Szechuan pepper provides some of the heat and unique flavor notes that make dishes from China’s Szechuan province stand out. It is an essential ingredient if you want to make kung pao chicken or simply want a flavor alternative to regular black pepper. Unfortunately, it can be hard to find in brick and mortar stores and may be expensive when it can be found. To replace it, consider one of the Szechuan pepper alternatives below.
Your best bet: Tasmanian pepper
Like Szechuan pepper, Tasmanian pepper is not in the Piper nigrum family. It is not related to Szechuan pepper either but it is highly aromatic and offers a flavor that has been likened to both juniper and fennel. Thus, it offers both woody and floral notes that are similar to the pine and lavender notes that you get from Szechuan peppercorns. The Tasmanian pepper is sometimes called the Tasmanian pepperberry and can be found in various parts of Australia; however, it is wild-harvested only on the island of Tasmania. It has also recently become trendy and is used in emu burgers and other Australian bush food but can be used in any application that would require Szechuan pepper.
Like black peppercorns, you should only grind Tasmanian pepper right before using it. You can use the whole berry as a 1:1 substitutes for Szechuan peppercorns.
A decent second choice: Grains of paradise
Grains of paradise is an African spice that is in the ginger family. Also known as alligator pepper, this spice comes from trees that grow along the West African coast and is used primarily in cuisines from this region and in North Africa. Grains of paradise has a flavor that is similar to a blend of black pepper and cardamom and that is enhanced with a hint of mild citrus, all of which make it an excellent substitute for Szechuan peppercorns. Use grains of paradise in any dish that requires Szechuan pepper.
Because grains of paradise are not quite as hot as Szechuan pepper, you will need to use more of it to get a similar level of heat. Use twice the amount of grains of paradise that your recipe requires for Szechuan pepper when using it as a substitute.
In a pinch: Tellicherry pepper
Originally, Tellicherry peppercorns referred to black peppercorns from the city of Tellicherry (now Thalassery) in India. These days, Tellicherry pepper refers to larger peppercorns that have remained on the vine for longer than standard black peppers. They are called Tellicherry peppercorns regardless of where they are sourced. The fact that they are allowed to stay on the vine deepens their flavor so that they are more aromatic and flavorful when compared to other peppercorns. The most prominent flavor notes are often described as herbal and citrus, which can make it a decent stand-in for the flavors you would get from Szechuan pepper.
Use Tellicherry peppercorns as a 1:1 substitute for Szechuan pepper.
Black pepper and coriander seeds are another good Szechuan pepper alternative. The combination of regular ground black pepper and fresh coriander provides some of the same flavors that Szechuan pepper would provide.
Fresh black peppercorns are not a perfect Szechuan pepper alternative but can be effective in some dishes. The freshness is key as the spice’s intensity and complex notes will degrade over time as its volatile oils evaporate.