Sichuan Peppercorn

Food Type:
Age Suggestion: 12 months +
Nutrition Rating:How nutritious a food is with a focus on the specific nutrients babies need for optimal growth. The more nutritious a food, the more stars it will have.
Prep Time:How much time a food takes to prepare safely for a baby. The more time-consuming a food is to prepare safely, the more clocks it will have.
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Common Allergen: No
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a pile of Sichuan peppercorns before being prepared for babies starting solid food

When can babies eat Sichuan peppercorn?

Babies may be introduced to spices as soon as they are ready to start solids, which is generally around 6 months old. However, because it is so intense, it may be best to introduce Sichuan peppercorn after your baby’s first birthday.

Background and origins of Sichuan peppercorn

Sichuan peppercorns are the berries of a “prickly ash” plant that grows in the southern province of China from which the spice derives its name. A main ingredient in Sichuan (also spelled Szechuan) cooking, the berries are typically dried and ground to a powder that is used on its own as a flavor enhancer or mixed with other spices to create a blend, such as Chinese five-spice. Sichuan pepper is fun to eat: it creates a bright, zingy tingling (sometimes numbing!) sensation on the tongue, and it’s doesn’t have the same level of heat or spice as black peppercorns or chili peppers.

Generally only the outer husk (or shell) of the berry is used as many find the inner black seeds to have an undesirable texture and bitter taste. That said, if you see some of the whole black seed-berries in your spice jar, don’t worry: they are edible.

Sichuan peppercorns contain sanshool, the ingredient responsible for the intense tingling and numbing sensation when it hits your tongue. For this reason, it may be best to wait until your baby is 12 months old to introduce foods that contain Sichuan peppercorn and to introduce it in scant amounts to start. While it’s not hot like cayenne pepper, Sichuan peppercorn can cause pain and discomfort if too much is consumed at once.

Contrary to popular belief, babies do not need to eat bland foods when they are starting solids. In fact, studies show that children who experience a variety of flavors as babies are more likely to accept new foods later on.1 Babies and children learn to like what is familiar to them, so the more we familiarize our kids with diverse tastes, the more likely they will eat (and even like) them.

Adie, 16 months, eats peanut noodles spiced with Sichuan peppercorn.
Max, 16 months, tastes peanut noodles with Sichuan peppercorn on them.

Is Sichuan peppercorn safe for babies?

Yes. Sichuan peppercorns are a rich source of essential oils, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants and there is no evidence that the active ingredient that causes tingling carries any safety concerns. Although some believe that Sichuan peppercorns benefit digestion, consuming too much of the spice may upset your stomach, so apply a light hand when seasoning your baby’s food with Sichuan peppercorn.

Is Sichuan peppercorn a common choking hazard for babies?

Whole peppercorns of any kind could pose a choking risk for young babies and should be finely ground and integrated into the food (or sprinkled on top) before serving. Note that many Sichuan restaurants use whole peppercorns in their dishes.

For more information, visit our section on gagging and choking and familiarize yourself with common choking hazards.

Is Sichuan peppercorn a common allergen?

While not a common allergen, Sichuan peppercorns cause an intense tingling and numbing sensation in the mouth, which can simulate oral symptoms of an allergic reaction. That said, an individual can be allergic to any food, so start by introducing small amounts of the spice and watch your baby carefully to gauge their reaction.

How do you prepare Sichuan peppercorn for babies with baby-led weaning?

6 to 12 months old: Avoid or introduce in very scant amounts as part of larger dishes. You want to make sure you don’t cause your baby any pain (or anxiety from the tingling sensation) as they are just starting out and acclimating to solid food.

12 to 24 months old: Sprinkle a small amount of peppercorns that have been finely ground them into a fine powder with a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder. At this age you can incorporate peppercorns into other foods as well, but you may want to give your child the heads up that it’s spicy so they are prepared.

For more information on how to cut food for babies, visit our page on Food Sizes & Shapes.

As with most spices, the taste of the Sichuan peppercorns will be enhanced if you lightly toast the whole berries in a skillet prior to grinding into a powder.

Recipe: Tingly Peanut Noodles*

bowl of egg noodles with peanut sauce and ground Sichuan peppercorn

Ingredients

  • Egg Noodles
  • Sichuan Peppercorns
  • Peanut Butter
  • Peanut Oil
  • Sesame Oil

Directions

  1. Boil the pasta according to directions (skip salting the water!) then drain and set it aside.
  2. While the pasta is cooking, lightly toast three Sichuan peppercorns in a skillet on medium-low.
  3. Remove from heat as soon as they are fragrant. Once they are cool, grind them into a fine-grind in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder.
  4. In a large mixing bowl, combine a small pour of both peanut oil and sesame oil, as well as a spoonful of peanut butter. Whisk well. If your baby is younger than 12 months old, add more oil to thin out the sauce and reduce the choking risk of sticky peanut butter.
  5. Once you’ve reached the desired consistency of the peanut sauce, stir in the ground Sichuan peppercorn. Finally, add in the egg noodles and toss in the sauce. Serve at room temperature.

*Note: This recipe contains many common allergens: eggpeanut, and sesame. We recommending waiting to make this dish until you’ve introduced each of these common allergens to your baby and determined that they’re safe to serve.

Flavor Pairings

Sichuan peppercorn pairs exceptionally well with hot spices (for experienced eaters), as well as star anise and ginger, and tastes great with beef, chicken, and salmon dishes that are made with peanut and sesame oils.

  1. Semantic Scholar, Development of Eating Behaviors Among Babies and Children (website). Retrieved December 30, 2019.