Zanthoxylum piperitum, also known as Japanese pepper, Korean pepper, sanshō (山椒), and chopi (초피), is a deciduous aromatic spiny shrub or small tree, belonging to the Rutaceae (citrus and rue) family. Natural range spans from Hokkaido to Kyushu in Japan, southern parts of the Korean peninsula, and Chinese mainland. The related Z. schinifolium (Japanese: イヌザンショウ pron. inuzanshō, lit., "dog sansho") occurs as far south as Yakushima, attaining a height of 3 meters.
In Japanese, the name sanshō (山椒) refers to Z. piperitum, and the name inuzanshō (犬山椒, "dog sanshō") refers to Z. schinifolium. In Korean, the cognate name sancho (산초) refers to Z. schinifolium, and the name gaesancho (개산초, "dog sancho") refers to Z. armatum. In Korea, Z. piperitum is called chopi (초피). In Japan, Z. armatum var. subtrifoliatum, which is a variety of Z. armatum, is called fuyuzanshō (冬山椒, "winter sanshō").
|Z. schinifolium||dog sanshō||sancho|
|Z. armatum||dog sancho|
|var. subtrifoliatum||winter sanshō|
The tree blooms in April to May, forming axillary flower clusters, about 5mm, and yellow-green in color. It is dioecious, and the flowers of the male plant can be consumed as hana-sanshō, while the female flowers yield berries or peppercorns of about 5mm.
In Japan, Wakayama Prefecture boasts 80% of domestic production. Aridagawa, Wakayama procuces a specialty variety called budō sanshō ("grape sansho"), which bears large fruits and clusters, rather like a bunch of grapes. The thornless variety, Asakura sansho, derives its name from its place of origin, the Asakura district in the now defunct Yokacho[ja], integrated into Yabu, Hyōgo.
The pulverized mature fruits ("peppercorns" or "berries") known as "Japanese pepper" or kona-zanshō (粉ざんしょう) are the standard spice for sprinkling on the kabayaki-unagi (broiled eel) dish. It is also one of the seven main ingredients of the blended spice called shichimi, which also contains red chili peppers. Finely ground Japanese pepper, kona-zanshō, is nowadays usually sold in sealed packets, and individual serving sizes are included inside heat-and-serve broiled eel packages. While red chili pepper is never used on eel, otherwise, in many usages, the Japanese red chili pepper, or the shichimi blend of peppers can be used in lieu of Japanese pepper alone, according to taste: e.g., to flavor miso soup, various noodles in broth or dipped in tsuyu (dipping sauce), tsukemono (pickles), teriyaki, or fried chicken.
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 which is not to the liking of everyone. It is a customary ritual to put a leaf between cupped hands, and clap the hands with a popping sound, this supposedly serving to bring out the aroma. The young leaves are crushed and blended with miso using suribachi (mortar) to make a paste, a pesto sauce of sorts, and then used to make various aemono (tossed salad). The stereotypical main ingredient for the resultant kinome-ae is the fresh harvest of bamboo shoots, but the sauce may be tossed (or delicately "folded") into sashimi, clams, squid or other vegetable such as tara-no-me (angelica-tree shoots).
The immature green berries, blanched and salted, are called ao-zanshō (lit. green sansho). The berries are traditionally simmered into dark-brown tsukudani, but nowadays are also available as shoyu-zuke, which is just steeped in soy sauce. The berries are also cooked with small fry fish and flavored with soy sauce (chirimen jako[ja]), a specialty item of Kyoto, since its Mount Kurama outskirts is a renowned growing area of the plant.
In central and northeastern Japan, a non-sticky rice-cake type confection called goheimochi[ja], which is basted with miso-based paste and grilled, sometimes uses the Japanese pepper as flavor additive to the miso. Also being marketed are sansho flavored arare (rice crackers), snack foods, and sweet sansho-mochi.
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 extensively cultivated and consumed. In Southern Korean cuisine, dried and ground chopi fruit is used as a condiment served with varieties of food, such as chueo-tang (loach soup), maeun-tang (spicy fish stew), and hoe (raw fish).
Young leaves of the plant, called chopi-sun (초피순), are used as a culinary herb or a namul vegetable in Southern Korean cuisine. The leaves are also eaten pickled as jangajji, pan-fried to make buchimgae (pancake), or deep-fried as fritters such as twigak and bugak. Sometimes, chopi leaves are added to anchovy-salt mixture to make herbed fish sauce, called chopi-aekjeot.
In Japanese pharmaceuticals, the mature husks with seeds removed are considered the crude medicine form of sanshō. It is an ingredient in bitter tincture[ja], and the toso wine served ceremonially. The pungent taste derives from sanshool and sanshoamide. It also contains aromatic oils geraniol, dipentene, citral, etc.
In Southern parts of Korea, the fruit is traditionally used in fishing. Being poisonous to small fish, a few fruit dropped in a pond make the fish float shortly after.
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