Once banned in the US as they were thought to carry citrus canker, sichuan (or szechuan) peppercorns have been available here since 2005. Sichuan peppercorns don't actually come from a pepper plant, but are the dried red-brown berries of a type of ash tree. The berries are dried and then sold whole or crushed to a powder.
Sichuan peppercorns are a key ingredient in Chinese cooking. They have an unique, tangy taste and aroma. They are not pungent like black peppers, but have a lemony taste. They are spicy and can bring a numbing feel to the mouth and lips. Generally, they are added last when used in cooking. Only the husks are used, and are often toasted beforehand.
(Image:Smax Specialty Foods)