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Chinese Herbs and Spices


liuzhou

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On 8/17/2021 at 10:39 PM, Tropicalsenior said:

Could you elaborate a bit on the difference between green and red Szechuan peppercorns? Have you done a topic on Chinese herbs and spices? Thank you.

 

Your wish is my command! Sometimes! A lot of what I say here, I will have already said in scattered topics across the forums, but I guess it's useful to bring it all into one place.

 

First, I want to say that China uses literally thousands of herbs. But not in their food. Most herbs are used medicinally in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), often in their dried form. Some of the more common are sold in supermarkets, but more often in pharmacies or small specialist stores. I also often see people on the streets with baskets of unidentified greenery for sale - but not for dinner. The same applies to spices, although more spices are used in a culinary setting than are herbs.

 

I’ll start with Sichuan peppercorns as these are what prompted @Tropicalsenior to suggest the topic.

 

1. Sichuan Peppercorns

 

Sichuan peppercorns are neither pepper nor, thank the heavens, c@rn! Nor are they necessarily from Sichuan. They are actually the seed husks of one of a number of small trees in the genus Zanthoxylum and are related to the citrus family.  The ‘Sichuan’ name in English comes from their copious use in Sichuan cuisine, but not necessarily where they are grown. Known in Chinese as 花椒 (huājiāo), literally ‘flower pepper’’, they are also known as ‘prickly ash’ and, less often, as ‘rattan pepper’.

The most common variety used in China is 红花椒 (hóng huā jiāo) or red Sichuan peppercorn, but often these are from provinces other than Sichuan, especially Gansu, Sichuan’s northern neighbour. They are sold all over China and, ground, are a key ingredient in “five-spice powder” mixes. They are essential in many Sichuan dishes where they contribute their numbing effect to Sichuan’s 麻辣 (má là), so-called ‘hot and numbing’ flavour. Actually the Chinese is ‘numbing and hot’. I’ve no idea why the order is reversed in translation, but it happens a lot – ‘hot and sour’ is actually ‘sour and hot’ in Chinese!

 

The peppercorns are essential in dishes such as 麻婆豆腐 (má pó dòu fǔ) mapo tofu, 宫保鸡丁 (gōng bǎo jī dīng) Kung-po chicken, etc. They are also used in other Chinese regional cuisines, such as Hunan and Guizhou cuisines.

Red Sichuan peppercorns can come from a number of Zanthoxylum varieties including Zanthoxylum simulans, Zanthoxylum bungeanum, Zanthoxylum schinifolium, etc.

 

1343714771_Sichuanpeppercorns.thumb.jpg.69d31dfc7d474c6042312aa6a6544c4d.jpg

Red Sichuan Peppercorns

 

Another, less common, variety is 青花椒 (qīng huā jiāo) green Sichuan peppercorn, Zanthoxylum armatum. These are also known as 藤椒 (téng jiāo). This grows all over Asia, from Pakistan to Japan and down to the countries of SE Asia. This variety is significantly more floral in taste and, at its freshest, smells strongly of lime peel. These are often used with fish, rabbit, frog etc. Unlike red peppercorns (usually), the green variety are often used in their un-dried state, but not often outside Sichuan.

 

794474949_GreenSichuuanPeppercorns2.thumb.jpg.ac3b883b1bdf39fe5b779c34bef5c015.jpg

Green Sichuan Peppercorns

 

613604510_FreshSichuanPeppercorns.thumb.jpg.592bfb7705954f29550aa314bcfc0fcf.jpg

Fresh Green Sichuan Peppercorns


I strongly recommend NOT buying Sichuan peppercorns in supermarkets outside China. They lose their scent, flavour and numbing quality very rapidly. There are much better examples available on sale online. I have heard good things about The Mala Market in the USA, for example.

I buy mine in small 30 gram / 1oz bags from a high turnover vendor. And that might last me a week. It’s better for me to restock regularly than to use stale peppercorns.

Both red and green peppercorns are used in the preparation of flavouring oils, often labelled in English as 'Prickly Ash Oil'. 花椒油 (huā jiāo yóu) or 藤椒油 (téng jiāo yóu).

 

464645591_pricklyashoil.thumb.jpg.c4e8c4179aca26282bff70f3bd9179e1.jpg

 

The tree's leaves are also used in some dishes in Sichuan, but I've never seen them out of the provinces where they grow.

 

A note on my use of ‘Sichuan’ rather than ‘Szechuan’.

 

If you ever find yourself in Sichuan, don’t refer to the place as ‘Szechuan’. No one will have any idea what you mean!

‘Szechuan’ is the almost prehistoric transliteration of 四川, using the long discredited Wade-Giles romanization system. Thomas Wade was a British diplomat who spoke fluent Mandarin and Cantonese. After retiring as a diplomat, he was elected to the post of professor of Chinese at Cambridge University, becoming the first to hold that post. He had, however, no training in theoretical linguistics. Herbert Giles was his replacement. He (also a diplomat rather than an academic) completed a romanization system begun by Wade. This became popular in the late 19th century, mainly, I suggest, because there was no other!

Unfortunately, both seem to have been a little hard of hearing. I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve been asked why the Chinese changed the name of their capital from Peking to Beijing. In fact, the name didn’t change at all. It had always been pronounced with /b/ rather than /p/ and /ʤ/ rather than /k/. The only thing which changed was the writing system.

In 1958, China adopted Pinyin as the standard romanization, not to help dumb foreigners like me, but to help lower China’s historically high illiteracy rate. It worked very well indeed, Today, it is used in primary schools and in some shop or road signs etc., although street signs seldom, if ever, include the necessary tone markers without which it isn't very helpful.

 

IMG_3977.thumb.jpg.d267e70adaaf98cde0c42ca89445aed0.jpg

A local shopping mall. The correct pinyin (with tone markers) is 'dōng dū bǎi huò'.

 

But pinyin's main use today is as the most popular input system for writing Chinese characters on computers and cell-phones. I use it in this way every day, as do most people. It is simpler and more accurate than older romanizations. I learned it in one afternoon.  I doubt anyone could have done that with Wade-Giles.

 

Pinyin has been recognised for over 30 years as the official romanization by the International Standards Organization (ISO), the United Nations and, believe it or not, The United States of America, along with many others. Despite this recognition, old romanizations linger on, especially in America. Very few people in China know any other than pinyin. 四川 is  'sì chuān' in pinyin.

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

A terrible thing is ignorance, the source of endless human woes, spreading a mist over facts, obscuring truth, and casting a gloom upon the individual life. - Lucian of Samosata (born 120, died after 180 CE)

 

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2. Star Anise

 

1404279657_staranise1.thumb.jpg.cbd347593c13e79801cb0498fc206486.jpg

 

If you have used star anise, Illicium verum in your cooking, there is a strong chance that they came from Guangxi where I live. The plant is native to here and Guangxi produces 80% of the world crop. Known in Chinese as 八角 (bā jiǎo), literally ‘8 horns’ although they can, in fact, have between 6 and 10 ‘horns’, it is used extensively in Chinese cooking, but also in medicines, perfumery, soaps, toothpastes, mouthwashes, skin creams etc.

 

They are the pericarp of the flowers of a small tree in the magnolia family. I had one growing outside my second home in the countryside. The flowers are harvested before they ripen and dried to these hard brown stars. They are not related to aniseed, but both contain the chemical, anethole which supplies the distinctive flavour, also found in fennel.

 

1712386315_staranise2.thumb.jpg.78c168e4d679cea4de8881a7a3b982ae.jpg

 

Again they are used as a component of five-spice powder, but also used whole for their umami in hot pots, soups, braised and stewed dishes etc. They are not actually eaten and may be removed before serving. They can, of course, also be used in many western dishes. I use them in Italian style ragu and even Scottish mince and tatties!

Although they hold their flavour much longer than the Sichuan peppercorns above, I'd still recommend buying them as fresh as you can and in small quantities. In fact, I'd say that applies to all spices.

 

1937866510_staranise3.thumb.jpg.d9f04e69d8cdffbc46dabd97e4b606f0.jpg

 

Edited by liuzhou (log)
  • Like 9
  • Thanks 1

...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

A terrible thing is ignorance, the source of endless human woes, spreading a mist over facts, obscuring truth, and casting a gloom upon the individual life. - Lucian of Samosata (born 120, died after 180 CE)

 

The Kitchen Scale Manifesto

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Share on other sites

3 hours ago, liuzhou said:

  

 

Your wish is my command! Sometimes! A lot of what I say here, I will have already said in scattered topics across the forums, but I guess it's useful to bring it all into one place.

 

First, I want to say that China uses literally thousands of herbs. But not in their food. Most herbs are used medicinally in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), often in their dried form. Some of the more common are sold in supermarkets, but more often in pharmacies or small specialist stores. I also often see people on the streets with baskets of unidentified greenery for sale - but not for dinner. The same applies to spices, although more spices are used in a culinary setting than are herbs.

 

I’ll start with Sichuan peppercorns as these are what prompted @Tropicalsenior to suggest the topic.

 

1. Sichuan Peppercorns

 

Sichuan peppercorns are neither pepper nor, thank the heavens, c@rn! Nor are they necessarily from Sichuan. They are actually the seed husks of one of a number of small trees in the genus Zanthoxylum and are related to the citrus family.  The ‘Sichuan’ name in English comes from their copious use in Sichuan cuisine, but not necessarily where they are grown. Known in Chinese as 花椒 (huājiāo), literally ‘flower pepper’’, they are also known as ‘prickly ash’ and, less often, as ‘rattan pepper’.

The most common variety used in China is 红花椒 (hóng huā jiāo) or red Sichuan peppercorn, but often these are from provinces other than Sichuan, especially Gansu, Sichuan’s northern neighbour. They are sold all over China and, ground, are a key ingredient in “five-spice powder” mixes. They are essential in many Sichuan dishes where they contribute their numbing effect to Sichuan’s 麻辣 (má là), so-called ‘hot and numbing’ flavour. Actually the Chinese is ‘numbing and hot’. I’ve no idea why the order is revered intranslation, but it happens a lot – ‘hot and sour’ is actually ‘sour and hot’ in Chinese!

 

The peppercorns are essential in dishes such as 麻婆豆腐 (má pó dòu fǔ) mapo tofu, 宫保鸡丁 (gōng bǎo jī dīng) Kung-po chicken, etc. They are also used in other Chinese regional cuisines, such as Hunan and Guizhou cuisines.

Red Sichuan peppercorns can come from a number of Zanthoxylum varieties including Zanthoxylum simulans, Zanthoxylum bungeanum, Zanthoxylum schinifolium, etc.

 

1343714771_Sichuanpeppercorns.thumb.jpg.69d31dfc7d474c6042312aa6a6544c4d.jpg

Red Sichuan Peppercorns

 

Another, less common, variety is 青花椒 (qīng huā jiāo) green Sichuan peppercorn, Zaténg jiāonthoxylum armatum. These are also known as 藤椒 (téng jiāo). This grows all over Asia, from Pakistan to Japan and down to the countries of SE Asia. This variety is significantly more floral in taste and, at its freshest, smells strongly of lime peel. These are often used with fish, rabbit, frog etc. Unlike red peppercorns (usually), the green variety are often used in their un-dried state.

 

794474949_GreenSichuuanPeppercorns2.thumb.jpg.ac3b883b1bdf39fe5b779c34bef5c015.jpg

Green Sichuan Peppercorns

 

613604510_FreshSichuanPeppercorns.thumb.jpg.592bfb7705954f29550aa314bcfc0fcf.jpg

Fresh Green Sichuan Peppercorns


I strongly recommend NOT buying Sichuan peppercorns in supermarkets outside China. They lose their scent, flavour and numbing quality very rapidly. There are much better examples available on sale online. I have heard good things about The Mala Market in the USA, for example.

I buy mine in small 30 gram / 1oz bags from a high turnover vendor. And that might last me a week. It’s better for me to restock regularly than to use stale peppercorns.

Both red and green peppercorns are used in the preparation of flavouring oils, often labelled in English as 'Prickly Ash Oil'. 花椒油 (huā jiāo yóu) or 藤椒油 (téng jiāo yóu).

 

464645591_pricklyashoil.thumb.jpg.c4e8c4179aca26282bff70f3bd9179e1.jpg

 

The trees leaves are also used in some dishes in Sichuan, but I've never seen the out of the provinces where they grow.

 

A note on my use of ‘Sichuan’ rather than ‘Szechuan’.

 

If you ever find yourself in Sichuan, don’t refer to the place as ‘Szechuan’. No one will have any idea what you mean!

‘Szechuan’ is the almost prehistoric transliteration of 四川, using the long discredited Wade-Giles romanization system. Thomas Wade was a British diplomat who spoke fluent Mandarin and Cantonese. After retiring as a diplomat, he was elected to the post of professor of Chinese at Cambridge University, becoming the first to hold that post. He had, however, no training in theoretical linguistics. Herbert Giles was his replacement. He (also a diplomat rather than an academic) completed a romanization system begun by Wade. This became popular in the late 19th century, mainly I suggest because there was no other!

Unfortunately, both seem to have been a little hard of hearing. I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve been asked why the Chinese changed the name of their capital from Peking to Beijing. In fact, the name didn’t change at all. It had always been pronounced with /b/ rather than /p/ and /ʤ/ rather than /k/. The only thing which changed was the writing system.

In 1958, China adopted Pinyin as the standard romanization, not to help dumb foreigners like me, but to help lower China’s historically high illiteracy rate. It worked very well indeed, Today, it is used in primary schools and in some shop or road signs etc., although street signs seldom, if ever, include the necessary tone markers without which it isn't very helpful.

 

IMG_3977.thumb.jpg.d267e70adaaf98cde0c42ca89445aed0.jpg

A local shopping mall. The correct pinyin (with tone markers) is 'dōng dū bǎi huò'.

 

But pinyin's main use today is as the most popular input system for writing Chinese characters on computers and cell-phones. I use it in this way every day, as do most people. It is simpler and more accurate than older romanizations. I learned it in one afternoon.  I doubt anyone could have done that with Wade-Giles.

 

Pinyin has been recognised for over 30 years as the official romanization by the International Standards Organization (ISO), the United Nations and, believe it or not, The United States of America, along with many others. Despite this recognition, old romanizations linger on, especially in America. Very few people in China know any other than pinyin. 四川 is  'sì chuān' in pinyin.

 

3 hours ago, liuzhou said:

  

 

Your wish is my command! Sometimes! A lot of what I say here, I will have already said in scattered topics across the forums, but I guess it's useful to bring it all into one place.

 

First, I want to say that China uses literally thousands of herbs. But not in their food. Most herbs are used medicinally in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), often in their dried form. Some of the more common are sold in supermarkets, but more often in pharmacies or small specialist stores. I also often see people on the streets with baskets of unidentified greenery for sale - but not for dinner. The same applies to spices, although more spices are used in a culinary setting than are herbs.

 

I’ll start with Sichuan peppercorns as these are what prompted @Tropicalsenior to suggest the topic.

 

1. Sichuan Peppercorns

 

Sichuan peppercorns are neither pepper nor, thank the heavens, c@rn! Nor are they necessarily from Sichuan. They are actually the seed husks of one of a number of small trees in the genus Zanthoxylum and are related to the citrus family.  The ‘Sichuan’ name in English comes from their copious use in Sichuan cuisine, but not necessarily where they are grown. Known in Chinese as 花椒 (huājiāo), literally ‘flower pepper’’, they are also known as ‘prickly ash’ and, less often, as ‘rattan pepper’.

The most common variety used in China is 红花椒 (hóng huā jiāo) or red Sichuan peppercorn, but often these are from provinces other than Sichuan, especially Gansu, Sichuan’s northern neighbour. They are sold all over China and, ground, are a key ingredient in “five-spice powder” mixes. They are essential in many Sichuan dishes where they contribute their numbing effect to Sichuan’s 麻辣 (má là), so-called ‘hot and numbing’ flavour. Actually the Chinese is ‘numbing and hot’. I’ve no idea why the order is revered intranslation, but it happens a lot – ‘hot and sour’ is actually ‘sour and hot’ in Chinese!

 

The peppercorns are essential in dishes such as 麻婆豆腐 (má pó dòu fǔ) mapo tofu, 宫保鸡丁 (gōng bǎo jī dīng) Kung-po chicken, etc. They are also used in other Chinese regional cuisines, such as Hunan and Guizhou cuisines.

Red Sichuan peppercorns can come from a number of Zanthoxylum varieties including Zanthoxylum simulans, Zanthoxylum bungeanum, Zanthoxylum schinifolium, etc.

 

1343714771_Sichuanpeppercorns.thumb.jpg.69d31dfc7d474c6042312aa6a6544c4d.jpg

Red Sichuan Peppercorns

 

Another, less common, variety is 青花椒 (qīng huā jiāo) green Sichuan peppercorn, Zaténg jiāonthoxylum armatum. These are also known as 藤椒 (téng jiāo). This grows all over Asia, from Pakistan to Japan and down to the countries of SE Asia. This variety is significantly more floral in taste and, at its freshest, smells strongly of lime peel. These are often used with fish, rabbit, frog etc. Unlike red peppercorns (usually), the green variety are often used in their un-dried state.

 

794474949_GreenSichuuanPeppercorns2.thumb.jpg.ac3b883b1bdf39fe5b779c34bef5c015.jpg

Green Sichuan Peppercorns

 

613604510_FreshSichuanPeppercorns.thumb.jpg.592bfb7705954f29550aa314bcfc0fcf.jpg

Fresh Green Sichuan Peppercorns


I strongly recommend NOT buying Sichuan peppercorns in supermarkets outside China. They lose their scent, flavour and numbing quality very rapidly. There are much better examples available on sale online. I have heard good things about The Mala Market in the USA, for example.

I buy mine in small 30 gram / 1oz bags from a high turnover vendor. And that might last me a week. It’s better for me to restock regularly than to use stale peppercorns.

Both red and green peppercorns are used in the preparation of flavouring oils, often labelled in English as 'Prickly Ash Oil'. 花椒油 (huā jiāo yóu) or 藤椒油 (téng jiāo yóu).

 

464645591_pricklyashoil.thumb.jpg.c4e8c4179aca26282bff70f3bd9179e1.jpg

 

The trees leaves are also used in some dishes in Sichuan, but I've never seen the out of the provinces where they grow.

 

A note on my use of ‘Sichuan’ rather than ‘Szechuan’.

 

If you ever find yourself in Sichuan, don’t refer to the place as ‘Szechuan’. No one will have any idea what you mean!

‘Szechuan’ is the almost prehistoric transliteration of 四川, using the long discredited Wade-Giles romanization system. Thomas Wade was a British diplomat who spoke fluent Mandarin and Cantonese. After retiring as a diplomat, he was elected to the post of professor of Chinese at Cambridge University, becoming the first to hold that post. He had, however, no training in theoretical linguistics. Herbert Giles was his replacement. He (also a diplomat rather than an academic) completed a romanization system begun by Wade. This became popular in the late 19th century, mainly I suggest because there was no other!

Unfortunately, both seem to have been a little hard of hearing. I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve been asked why the Chinese changed the name of their capital from Peking to Beijing. In fact, the name didn’t change at all. It had always been pronounced with /b/ rather than /p/ and /ʤ/ rather than /k/. The only thing which changed was the writing system.

In 1958, China adopted Pinyin as the standard romanization, not to help dumb foreigners like me, but to help lower China’s historically high illiteracy rate. It worked very well indeed, Today, it is used in primary schools and in some shop or road signs etc., although street signs seldom, if ever, include the necessary tone markers without which it isn't very helpful.

 

IMG_3977.thumb.jpg.d267e70adaaf98cde0c42ca89445aed0.jpg

A local shopping mall. The correct pinyin (with tone markers) is 'dōng dū bǎi huò'.

3 hours ago, liuzhou said:

  

 

Your wish is my command! Sometimes! A lot of what I say here, I will have already said in scattered topics across the forums, but I guess it's useful to bring it all into one place.

 

First, I want to say that China uses literally thousands of herbs. But not in their food. Most herbs are used medicinally in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), often in their dried form. Some of the more common are sold in supermarkets, but more often in pharmacies or small specialist stores. I also often see people on the streets with baskets of unidentified greenery for sale - but not for dinner. The same applies to spices, although more spices are used in a culinary setting than are herbs.

 

I’ll start with Sichuan peppercorns as these are what prompted @Tropicalsenior to suggest the topic.

 

1. Sichuan Peppercorns

 

Sichuan peppercorns are neither pepper nor, thank the heavens, c@rn! Nor are they necessarily from Sichuan. They are actually the seed husks of one of a number of small trees in the genus Zanthoxylum and are related to the citrus family.  The ‘Sichuan’ name in English comes from their copious use in Sichuan cuisine, but not necessarily where they are grown. Known in Chinese as 花椒 (huājiāo), literally ‘flower pepper’’, they are also known as ‘prickly ash’ and, less often, as ‘rattan pepper’.

The most common variety used in China is 红花椒 (hóng huā jiāo) or red Sichuan peppercorn, but often these are from provinces other than Sichuan, especially Gansu, Sichuan’s northern neighbour. They are sold all over China and, ground, are a key ingredient in “five-spice powder” mixes. They are essential in many Sichuan dishes where they contribute their numbing effect to Sichuan’s 麻辣 (má là), so-called ‘hot and numbing’ flavour. Actually the Chinese is ‘numbing and hot’. I’ve no idea why the order is revered intranslation, but it happens a lot – ‘hot and sour’ is actually ‘sour and hot’ in Chinese!

 

The peppercorns are essential in dishes such as 麻婆豆腐 (má pó dòu fǔ) mapo tofu, 宫保鸡丁 (gōng bǎo jī dīng) Kung-po chicken, etc. They are also used in other Chinese regional cuisines, such as Hunan and Guizhou cuisines.

Red Sichuan peppercorns can come from a number of Zanthoxylum varieties including Zanthoxylum simulans, Zanthoxylum bungeanum, Zanthoxylum schinifolium, etc.

 

1343714771_Sichuanpeppercorns.thumb.jpg.69d31dfc7d474c6042312aa6a6544c4d.jpg

Red Sichuan Peppercorns

 

Another, less common, variety is 青花椒 (qīng huā jiāo) green Sichuan peppercorn, Zaténg jiāonthoxylum armatum. These are also known as 藤椒 (téng jiāo). This grows all over Asia, from Pakistan to Japan and down to the countries of SE Asia. This variety is significantly more floral in taste and, at its freshest, smells strongly of lime peel. These are often used with fish, rabbit, frog etc. Unlike red peppercorns (usually), the green variety are often used in their un-dried state.

 

794474949_GreenSichuuanPeppercorns2.thumb.jpg.ac3b883b1bdf39fe5b779c34bef5c015.jpg

Green Sichuan Peppercorns

 

613604510_FreshSichuanPeppercorns.thumb.jpg.592bfb7705954f29550aa314bcfc0fcf.jpg

Fresh Green Sichuan Peppercorns


I strongly recommend NOT buying Sichuan peppercorns in supermarkets outside China. They lose their scent, flavour and numbing quality very rapidly. There are much better examples available on sale online. I have heard good things about The Mala Market in the USA, for example.

I buy mine in small 30 gram / 1oz bags from a high turnover vendor. And that might last me a week. It’s better for me to restock regularly than to use stale peppercorns.

Both red and green peppercorns are used in the preparation of flavouring oils, often labelled in English as 'Prickly Ash Oil'. 花椒油 (huā jiāo yóu) or 藤椒油 (téng jiāo yóu).

 

464645591_pricklyashoil.thumb.jpg.c4e8c4179aca26282bff70f3bd9179e1.jpg

 

The trees leaves are also used in some dishes in Sichuan, but I've never seen the out of the provinces where they grow.

 

A note on my use of ‘Sichuan’ rather than ‘Szechuan’.

 

If you ever find yourself in Sichuan, don’t refer to the place as ‘Szechuan’. No one will have any idea what you mean!

‘Szechuan’ is the almost prehistoric transliteration of 四川, using the long discredited Wade-Giles romanization system. Thomas Wade was a British diplomat who spoke fluent Mandarin and Cantonese. After retiring as a diplomat, he was elected to the post of professor of Chinese at Cambridge University, becoming the first to hold that post. He had, however, no training in theoretical linguistics. Herbert Giles was his replacement. He (also a diplomat rather than an academic) completed a romanization system begun by Wade. This became popular in the late 19th century, mainly I suggest because there was no other!

Unfortunately, both seem to have been a little hard of hearing. I wish I had a dollar for every time I’ve been asked why the Chinese changed the name of their capital from Peking to Beijing. In fact, the name didn’t change at all. It had always been pronounced with /b/ rather than /p/ and /ʤ/ rather than /k/. The only thing which changed was the writing system.

In 1958, China adopted Pinyin as the standard romanization, not to help dumb foreigners like me, but to help lower China’s historically high illiteracy rate. It worked very well indeed, Today, it is used in primary schools and in some shop or road signs etc., although street signs seldom, if ever, include the necessary tone markers without which it isn't very helpful.

 

IMG_3977.thumb.jpg.d267e70adaaf98cde0c42ca89445aed0.jpg

A local shopping mall. The correct pinyin (with tone markers) is 'dōng dū bǎi huò'.

 

But pinyin's main use today is as the most popular input system for writing Chinese characters on computers and cell-phones. I use it in this way every day, as do most people. It is simpler and more accurate than older romanizations. I learned it in one afternoon.  I doubt anyone could have done that with Wade-Giles.

 

Pinyin has been recognised for over 30 years as the official romanization by the International Standards Organization (ISO), the United Nations and, believe it or not, The United States of America, along with many others. Despite this recognition, old romanizations linger on, especially in America. Very few people in China know any other than pinyin. 四川 is  'sì chuān' in pinyin.

 

 

Thank you so much for this post. So much information and history and language education. Fascinating.

 

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Thank you so much. I am really going to enjoy this. Now I know why the peppercorns that I buy have never had any numbing effect. They're old. But unfortunately they're all I can get. I have never seen the green ones here. Star anise, for some reason or other, has become very popular in Costa Rica and I can buy that just about anywhere. It's very interesting to know that the one that I pop in my green tea every morning might have come from very close to where you live.

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Can you expand about cooking with peppercorns?

 

I find that they can lend many different flavors depending on preparation from citrus to metallic to numbing.

From my experience, a brief fry or toasting will get the citrusy floral oils going, and can then be added near the end of preparation (ground if dry or just the flavored oil).

Cooking it in liquid extract metallic notes, and perhaps also more numbing components.

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On 8/18/2021 at 10:41 PM, Tropicalsenior said:

I have never seen the green ones here.

 

Doesn't surprise me.  They are only recently available here. According to Fuchsia Dunlop, they were only approved for sale and consumption in 1998, two years after I arrived. But I didn't encounter them until about 3 or 4 years ago.

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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35 minutes ago, shain said:

Can you expand about cooking with peppercorns?

 

I find that they can lend many different flavors depending on preparation from citrus to metallic to numbing.

From my experience, a brief fry or toasting will get the citrusy floral oils going, and can then be added near the end of preparation (ground if dry or just the flavored oil).

Cooking it in liquid extract metallic notes, and perhaps also more numbing components.

 

I usually toast them in the wok to release the oils before introducing to the dish I'm making, yes*. Sometimes I add them near the end as you describe. Sometimes much earlier. It depends what I'm cooking.

I seldom use the oil. Sometimes in dips; sometimes in hotpots.

I don't detect any metallic notes, though. That suggests to me that they aren't very fresh, but I'm not sure. They should  always be numbing in addition to any other qualities. Lack of numbing = stale.

* Again, this applies to many dried spices.

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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10 hours ago, liuzhou said:

A note on my use of ‘Sichuan’ rather than ‘Szechuan’.

I use dictation exclusively now rather than typing because I do everything on my telephone and I hate the little bitty keyboard. That is the spelling that they used and now that I know that it is wrong I will correct them.

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1 minute ago, Tropicalsenior said:

I use dictation exclusively now rather than typing because I do everything on my telephone and I hate the little bitty keyboard. That is the spelling that they used and now that I know that it is wrong I will correct them.

 

I wouldn't say it's 'wrong'; just outdated.

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3. 桂皮 (guì pí) - Cassia Bark - Cinnamomum cassia

 

 

 

2093265637_cassiaquills.thumb.jpg.340a1d0e933373b0767008d4b702803e.jpg

 

Another local is cassia bark 肉桂 (ròu guì) or 桂皮 (guì pí), Cinnamomum cassia, which is native to Guangxi, neighbouring Yunnan province and equally neighbouring northern Vietnam.

 

A few days ago I accidentally found myself watching a YouTube video in which a one-time winner of Masterchef, Australia was opining about various ingredients used in a Chinese dish. I was spitting at my computer screen as he came out with utter, ignorant drivel. Among the tirade of nonsense emanating from his mouth was the preposterous claim that cinnamon is the inner bark of the tree while cassia is the outer bark. Pillock!


1225984279_cassiatree.thumb.jpg.d5a3d6d18cfd18983513f95efc361ec6.jpg

Cinnamomum cassia tree in my local park. No, they don't all lean like that!

 

Cinnamon and cassia are related but different trees. (True cinnamon is from Cinnamomum verum or Cinnamomum zeylanicum, both native to the Indian subcontinent.) Both edible spices are from the dried inner bark of their respective trees. I wouldn’t trust that ‘master’ to boil me an egg!

 

It is true, however to say, that most cinnamon sold in North America is actually cassia. That troubles me. They do taste a lot different, with true cinnamon being considerably less pungent and more delicate. Cassia can be bitter if too much is used. Go sparingly. Cassia is generally better suited to savoury dishes, whereas cinnamon more to sweet dishes.

 

Cassia is yet another ingredient in five-spice powder and the quills or pieces there of are also added to hot pots, braises and stewed dishes. The leaves, flower buds and seeds are all used, too. The leaves are used like bay leaves.

 

Please note that what is often sold as 'cassia seed', isn't cassia at all, but a completely different plant.

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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38 minutes ago, Tropicalsenior said:

Do they have a similar flavor? I have a little cinnamon tree that will never get big enough to contribute any bark but maybe I can use the leaves.

 

No. The flavour is very different. I just meant they are used in the same manner. Chuck one or two into a braise or stew.

 

I have no experience with growing cinnamon or cassia, but I'd guess you could use the leaves, yes.

Edited by liuzhou (log)
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11 minutes ago, liuzhou said:

3. Cassia Bark

 

2093265637_cassiaquills.thumb.jpg.340a1d0e933373b0767008d4b702803e.jpg

 

Another local is cassia bark 肉桂 (ròu guì) or 桂皮 (guì pí), Cinnamomum cassia, which is native to Guangxi, neighbouring Yunnan province and equally neighbouring northern Vietnam.

 

A few days ago I accidentally found myself watching a YouTube video in which a one-time winner of Masterchef, Australia was opining about various ingredients used in a Chinese dish. I was spitting at my computer screen as he came out with utter, ignorant drivel. Among the tirade of nonsense emanating from his mouth was the preposterous claim that cinnamon is the inner bark of the tree while cassia is the outer bark. Pillock!


1225984279_cassiatree.thumb.jpg.d5a3d6d18cfd18983513f95efc361ec6.jpg

Cinnamomum cassia tree in my local park. No, they don't all lean like that!

 

Cinnamon and cassia are related but different trees. (True cinnamon is from Cinnamomum verum or Cinnamomum zeylanicum, both native to the Indian subcontinent.) Both edible spices are from the dried inner bark of their respective trees. I wouldn’t trust that ‘master’ to boil me an egg!

 

It is true, however to say, that most cinnamon sold in North America is actually cassia. That troubles me. They do taste a lot different, with true cinnamon being considerably less pungent and more delicate. Cassia can be bitter if too much is used. Go sparingly. Cassia is generally better suited to savoury dishes, whereas cinnamon more to sweet dishes.

 

Cassia is yet another ingredient in five-spice powder and the quills or pieces there of are also added to hot pots, braises and stewed dishes. The leaves, flower buds and seeds are all used, too. The leaves are used like bay leaves. The seeds often to make a ‘tea’ or tisane.

 

1134259127_Cassiaseeds.thumb.jpg.78a9cc0aa4d899c030ae028a92babd94.jpg

Cassia seeds

There is a good bit of difference as you note and I think we in US are used to cassia. I've had Vietnamese cinnamon (Penzey's distributed in US) and gave it to a friend ho appreciated it.  It would have changed the flavor significantly in my baking which is where I use it most. 

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I just remembered that when we first moved to Costa Rica, I used to buy either cassia or cinnamon sticks in our Central Market that were about 2 ft long and 2 or 3 in in diameter. It was quite cheap. I don't remember it being very strong flavored but it had a very strong aroma. I used a lot of it for Christmas decorations.

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11 minutes ago, heidih said:

There is a good bit of difference as you note and I think we in US are used to cassia. I've had Vietnamese cinnamon (Penzey's distributed in US) and gave it to a friend ho appreciated it.  It would have changed the flavor significantly in my baking which is where I use it most. 

 

Vietnamese cinnamon is closer to cassia than to true cinnamon. Sri Lankan cinnamon is probably the best for baking, if you can find it.

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6 hours ago, KennethT said:

I love how they made the supporting column look like a tree!

 

Actually, the prop is a tree! It has been lopped and replanted where its support is needed. Nearby there is an ancient camphor wood tree (also a memberof the Cinnamomum family, Cinnamomum camphora) which needs six of these tree props.

 

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4. Fresh Herbs

 

I thought I’d get this one out of the way. It won’t take long.

 

In most of China, the only fresh herb available in supermarkets or other food stores is coriander leaf / cilantro. Known in Chinese as 香菜 (xiāng cài, literally ‘fragrant vegetable’). It is used in thousands of dishes from stir-fries to hot pots to fried rice etc. I always have it in the kitchen.

 

1917140533_Corianderleaf.thumb.jpg.25179060376d27629b041afc8e8599ab.jpg

Coriander / Cilantro

 

When I lived in Hunan in the 1990s, there was a woman on the street near my home with a large pan of boiling oil over an old, charcoal-fueled, oil can stove who dropped sprigs of the herb into the oil until it deep-fried to crisp perfection - in seconds. She then sprinkled it with salt and chilli flakes and served it wrapped in paper. It was heavenly. I never passed her without buying some. And it cost almost nothing.

 

Incidentally, Chinese cuisine extremely rarely uses coriander seed. I’ve never once seen it in any store or market, other than a market for farmers, selling the seeds for planting. It is not recommended to eat those seeds as they have been artificially treated with seed germination enhancers. Even online, all the seeds for human consumption are imported. The ones I use (in non-Chinese dishes) are from India.

One vendor in my market of choice here does occasionally have mint (薄荷 - bò he), although it is rarely used in dishes – more often in ‘teas’ or ‘herbal medicines’.

 

mint2.thumb.jpg.689027c86ea2478e7d51b6a1414267db.jpg

Mint

 

Parsley is even more rarely seen or used.

And that is about it. Some plants like garlic chives, sometimes considered herbs in the west are just considered to be vegetables here.

 

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3 hours ago, liuzhou said:

One vendor in my market of choice here does occasionally have mint (薄荷 - bò he), although it is rarely used in dishes – more often in ‘teas’ or ‘herbal medicines’.

 

mint2.thumb.jpg.689027c86ea2478e7d51b6a1414267db.jpg

Mint

 

 

I had thought that mint was pretty common in Yunnan and other areas close to the Viet border?

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Just now, KennethT said:

I had thought that mint was pretty common in Yunnan and other areas close to the Viet border?

 

Well, I'm close to the Vietnam border and like I said can only find it sporadically from one vendor. I do grow it myself. In fact, Guangxi is the major trade route btween the two countries - just not for food.

It is source of great frustration to me how little vegetation or any other food is imported from Vietnam. I mean I can almost see the damn place from my window! (Slight exaggeration).

There isn't a single Vietnam restaurant in town that I'm aware of.

 

 I want to go to Vietnam! But, of course, I can't right now.

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12 minutes ago, KennethT said:

Yunnan

 

I do have a good friend in Yunnan. I'll ask how common it is. I haven't been there since Mao was a baby.

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A terrible thing is ignorance, the source of endless human woes, spreading a mist over facts, obscuring truth, and casting a gloom upon the individual life. - Lucian of Samosata (born 120, died after 180 CE)

 

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41 minutes ago, liuzhou said:

 

I do have a good friend in Yunnan. I'll ask how common it is.

Thanks.  I just remember being taken to a Yunnan restaurant in Beijing and one of the dishes was beef rolled around a bunch of mint... which is why I was curious.  This is it here:

 

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24 minutes ago, KennethT said:

beef rolled around a bunch of mint..

 

My Yunnan friend just got back to me to say she can find mint, but it isn't common. She also said she only knows one dish that uses it. 牛肉薄荷 - Beef mint!

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...your dancing child with his Chinese suit.

 

A terrible thing is ignorance, the source of endless human woes, spreading a mist over facts, obscuring truth, and casting a gloom upon the individual life. - Lucian of Samosata (born 120, died after 180 CE)

 

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