Ma khaen - Laotian mountain pepper
Ma khaen - Laotian mountain pepper
This mountain pepper, called ma khaen in Laos, grows wild in the mountainous Luang Prabang, in northern Laos.
The pepper is mainly collected by women, and is an important source of income. In the Luang Prabang region, according to FAO data, ma khaen is the fifth most important non-woody forest product. For a long time, the bushes were completely cut down to harvest the berries, nowadays the harvest takes place in a sustainable way, without deforestation.
This mountain pepper is the berry of an exclusively wild Szechuan pepper, or actually peppers. The berry comes from the Zanthoxylum rhetsa or the Zanthoxylum limonella. It is famous for its flavor palette, not so much for its pungency, as you would expect from a Sichuan pepper.
It has a gently pungent sharpness and the unmistakable citrus flavor (mandarin) that becomes stronger and sweeter when the pepper is heated. The tree on which this pepper grows is the Indian mountain pepper or Indian triphal, which grows naturally in an area called the Indamalaya, the ecozone that stretches from India to the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, including Vietnam. The tree grows up to 1. 500 meters altitude in moist, dense forests.
The berry is quite small, just like the berry of the Andaliman and, like the Andaliman, is harvested by hand. No sinecure, because the branches of the Zanthoxylum have vicious spines. The berries grow in smaller clusters that when dried manifest as 'mini star anise'. Each berry contains one seed.
The unique sharpness experience of sanshol
Typical for all Zanthoxylum peppers, and therefore also for the 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 somato sensation, stimulation through touch, has been used as an anesthetic in traditional medicine in Asia for centuries. 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 sharpness experience of capsaicin, the pungent substance in chili pepper, but also with menthol and mustard oil.
Smell and taste
The berries have a complex aroma, in which you can taste mandarin peel and tea, but also aniseed and menthol, and the sweet notes of angelica. The smell is related to that of black pepper due to the high content of sabinene, which is higher in the dried berry than in the fresh one. This is the flavor palette:
- D-limonene (dipentene), sweetish citrus flavour, present in moderate amounts in nutmeg, mace and cardamom,
- β-phellandrene, pleasant mint and citrus flavour, also found in allspice,
- β-pinene, woody pine scent, as in cumin, pine (pine cone), juniper and hemp,
- Sabinene, responsible for the woody, camphor-like flavor of black pepper, among others
- carvotan acetone, also minty, as in angelica.
- dihydrocarveol as in black pepper and black tea, and
- the bitter terpinol, - mainly occurring in the seeds - as in cranberries.
This pepper is therefore delicious in combination with the aforementioned spices, and in general with products that go well with citrus, such as shellfish and shellfish, white fish, salmon, white butter sauces, veal, pork and duck. Can be eaten raw and added at the last minute, and is delicious in vegetable salads and in desserts or with fruit.
In India, it is preferred to use the pepper called triphal (Marathi) or triphala (Gujarati) 'pure', that is, not in combination with other spices. Triphal is mainly used in fish dishes, just like in Vietnam, where the mountain pepper is eaten with grilled fish, with grilled or dried meat and with smoked buffalo meat. Sometimes meat is rubbed with ground mountain pepper to make the meat easier to keep.
Roast the whole fruit. Crush the fruit to release the seeds. It is best to mortar these, and the seed shells are best ground. Just like the whole berries (with seeds), if crispy roasted beforehand.
- 100% berries of the Zanthoxylum rhetsa
- origin: Luang Prabang, Laos
- available in glass, pouch and test tube
- glass jar contains 30 grams
- stand-up pouches with a content of up to 30 to 300 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 gift packaging section
- ma khaen is a versatile Szechuan pepper, used both raw and roasted.
- keep your kampot pepper in closed packaging
- preferably store in a dark, dry and cool place
- best before February 2024 (02/24)
- this best before date is an indication
Would you like to know how ma khaen tastes?
Could you also try a test tube. The tube contains enough pepper to penetrate the flavor essence.