In Africa grow several species of Zanthoxylum, a plant genus to which the Asian Szechuan pepper also belongs. One of those species is the Zanthoxylum zanthoxyloides, which grows in West Africa and is called igi-ata in Yoruba, which means tree pepper. Less fragrant than the Asian varieties, maybe even a little bitter, but really African.
In any case, pepper is grown on a very limited scale in Africa, and that certainly applies to the Szechuan pepper. In Nigeria, uzazi (Zanthoxylum gilletii) is grown on a small scale, but that's about it when it comes to growing citrus peppers. All other citrus peppers are picked from trees and shrubs in the wild, such as this one, which grows in Bakumba, a Yoruba-speaking area in southwest Cameroon, hence the name igi-ata.
It is a pepper that you hardly see on the European market, for a number of reasons. Because it is a difficult fruit to pick, and therefore relatively expensive, and because export is quite difficult. Moreover, the taste and smell of the igi-ata are not unequivocal. These can vary quite a bit, from crop to crop, from area to area, perhaps even from tree to tree, the experts are not in agreement yet. Sometimes the citrus aromas dominate the camphor, and not everyone is charmed by the bitter notes.
This is caused by the seeds, which, just like the andaliman, are more bitter than the pericarp.
The igi-ata is a shrub/tree that grows to about six meters high and is strongly branched. For West Africans, the tree has traditionally been more important as medicine than food, and for that reason the population of the species is under pressure in some countries, such as Benin.
Like the other Zanthoxylum plants, the trunk and branches of the igi-ata are thorny. Thick lignified thorns on the trunk that get a cork outer layer during growth, vicious sharp thorns on the branches. Like the leaves of the uzazi, even the leaves of the igi-ata have thorns. They are located in the heart of the leaf.
The unique sharpness experience of sanshol
Typical for all Zanthoxylum peppers, and therefore also for this Szechuan pepper, is the tingling you experience on the tip of your tongue due to a substance in the pepper called sanshool, named after the Japanese sanshō. The sharpness is caused by the amides in the skin of the fruit: α-, β-, γ- and δ-sanshool, α hidroxy sanshool and β-hidroxy sanshool. γ sanshool and α hidroxy sanshool are mainly responsible for the narcotic effect. The amount of α-hidroxy-sanshool in the berries can amount to (more than) 50 ‰ of the dry weight, of γ sanshool around 5 ‰.
The tingling is accompanied by a slight numbness, jokingly compared to tasting a 9-volt battery. A single berry is enough to experience that! This somatosensation, stimulation by touch, has been used for centuries as an anesthetic in traditional medicine in Asia. Its operation is very complex and the subject of extensive studies. Hydroxy-α-sanshol in particular is said to cause the tingling sensation, and there are certain parallels with the pungency experience of capsaicin, the pungent substance in chili pepper, but also with menthol and mustard oil.
Odor and taste
In Igi-ata, the citrus scent that characterizes Szechuan peppers is barely present, and the seeds even taste pleasant, and less bitter than the seed houses can be. The sharpness is generally very good (or bad), it just depends on how you look at it, and can be called subtle rather than prominent.This is an anthology only from the wide taste palette:
- Sabinene, responsible for the woody, camphor-like flavor of black pepper, among others
- β-myrcene, spicy aroma, with notes of fruits (mango, grape, peach) and mint,
- germacrene D, spicy and woody,
- D-limonene (dipentene), sweet orange flavour, present in moderate amounts in nutmeg, mace and cardamom
- β-caryophyllene, sweet spicy and woody
- decanal, associated with the bitterness of a grapefruit and orange peel, also found in buckwheat and coriander
Use igi-ata with products that go well with citrus such as crustaceans and shellfish, white fish and chicken
Crush the fruit, releasing the seeds. These are easier to crush than the seed shells, which are best ground. Just like the whole berries (with seed). Process igi-ata as follows. Rub the berries between your hands to separate the shells, seeds and stems. If you don't want the bitterness, remove the seeds and grind the pepper. You can also put the stems and seeds whole in a bag and let them cook or braise. After preparation, simply take the bag out of the dish.
Igi-ata is less widely applicable than the Chinese Szechuan pepper, due to its robust taste palette. It lends itself best to typical African dishes, such as soup and stews, provided that ata-rodo (chili pepper) has not already been added to them in large quantities. That would push this subtle pepper into the background. Igi-ata also combines excellently with (bitter) leafy vegetables.
- 100% berries of the Zanthoxylum zanthoxyloides
- origin: Bakumba region, Cameroon
- available in glass, pouch and test tube
- glass jar contains 30 grams
- stand-up pouches with a content of up to 30 to 60 grams
- available in 10 ml test tube
- larger quantities on request
- the jar is available in a tasteful gift box, consisting of a cube box filled with black tissue paper
- for an overview of our gift packaging, please refer to the category gift packaging
- Igi-ata is a Szechuan pepper with a typical African signature, mainly used in African dishes or more generally in fairly robust dishes, the sharpness is moderate
- keep the pepper in a dark, dry and cool place
- keep your kampot pepper in closed packaging
- preferably store in a dark, dry and cool place
- best before December 2024 (12/24)
- this best before date is an indication
Do you want to know how Igi-ata tastes?