In the modern lexicon of dessert making, there aren’t a whole lot of spices used. Maybe the occasional use of “fall spices” like cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove, but really aside from that, it’s rare to see them used. Even more so when it comes to plated desserts at fine dining restaurant. More often, even these fall spices are reserved for baking projects like cakes and pies. Vanilla might be the one seasoning that’s ubiquitous across the pastry spectrum regardless of what exactly is being made. It seems to go in just about everything. But that gets boring after a while doesn’t it? Where’s the excitement?! Savory cuisine has spice after spice at their fingertips. Flavors from far flung places in just about every taste profile you can imagine. Why doesn’t pastry have a similar portfolio to pull from?
What exactly makes the Sichuan Green Peppercorn so adaptable? For starters, the peppercorns are sourced from China – which is no surprise seeing as how it’s the signature spice of China’s southwestern Sichuan province. When eaten, it produces a numbing tingling sensation – due to the presence of hydroxy-alpha sanshool. This molecule is found naturally in plants from the genus Zanthoxylum. Sichuan Green Peppercorn has loads of it! Sichuan Peppercorns have been used in China for centuries for both culinary and medicinal purposes. As an herbal remedy, it’s prescribed for various ailments from abdominal pain to toothache. It’s been said to have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and antibacterial effects.
The appearance alone is totally bizarre. Tiny green bumpy pods look more like something from a 90’s arcade game than something you should be eating. And the flavor is out of this world. Bright herbal citrus notes like lemon, lime, yuzu, and grapefruit. Instead of the typical spicy burn, your tongue is treated to a range of tingling and numbing sensations. The peppercorns will instantly increase saliva production too. It’s really quite pleasant and enjoyable.
Because of their unusual flavor, the peppercorns lend themselves to some really unusual applications. Namely, pastry. Their citrusy notes and tingling characteristics make them perfectly suited for sweet desserts and after dinner bites. One of our favorite combinations includes mango sorbet. The finished dish can be as simple as great mango sorbet and the crushed peppercorn, or it can be jazzed up with cookie crumbles, fresh sliced mango, sauces, you name it.
Fantastic mango sorbet is easy to make, and starts simply with really fresh ripe mangoes. Take two pounds of fresh sliced mango and blend in a blender with ¼ cup water. Strain the mixture through a fine mesh strainer. You should have about 3 cups of puree. To the puree, whisk in ¾ cup sugar, 1 tsp lime juice, and ½ tsp salt. Chill the entire combination until very cold, then churn in an ice cream maker. It’s as easy as that!
The bright citrusy notes of the Sechuan Green Peppercorn mingle beautifully with the cold tropical mango and will have you going back for bite after bite. For an added adult take, add a splash of dark Jamaican rum to the sorbet bowl. You won’t regret it.