Mac khen - Vietnamese mountain pepper
Mac khen - Vietnamese mountain pepper
This mountain pepper, called triphal in India and ma khaen in Laos, comes from the mountainous north of Vietnam. The pepper only grows in the wild.
Mac khen like ma khaen is a Szechuan pepper, with a mildly pungent pungency and the unmistakable citrus flavor 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. Average bears fruit for the first time for a tree when it is 5 to 6 years old, and yields 5 kg of seeds.
The pepper is collected in the mountainous Tây Bắc , the northwestern region with the provinces of Điện Biên, Lai Châu, Sơn La and Hòa Bình. The work is mainly done by women belonging to the Thai and Hmong minorities.
This mountain pepper is the berry of an exclusively wild Szechuan pepper. The berry comes from the Zanthoxylum rhetsa, also known as Zanthoxylum limonella. The pepper is famous for its flavor palette, not so much for its pungency, as you would expect from a Szechuan pepper.
The berry is quite small, just like the berry of the Andaliman and, like the Andaliman, is harvested by hand. No sinecure because the trunk and branches of the Zanthoxylum rhetsa have vicious spines. The berries grow in smaller clusters, which are dismantled to dislodge the berries, which when dried manifest as 'mini star anise'. Each berry contains one seed.
The pepper grows in the north of Laos, Thailand, Nepal, Vietnam and India, where it is also found in the Western Ghats. It even belongs to the regional cuisines of Karnataka, known as the cradle of black pepper.
The unique sharpness experience of sanshool
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 somatosensation, stimulation by 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 orange peel and tea, but also anise 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), sweet orange 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, white meat, but also other meats 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. Tirphal 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 the meat is rubbed with ground mountain pepper (rub) to make the meat keep better.
We have purchased this Zanthoxylum pepper from Vietnam for many years and offered it under the name Lai Châu , honoring the drowned city Lai Châu. Now that we also offer the Laotian ma khaen in the store, we have chosen to use the same name, but in Vietnamese.
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. In Vietnam, this mountain pepper is often used as a rub for roasted meat.
- 100% berries of the Zanthoxylum rhetsa
- origin: Tây Bắc, Việt Nam
- 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
- mac khen is a versatile Szechuan pepper, used both raw and roasted
- keep your mac khen pepper in closed packaging
- preferably store in a dark, dry and cool place
- best before September 2025 (09/25)
- this best before date is an indication
Would you like to know what this mak khen pepper tastes like?
Could you also try a test tube. The tube contains enough pepper to penetrate the flavor essence.
Do you want to know how Mackhen tastes?
Try a test tube. The tube contains enough pepper to penetrate the flavor essence.