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Why Rachael Ray Thinks Sichuan Peppercorns Are 'Kinda Sexy And Fun'

Have you heard of Sichuan peppercorns? They're quite different than regular black or white peppercorns – both in their flavor and in the wild sensation that they cause in your mouth. Rachael Ray made an entertaining TikTok telling her followers about the fascinating food phenomenon. The reaction in your mouth is entirely unique. According to the Michelin Guide, the Sichuan peppercorn makes your lips tingle and your tongue feel numb. It even says "you feel like you've licked a battery." Wow! If you've never tasted one, NPR also compared it to the pins-and-needles feeling of when your foot falls asleep. That might still be hard to imagine in your mouth, so if you're curious, Sichuan peppercorns can be bought from specialty retailers like Penzeys Spices, and online from World Market or even Amazon

Ray said on her Tiktok that the Sichuan peppercorn is sexy and fun because it "makes you look like Angelina Jolie for a couple of minutes. It makes your tongue swell up a little bit and your lips get plump." Jolie's lips might be celebrities unto themselves - Vogue cited them as one of "the most voluptuous [pairs of] lips of all time." 

What exactly is the Sichuan peppercorn?

So what's the deal with this tingling treat that reminds Rachael Ray of Angelina Jolie? Well, first of all, according to Michelin Guide, the Sichuan peppercorn isn't a pepper at all. Nope, it's a dried ash tree berry. The effect of the Sichuan peppercorn – the tingling and numbing – is otherwise known as paresthesia. Paresthesia is thought to involve the molecule hydroxy-alpha-sanshool, which may grow naturally in the tree from which the Sichuan peppercorn grows. An NPR report on "Morning Edition" brought some new insight into the effects of the Sichuan peppercorn. Scientist Diana Bautista found during experiments that the peppercorn "chemically mimics touch." Pretty cool, and definitely unique for a meal ingredient. 

Ray has used Sichuan peppercorns to make roast chicken and Sichuan-style steak au poivre while her husband John Cusimano has used them to spice up a cosmo cocktail. This ingredient is most often found in ma la Sichuan cuisine, per Michelin Guide, which explains that "ma" and "la" refer to tingling and spiciness respectively. People encounter it in dishes like Kung Pao Chicken, dan dan noodles, and ma po tofu, but the Americanized versions in restaurants might not. In fact, concerns over bacteria led to a ban on Sichuan on peppercorns in the U.S. that lasted nearly 40 years. Luckily, those fears were assuaged and the Sichuan peppercorn is back in action stateside and in Rachael Ray's kitchen.