Across China: Sichuan peppercorns grow in popularity
LANZHOU, Feb. 8 (Xinhua) -- Sichuan peppercorns, a spice commonly used in Chinese cuisine to produce a "numbing and spicy" flavor, is winning the hearts of ever more gourmets and seeing its price rise.@ Wen Decang, 56, is a peppercorn farmer in Tianshui City of Gansu Province -- a major growing area of the plant. He turned his entire hectare of wheat into an area to grow Sichuan peppercorns 18 years ago, hearing that the crop could be sold at a good price.
"At the beginning, they sold at less than 20 yuan (3.2 U.S. dollars) per kg, while now it is about 120 yuan," he said.
On the contrary, prices of many other cash crops such as walnuts, grapes and apples have been dropping in recent years.
July is the season for harvesting Sichuan peppercorns. The red or green fresh peppercorn fruits are dried in the sun before being sold.
Wen said all his peppercorns harvested last July were purchased by retailer Wang Hongming.
Wang said the peppercorns he bought were mainly sold to Sichuan Province and Chongqing Municipality, hometown of the Sichuan cuisine famous for hotpot and other "numbing and spicy" dishes.
He said the price for Sichuan peppercorns had been rising continuously since 2014. Besides increased labor cost, expanding market demand has also caused the rise.
According to the Sichuan forestry department, the prices of Sichuan peppercorns have been growing for eight consecutive years in the province. In 2017, the purchasing price was generally above 100 yuan per kg.
The province plans to expand its peppercorns growing area to 400,000 hectares in 2020, from the current 266,667 hectares.
The use of Sichuan peppercorns dates back over 2,500 years, and the scene of a harvest of the crop was depicted in China's first collection of poetry, the Shijing.
China produces several hundred-thousand tonnes of Sichuan peppercorns annually, which had been exported to countries including Japan, the Republic of Korea, the United States and France.
Many believe that the rising demand of Sichuan peppercorns is a result of Chinese people's growing love for spicy food.
Liu Junji has been a chef for over 10 years in Lanzhou City, Gansu Province. He noticed that more and more hotpot restaurants have been opened in the city.
A hotpot restaurant with 100 tables usually consumes around 150 kg of Sichuan peppercorns every month, he said.
Du Li, a researcher on Sichuan cuisine at Sichuan Tourism College, said spicy Sichuan cuisine has been increasingly popular across the country.
"It does not require much money to open a Sichuan cuisine restaurant, as many of the restaurants are a down-to-earth style," Du said. "The stimulating flavor of the peppercorns can trigger a sense of joy in people and the strong-flavored seasonings can go with various kinds of food, which can partly explain the popularity."