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 grows exclusively in the wild.
Mac khen is, like ma khaen, a Sichuan pepper, with a gently 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 extends from India to the Indonesian island of Sulawesi, including in Vietnam. The tree grows up to 1.500 meters altitude in moist, dense forests. On average, a tree first bears fruit when it is 5 to 6 years old and produces 5 kg of seeds.
The pepper is collected in the mountainous Tây Bắc, the northwestern region containing the provinces of Điện Biên, Lai Châu, Sơn La and Hòa Bình.The work is mainly done by women who belong to the Thai and Hmong minorities.
This mountain pepper is the berry of a Sichuan pepper that occurs exclusively in the wild. The berry comes from the Zanthoxylum rhetsa, also called Zanthoxylum limonella.The pepper is famous for its flavor palette, not so much for its pungency, as you would expect from a Sichuan pepper.
The berry is quite small, just like the berry of the andaliman and, like the andaliman, is harvested by hand. No easy task because the trunk and branches of the Zanthoxylum rhetsa have vicious spines. The berries grow in smaller clusters, which are dismantled to extract the berries, which when dried manifest themselves as 'mini star anise'. Each berry contains one seed.
The pepper grows in northern Laos, Thailand, Nepal, Vietnam and India, where it is also found in the western Ghats. In fact, it belongs to the regional cuisines of Karnataka, known as the home of black pepper.
The unique sharpness experience of sanshool
Characteristic of all Zanthoxylum peppers, and therefore also of 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 pungency is caused by the amides in the peel 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 anesthetic 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. One 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. The effect is very complex and the subject of extensive studies. Hydroxy-α-sanshol in particular is said to cause the tingling, and there are certain parallels with the pungency sensation of capsaicin, the pungent substance in chili peppers, but also with menthol and mustard oil.
Smell and taste
The berries have a complex aroma, in which you taste orange peel and tea, but also anise and menthol, and the sweet notes of angelica. The smell is similar to that of black pepper due to the high sabinene content, which is higher in the dried berry than in the fresh. This is the taste palette:
- D-limonene (dipentene), sweet orange flavor, occurring modestly in nutmeg, mace and cardamom,
- β-phellandrene, pleasant mint and citrus flavor, also found in allspice,
- β-pinene, woody pine odor, as in cumin, pine, juniper and hemp,
- sabinene, responsible for the woody, camphoraceous 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 found 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 crustaceans and shells, white fish, white meat, but also other types of meat and duck. Can be eaten raw or added at the last minute, and is delicious in vegetable salads and desserts or with fruit.
In India it is preferred to use the pepper called triphal (Marathi) or triphala (Gujarati) 'pure', that is to say 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 more durable.
We have purchased this Zanthoxylum pepper from Vietnam for many years and offered it under the name Lai Châu , thus honoring the drowned city of 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 style.
Roast the whole fruits. Crush the fruits to release the seeds. It is best to mortar these and grind the seed casings. Just like the whole berries (with seeds), provided they are roasted until crispy in advance. In Vietnam people like to use this mountain pepper as a rub for roasted meat.
- 100% berries of the Zanthoxylum rhetsa
- origin: Tây Bắc, Việt Nam
- available in glass, stand-up pouch and test tube
- glass jar contains 30 grams
- stand-up pouches with a capacity 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 packaging, 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 Sichuan pepper, used both raw and roasted
- store your mac khen pepper in closed packaging
- preferably store in a dark, dry and cool place
- best before September 2025 (09/25)
- this expiration date is an indication
Would you like to know what this mak khen pepper tastes like?
You can also try a test tube. The tube contains enough pepper to understand the flavor essence.
Would you like to know what Mac khen tastes like?
Try a test tube. The tube contains enough pepper to understand the flavor essence.