Japanese Pepper/Sanshio II

Advanced Know-How
A Shocking Spice

Applying the Research in Your Kitchen: Professor Yumi Miyashita of Tokiyo’s Meiji University Research Institute tested the effects of small amounts of Sansho in various Japanese and Western foods.

Sansho Powder

Sansho Powder

In blindfold tests subjects reported flavor levels that were subjectively “like a hundred times more flavorful” than the usual. Miyashita and her associates confirmed these results with a wide range of foods, including:

  • bean curd (tofu)
  • raw tuna (maguro)
  • miso soup
  • beef steak
  • grilled mackerel

In all cases subjects reported a dramatic increase in flavor intensity/

Other foods the team tested —

  • madeleine pastries
  • pickles, boiled eggs
  • milk
  • potato chips
  • chocolate ice cream

All testers reported a big increase in flavor.

Where Sansho Comes From: Most Sansho comes from a single area around Arita Machi in Japan’s Wakayama Prefecture, which grows up to 70 percent of the total production.

The Sansho berries are picked by hand, and after their black seeds are removed are ground and end up in the little spice jars.

Sansho berries when picked are a light green color. By the time you get to sprinkle them on your grilled foods.  they will have turned a light brown color. This is due to oxidation, which begins about 24 hours after the berries are ground and bottled.

People in the Arita Machi producing area in Wakayama Prefecture are very sophisticated about the spice and use it a lot in small quantities, in a variety of foods. They recommend freezing the berries, and taking out only a small quantity for current use just before cooking with it, and grinding in a small spice grinder.

That way, you can keep the distinctive flavor and aroma and the specific qualities of Sansho fresh and active for many months.  So, if you are interested in cooking with Sansho, it’s best to look for the fresh berries, which are available from several sources, a keep them refrigerated or frozen as long as possible.

If you have to settle for the bottle variety, even it is best kept in the freezer section of the refrigerator until just before using.

Armed with this special knowledge, cooks in Japan and other countries are now beginning to experiment with using small quantities of Sansho in different foods, as flavor enhancers and intensifiers.

Kyoto-based French chef Stefan Panterelle uses Sansho in dishes he serves customers, including

  • duck breast confit
  • ravioli with fish and shrimp
  • clam and vegetable marinara
  • ice cream and puddings — all with good effect

Sansho works well as a flavor enhancer of Chinese dishes, like Ma Po Tofu, where it can substitute for Sichuan Pepper very effectively, so sometimes these two spices can be interchanged.

Nutritional Aspects: When Sansho is taken, food tastes salty, even if no salt is used.  It  brings out the saltiness of the food itself.  It also intensifies the aroma as well as flavors of food.  So Sansho can be helpful for people who need to reduce sodium intake.

Sansho in the Kitchen: Armed with some of the recent findings on the chemical and pharmacological properties of Sansho, some chefs in Japan are beginning to experiment with using Sansho in new ways.  They are using Sansho as a seasoning, for people who want to reduce sodium, and also as a possible alternative to Hot Pepper Oil or Rayu, and as a flavor intensifier generally.

Cooks like Japanese chef Takeshi Kobashi and others have developed some surprising new uses for Sansho.  Here are several of these recipes adapted to Western kitchens:

Sansho All-Purpose Hot Sauce


2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 clove garlic
1/2 cup water
3 tablespoons soy sauce
1 1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon Japanese sake
1/2 teaspoon Sansho, freshly ground if possible


Combine the ingredients well and use as a seasoning.  For example, this oil goes well as a dressing on a simple salad of sliced avocado and sliced onions.

Here’s a method for using Sansho in cooking noodles:

Simple Mixed Noodles with Sansho


1 bunch Chinese wheat noodles
1 tablespoon oyster sauce
Pinch sugar
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
/4 teaspoon Sansho, preferably freshly ground


First, boil the noodles in the usual way and drain.  Then mix together the oyster sauce, sugar, oil and Sansho and use to dress the noodles.  Mix well and serve.

Another recipe —

Sansho All-Purpose Oil


1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon whole fresh Sansho berries — 10 grams


Put the Sansho berries in the oil and heat over a medium fire until they release their aroma, about 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from fire, cool, strain and refrigerate.  This oil can be added to fried or boiled foods, added to dressings and in general used like Hot Pepper Oil or Rayu in cooking and serving food.

Sources for Sansho: Sources for the spice include S & B Foods of Japan, Penzey’s and The Spice House.. In the UK a possible source of fresh berries is Sushi-Sushi.

For Further Information:

[1] Tokyo’s Meiji University Research Institute
[2] NHK, Tameshite Gatten, October 31, 2012, nhk.jp/gatten.
[3] Sources: S & B Foods, Penzey’s, The Spice House, Sushi-Sushi.



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