As I was checking and re-packing the Sichuan pepper we’d brought back from China, surrounded by its fascinating aroma, a new study came out that got this little zinger into the news.
Chile peppers and the pain they can cause had been analyzed long ago, looking to understand what exactly makes them “burn” and how that sensation of burning may be working; the Sichuan pepper apparently drew in researchers, too. Again, it was to understand sensations, but this time, those of touch.
If you’ve eaten (or rather, used, since it shouldn’t really be eaten) Sichuan pepper before, you’ll be familiar with the numbing and tingling sensation it causes… and what said study found out is that the sensory impression of Sichuan pepper on the lips is the same as that of a touch.
Actually, not just a touch, but a vibration, and at a frequency of 50 Hz at that.
Charles Spence, “neurogastronomist,” has been reported as excited, thinking of possible multi-sensory food experiences that could be constructed on the basis of that knowledge; Shanghaiist read the study rather differently, as a prelude to an all-new series of Sichuan pepper-“vibration”-based sex products…
The latter also had one of the nicest descriptions of Sichuan cuisine’s use of chilli and Sichuan pepper in a while, in my opinion: “…Sichuan peppercorns … counteracting the atomically spicy chilies with a euphoric tingling feeling (ma la) in probably the most sadomasochistic culinary experience you’ll find.”