Zanthoxylum piperitum

Zanthoxylum piperitum

Japanese pepper or Japanese prickly-ash (Zanthoxylum piperitum (L.) DC., 1824) is a shrub species belonging to the Rutaceae family.

Systematics –
From a systematic point of view it belongs to:
Eukaryota Domain,
Kingdom Plantae,
Magnoliophyta Division,
Magnoliopsida class,
Subclass Rosidae,
Sapindales Order,
Rutaceae family,
Subfamily Zanthoxyloideae,
Genus Zanthoxylum,
Species Z. piperitum.
The terms are synonymous:
– Fagara piperita L.;
– Pterota piperita (L.) Crantz;
– Xanthoxylum piperitum DC.;
– Zanthoxylum ovalifoliolatum Nakai;
– Zanthoxylum piperitum f. hispidum Hayashi;
– Zanthoxylum piperitum f. pubescens (Nakai) W.Lee;
– Zanthoxylum piperitum var. brevispinum Makino;
– Zanthoxylum piperitum var. hispidum (Hayashi) Konta;
– Zanthoxylum piperitum var. inerme Makino;
– Zanthoxylum piperitum var. pubescns Nakai.
Within this species, the following varieties and forms are recognized:
– Zanthoxylum piperitum var. piperitum;
– Zanthoxylum piperitum var. spinosum Konta;
– Zanthoxylum piperitum f. piperitum;
– Zanthoxylum piperitum f. rotundatum Yokouchi ex T.Shimizu.

Etymology –
The term Zanthoxylum comes from the Greek ξανθός xanthós yellow and from ξυλον xylon wood: yellow wood, due to the color of the heartwood of the roots of some species of this genus; the name of the genus replaces the original one of Xanthoxylum as an illegitimate result.
The specific epithet piperitum comes from piper pepe (πέπερι peperi in Greek): peppery, spicy.

Geographic Distribution and Habitat –
Japanese pepper is a plant native to an area extending from Hokkaido to Kyushu in Japan, the southern parts of the Korean peninsula and mainland China.
Its natural habitat is that of environments with humid soils, typical of the undergrowth of low-altitude forests.

Description –
Zanthoxylum piperitum is a dioecious plant that grows in the form of a deciduous aromatic thorny shrub or small tree.
The branches bear pairs of sharp thorns.
The leaves are composed in a strange and pinnate way, arranged alternately, with 5〜9 pairs of ovate leaflets having crenate (slightly serrated) margins.
The flowers are carried in clusters of axillary flowers, of about 5 mm and of a yellow-green color.
Those of the male plants can be eaten as hana-sanshō, while the female flowers produce berries or peppercorns of about 5 mm.
The tree blooms from April to May.
These berries ripen in the fall and turn scarlet and dehiscent by scattering the black seeds.

Cultivation –
Zanthoxylum piperitum is a widely cultivated plant especially in Asia and Japan where the prefecture of Wakayama boasts 80% of the national production.
However, the plant can also be cultivated in other temperate areas, such as in Italy, as it tolerates both great summer heat and peaks of cold up to about -15 ° C.
For its plant it should be placed in full sun, but it can also be well in partially shaded places.
From the pedological point of view, it prefers neutral or alkaline soils, not acidic, deep, fertile and well drained as it can withstand water stagnation; moreover it must not suffer from drought for prolonged periods.
For this reason, especially from mid-spring to summer, it is necessary to irrigate, making sure that the soil is kept moist.
As for the fertilizations it is good not to exceed in those nitrogenous or excessively organic in order not to generate an excessive vegetative growth to the detriment of the quality of the berries.
As for pruning, these must be done in early spring by removing dead or damaged branches; in the same period you can do containment topping, cutting the young branches just sprouted by at least 15 cm.
Reproduction is by sowing. In the autumn period the ripe fruits, now black, are removed and the pulp surrounding the seeds is eliminated.
The latter must then be buried to a depth of a few millimeters in a soil filled with a mixture made half of sand or perlite and half of fine sifted soil.
After a year, the new plants can be moved to the open ground at the beginning of summer.
It can also be propagated through semi-mature wood cuttings, in the period of July / August in a shaded area, or through root cuttings, 3 cm long, planted horizontally in pots and in greenhouses.
The planting of the seedlings must be carried out in spring or, in more temperate areas even in autumn.

Customs and Traditions –
The Japanese pepper takes its name from the Chinese province of the same name of Sichuan and because the berry can remember the black pepper berry, even if there is no taxonomic relationship between the two spices. Furthermore, Japanese pepper is not pungent like black pepper or spicy like chilli, but has a slight lemon aroma and leaves a slight numbness in the mouth (caused by the polyunsaturated alkylamide sanshool and derivatives). Unlike the real pepper, the internal seeds are discarded and only the shells that contain them are used.
In the West it is known by several names; in China it is known as huājiāo (花椒 flower pepper) and as shānjiāo (山椒 mountain pepper, not to be confused with Tasmanian mountain pepper). In Nepal it is called timur. In Tibet it is called gyer ma or e-ma or kham. In India it is called in different ways depending on the language of the region: in the Konkani language it is called tepal or tirphal, while in the regions of Maharashtra, Karnataka and Goa it is known as teppal. In Japan it is called sanshō (山椒) from a re-adaptation of the Chinese term shānjiāo, the whole leaves of the plant are called kinome (木 の 芽). In Korea it is called chopinamu (초 피나무).
Both the leaves and the fruits (peppercorns) are used as aromatic and flavoring in these countries.
Both the plant itself and its fruit (or peppercorn), known as chopi (초피), are called by many names including jepi (제피), jenpi (젠피), jipi (지피) and jopi (조피) in different dialects used in southern parts of Korea where the plant is widely cultivated and consumed.
Before the introduction of chilies from the New World which led to the creation of the gochujang chili paste, Koreans used a spiced jang paste with chopi and black peppers.
The pulverized ripe fruit (“pepper” or “berries”) known as “Japanese pepper” or kona-zanshō (粉 ざ ん し ょ う) is the standard spice to sprinkle on the kabayaki-unagi (grilled eel) plate. It is also one of the seven main ingredients in the mixed spice called shichimi, which also contains red chili. Finely ground Japanese pepper, kona-zanshō, is now usually sold in sealed packages, and individual servings are included within heated and served grilled eel packages.
Young leaves and shoots, pronounced ki-no-mé or ko-no-mé (木 の 芽, lit. ‘tree bud’) herald the spring season and often garnish grilled fish and soups. They have a distinctive flavor that not everyone likes. It is a customary ritual to put a leaf in your cupped hands and clap your hands with a snap, this presumably serves to bring out the aroma. The young leaves are crushed and blended with miso using suribachi (mortar) to make a paste, a kind of pesto, and then used to make various aemono (sauteed salad). The stereotypical main ingredient for the resulting kinome-ae is the fresh crop of bamboo shoots but the sauce can be tossed (or gently “folded”) into sashimi, clams, squid, or other vegetables such as tara-no-me (sprouts of angelica).
The immature green berries are called ao-zanshō (literally “green sansho”), and these can be blanched and salted, or simmered using soy sauce in dark brown tsukudani, which is eaten as a condiment. Berries are also available as shoyu-zuke, which is simply dipped in soy sauce. The berries are also cooked with small fried fish and seasoned with soy sauce (chirimen jako [ja]), a Kyoto specialty, as its outskirts of Mount Kurama is a popular growing area for the plant.
There is also a dessert called kirisanshō [ja], a rice cake flavored with ground Japanese pepper. It is a specialty of the north.
In central and northeastern Japan, there is also a non-sticky rice cake-like confection called goheimochi, which is drizzled with miso-based dough and grilled, sometimes using Japanese pepper as a flavor additive to miso. Arare (rice crackers) flavored with sansho, snacks and sweet sansho-mochi are also marketed.
In South Korean cuisine, dried and ground chopi fruit is used as a condiment served with variety of food, such as chueo-tang (loach soup), maeun-tang (spicy fish stew), and hoe (raw fish).
The young leaves of the plant, called chopi-sun (초피 순), are used as a culinary herb or namul vegetable in South Korean cuisine. The leaves are also eaten pickled like jangajji, fried in a pan to make buchimgae (pancake) or fried like pancakes like twigak and bugak. Sometimes, chopi leaves are added to the anchovy and salt mixture to make the herb fish sauce, called chopi-aekjeot.
In Japan, the thick wood of the tree is traditionally made into a knotty, rough-hewn wood pestle (surikogi), for use with suribachi. Although sansho wood surikogi are less common today, they impart a subtle flavor to foods ground with them.
The medicinal uses of the Zanthoxylum piperitum plant are important and ancient.
In Japanese pharmaceuticals, ripe seedless peels are considered the raw medicinal form of sanshō. It is an ingredient of the bitter tincture [ja] and the sheared wine is served ceremonially. The pungent flavor comes from sanshool and sanshoamide.
In China, the shells of the fruits of the genus Zanthoxylum are widely used for therapeutic purposes. In traditional Chinese medicine it finds uses similar to hua jiao, for example in the treatment of gastric or digestive disorders – such as dyspepsia.
Among other uses it is recalled that in the southern parts of Korea, the fruit is traditionally used in peaches. Being poisonous to small fish, some fruits dropped in a pond spread toxins for the fish’s metabolism.
As for the components present in this plant, chemical analysis revealed that the seeds contain remarkably high concentrations of sugar-modified derivatives (glycosides) of N-methylserotonin and N, N-dimethylserotonin, also known as bufotenin.
The best known and studied chemical factor of Japanese pepper is called hydroxy-alpha sanshool, contained in a measure of 3% in the drug, responsible for the known tingling, anesthetic and slightly numbing sensation, similar to the effect of carbonated drinks or a light shock. electric. Sanshool appears to act simultaneously on different types of nerve endings, possibly causing a kind of “general neurological confusion”.
It also contains aromatic oils such as: geraniol, dipentene, citral, etc.
Finally, it is reported that from 1968 to 2005, imports of Japanese pepper were banned in the United States due to the risk of importing a plant disease: lemon cancer (all species of Japanese pepper belong to the Rutaceae family, the same family as the lemon). In 2005 the ban was lifted, but the plant parts that are imported must be previously sterilized.
From an ecological point of view, Zanthoxylum piperitum is a host plant for the indigenous Japanese swallowtail butterfly species, the citrus butterfly Papilio xuthus, which has also spread to Hawaii.

Preparation Method –
Zanthoxylum piperitum is a plant, as mentioned, used both in food and medicine.
In the kitchen it is used as the traditional pepper with respect to which it is distinguished by a pleasant but not too intense lemon flavor, and by the characteristic sensation of “numbness”. An aromatic oil can be obtained from the drug, which is also widely used in cooking.
In traditional Chinese medicine, the pericarp is used above all, but in some cases, also the leaves and flowers. Timur – Nepali name – is a remedy for various stomach or digestive problems, mixed with garlic cloves and mountain salt in warm water.
As we have already said, Japanese pepper consists of the outer shell of the fruits produced by some shrubs of the Genus Zanthoxylum. It is a spicy spice characterized by hints of lemon and which leaves a typical feeling of numbness. Although the chemical, organoleptic and taste characteristics of the various species of the genus Zanthoxylum can vary considerably, most share the same essential properties – Z. simulans and Z. piperitum are often, but erroneously, used as synonyms. Sichuan pepper is mainly consumed whole while abroad it is ground into powder; for certain recipes it is recommended to toast the drug before adding it to the finished food.
Sometimes accompanied with garlic, ginger – fresh or dry – or star anise, Japanese pepper is used to flavor various fishery products, meats – avian like chicken, duck and pork – vegetables – onion, eggplant etc. The many types of Japanese pepper appear in the cuisine of: China, Tibet, Bhutan, Nepal, Thailand, Korea, India (the Konkani and Uttarakhandi people), Japan and the Toba Batak peoples.
In Bhutan, Japanese pepper proper is known as a thingye and is used in the preparation of soups, gruel and phaag sha paa (slices of pork). In Nepal, timur is used in popular momo, thukpa, chow mein, spicy chicken, and other meat dishes. It is also widely used in homemade pickle recipes.
From Japanese pepper it is possible to obtain an aromatic oil typically used for the famous Chinese recipe of fried noodles, together with brown sugar and rice vinegar. The berry shells are not the only edible portion of the Zanthoxylum plant; in Japan, the leaves are also used, called kinome, especially to enrich recipes of vegetable origin – bamboo shoots, tofu soups, etc. The male flowers, also edible, are marketed in the Japanese territory under the name of hana-sanshō.
Composite spices are also formulated with Japanese pepper; the main ones are: málà and hua jiao yan (Chinese), and Japanese shichimi. A Beijing brewery uses Japanese pepper and honey to flavor a particular beer.
Important are the mixtures of species that are prepared with this plant.
Mala (麻辣 málà, literally numb and spicy) is a mixture of spices typical of Sichuan cuisine made with Japanese pepper and chilli.
Huajiao yan (花 椒盐 huājiāoyán) is a blend of Japanese pepper and grains of salt, roasted and browned in a wok and served as a seasoning for white meats.
Japanese pepper is one of the ingredients in the traditional Japanese seven-spice blend called shichimi togarashi.

Guido Bissanti

– Acta Plantarum – Flora of the Italian Regions.
– Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
– GBIF, the Global Biodiversity Information Facility.
– Useful Tropical Plants Database.
– Conti F., Abbate G., Alessandrini A., Blasi C. (ed.), 2005. An annotated checklist of the Italian vascular flora, Palombi Editore.
– Pignatti S., 1982. Flora of Italy, Edagricole, Bologna.
– Treben M., 2000. Health from the Lord’s Pharmacy, Advice and experiences with medicinal herbs, Ennsthaler Editore.
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Warning: Pharmaceutical applications and alimurgical uses are indicated for informational purposes only, they do not represent in any way a medical prescription; therefore no responsibility is taken for their use for curative, aesthetic or food purposes.

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