddish-brown color of Nepalese Szechuan pepper, to the black color of spices from India. The peels are usually ground into a fine powder, but it is also possible to use them whole. In that case, it is advisable to first remove any possible seeds they hide from them.

Different color variants of fagara.

What does Szechuan pepper taste like?

Szechuan pepper is aromatic and has a very specific burning taste, which is sharp in a completely different way than we are used to even with classic pepper or chili. A bitter taste first appears on the tongue, then a numbing burning sensation, followed by a citrus taste. When used in large quantities, they cause a pleasant numbing sensation on the tongue and lips. The scent of Szechuan pepper is surprisingly often compared to lavender.

Szechuan pepper whole vs. milled

Fagara can be found in two forms, whole and ground. In the case of whole peels with seeds, it is necessary to properly prepare the fagar before use. Most recipes call for roasted and ground Szechuan pepper. First, remove any twigs, leaves and especially the black seeds.

Then gently heat the skins in a pan over medium-low heat until fragrant. Set aside and grind or crush after cooling. Roasted skins can also be stored in an airtight jar “in stock” and ground before use.

A spoonful of ground Szechuan pepper.

The origin of fagara

Before hot chilies were brought to China from the New World, Szechuan pepper and ginger were used to add heat to dishes in Chinese cuisine. Many people are surprised to learn that Szechuan pepper is not actually a pepper at all. It does not come from the black pepper tree (Piper nigrum) and is not related to chili peppers that come from America. In addition to the province of Sichuan in southwestern China, the yellow pepper tree also grows in the east of China, in Thailand, Indonesia and Taiwan.

As one of the oldest Chinese spices, which was also highly valued and revered, fagara was used as an offering to the gods. Soldiers carried it in leather pouches on their belts and believed it protected them from injury. Chewing Szechuan pepper is said to have also kept them alert during tiring marches.

Szechuan pepper in the kitchen

This spice is a basic ingredient of Sichuan cuisine, giving spicy dishes a unique sensation of intoxicating the mouth. Together with hot Chinese chili peppers, it creates a flavor known as “numbing heat.”

The unique tingling sensation and pleasant floral aroma also enable him to transform basic ingredients into complex and flavorful dishes.

Across China, chefs use Szechuan pepper in roasts, stews, and even sausages. Last but not least, green tea with roasted Szechuan pepper “spice”.

In addition to Chinese cuisine, we can also meet him in Indian, Nepali or Thai cuisine.

  • In addition to poultry, this pepper also goes well with beef. Try it in recipes for beef noodles , not just Sichuanese.

  • Another option is to add Szechuan pepper to a variety of ground meat recipes . With its taste and aroma, it can make meatballs, meatloaf and stuffed pepper pods special.

  • Szechuan pepper oil is also made from roasted ground spices.

  • In combination with salt, aromatic Szechuan pepper salt is also produced, which is used as a seasoning for meat dishes.

A typical Szechuan dish of chili peppers and Szechuan pepper.

What to replace Szechuan pepper with?

If you don’t have access to Szechuan pepper, an alternative is to use freshly ground black pepper and coriander seeds. If you have Tellicherry pepper available, it can be a good substitute. This is a variety of black pepper that is allowed to ripen longer, and thus its taste and aroma develop.


Store Szechuan pepper in a closed jar away from light. This way, the whole skins retain their taste. Ground pepper should be used as soon as possible, as it soon loses its complexity of taste and aroma.

Medicinal effects of Szechuan pepper

Szechuan pepper contains a number of different minerals, antioxidants and other nutrients that the body needs to function properly. All this is additionally complemented by a wide range of phytosterols, terpenes and carotenes. What does this unique combination of nutrients do in terms of health effects?

  • Helps with anemia and stimulates blood circulation – the high amount of iron contained in Szechuan pepper helps to ensure that there is enough hemoglobin in our body, which oxygenates red blood cells and stimulates the circulatory system.

  • Strengthens bones – This spice contains many important minerals, including phosphorus, manganese, copper and iron, which are essential for building strong bones and preventing age-related diseases such as osteoporosis.

  • Reduces inflammation – antioxidants and organic acids contained in Szechuan pepper have certain anti-inflammatory effects. Inflammation is a result of oxidative stress, which in turn can be caused by the activity of free radicals in the body. The compounds in this pepper can neutralize these free radicals and stop inflammation in the bud. This can be useful for problems such as arthritis or gout.

  • It supports the proper functioning of the digestive system – fagara stimulates the digestive process and reduces inflammatory processes in the intestines. Various compounds also prevent cramps, bloating and constipation.

  • Helps to lower blood pressure – thanks to the significant amount of potassium, this spice can be an excellent cardiovascular health booster. Potassium acts as a vasodilator, causing blood vessels and arteries to relax, preventing high blood pressure and reducing the potential effect of blood clots. Lowering blood pressure helps protect against atherosclerosis, heart attack and stroke.

  • Improves eye health – thanks to the high content of beta-carotene, Sichuan pepper has a very positive effect on our eyes, reducing the risk of macular degeneration and vision loss.

  • It reduces pain – the chemical substances that fagara contains act on pain receptors, and thus partially eliminate the nervous system from generating unpleasant sensations or pain.

  • Improves immunity – this spice is rich in zinc, which has an important effect on our immune system. In addition, fagara also contains antioxidants and other substances that have antifungal and antiviral properties.

  • Helps with loss of appetite – various compounds in this pepper stimulate appetite and also improve your metabolic rate, meaning you can get energy and nutrients from the food you eat more quickly.

Nutritional values, vitamins and minerals in Sichuan pepper

Sichuan pepper is an excellent source of antioxidants in the form of alkaloids and flavonoids, but scientists have identified more than 140 different compounds in this spice.

It is rich in vitamins A and some group B vitamins. As for the most important minerals, manganese, phosphorus, copper, iron, potassium, zinc and selenium stand out. Szechuan pepper (100 g) contains:

Calorie Proteins Fats Carbohydrates
373 calories 6.7 g 8.9 g 63.5 g

Milan & Ondra

We are both fans of good food and enjoy cooking. On this website, we want to inspire you with traditional, but also less common recipes. We will be happy if you try our recipes and let us know how you liked them. Bon appetite! :)