Posted by: ジャパンホッパーズ編集部(Japan Hoppers Editors) 06 Jul 2015 Sponsored

Sansho - Japanese traditional condiment

Sansho - Japanese traditional condiment © Yamamoto-Katsunosuke shoten

What is Sansho?

Sansho, or Japanese pepper, is a Rutaceae deciduous shrub plant that grows in Japan and East Asia. It possesses a refreshing aroma and numb taste and has been uses as condiment and medicine. Sansho enriched the food ratio and provided for a healthy life since times immemorial. People say that "Sansho, even if grinded, is very spicy". It can be said that Sansho is representative of Japanese people.

Relationship between Sansho and Japanese people

There are fossils of Sansho that date back to Jomon Period 3000 years ago. Sansho has been consumed since times immemorial. Our ancestors used pepper and salt in order not to eat raw meat and fish. They cooked meals only with salts and Sansho. 

According to "Wanjinden", a Chinese historic book, Sansho grew naturally since 3 century AD. The old name of the Sansho is "hajikami" and it is mentioned in Kojiki (7th century AD), in the songs composed by Emperor Jinmu. In the 10th century, the leaves of Sansho were used as spices and in medicines. In "Okusa Cookbook", written in the 15th century, Sansho is mentioned as a condiment used for cooking grilled eel. Back then it was used in the same manner as today. 

Sansho is also an ingredient of Otoso, New Year’s alcohol. This tradition is especially strong in China. Also, as it bears a lot of fruits, it has been promoted to a sacred plant of the "prosperity of descendants". It is also grown in the Japanese gardens.

It has also been used in China as an herbal medicine. The Empress of the Former Han Dynasty who had Sansho rubbed into the walls of her bedroom, creating a pleasant aroma, used it. Sansho was used as a symbol of power as it was used used both by aristocracy and wealthy merchants.

Kishu grape Sansho and the shop of Yamamoto Katsunosuke

Kishu pepper is the biggest among Sansho and is characterized by its elegant citrus smell. It was used as anesthetic before Western medicine was introduced. This pepper resembles a grapevine, that’s why is called grape Sansho.

This store has been selling grape Sansho since Meiji Period.

Sansho has been growing since times immemorial in mountainous Kishu terrain. Yamamoto Katsunosuke, the founder of this shop understood the healing power of Sansho. He grafted the trees and distributed the saplings among the local farmers. All pepper was sold which encouraged the farmers to grow more, making it a local specialty. That was between Meiji and Showa Periods.

Nowadays, the yearly production of pepper in Wakayama prefecture is more than 500 tons, number 1 in Japan.

Grape Sansho of Kaneichi

The times have changed and various products from all over the world are now being imported. That’s why Yamamoto Katsunosuke shop brings you the best products.

This shop sticks to the virtues of its founder, producing Kishu pepper, rich in flavor and taste. In order to meet customers’ quality demands, all pepper is produced under contract farming.

The cultivation history (food traceability) and safety information of agricultural products (positive list) are open and they also pay great attention to quality. They also produce dry pepper, such as "Tenbi-boshi" (1000-days drying) that creates a natural flavor, "Shitsunai kanso" (drying in a room) that pays special attention to colors and ingredients etc.

Use and types of Sansho

■"Ki no me"(tree bud), young pepper buds (March-April)

"Ki no me" means tree buds and is also used to designate a cuisine. They begin to sprout in March, April. If you place "ki no me" on your palm and place another palm over it, you will feel a pleasant smell. It is often consumed with hiya-yakko (chilled tofu), fried fish, sashimi etc. 

■"Hana zansho"(pepper flowers) May

When the budding season is over, Sansho covers itself with flowers. Hana zansho along with shirasu is dried and boiled and consumed in combination with vegetables, ragwort, and octopus also added in the miso soup with fresh water fish. There are two types of Hana zasho : the one that only buds are consumed, and the other that consume buds as well as leaves. Buds of hana zansho in Kyoto style are famous for their astringent flavor and thus are very expensive. It is served at high-end Kyoto restaurants. 

■Misansho (green Japanese peppercorn). Young pepper fruit (May-June)

Green Japanese peppercorn that appears right before summer is used in marinades, sweet sake pickles and tsukudani (preservable food boiled down in soy sauce). Young blue pepper buds used in a meal called "namaka"and used in tsukudani.

■Kona sansho (powder Sansho). Smashed ripe Sansho (July-August)

Sansho becomes red in autumn, these autumn buds are called "kanka". You can break them and see the inside. These buds are grinded into a paste that becomes "kona sansho", which is added as spice to spitchcocked eel. Powder Sansho is used as spice and medicine.

Sansho: pride of Japan

■Used as spice and flavor

Since the old times, Sansho has been used as antiseptic, remove the smell of fish and meat and for better appetite. Even today it is an indispensable condiment in Japanese cuisine, renowned for its distinct smell and spiciness.

Under the influence of Japanese cuisine being included in the World Heritage, Sansho is now also used as a secret ingredient in French and other European restaurants.

■Medical and cosmetic use

Sansho has also been used as a medicine since times immemorial.

Sansho contains α-Sanshool and sanshoamide, which stimulate brain activity, so it is also used in herbal medicine.

It also has cosmetic effects such as moisturizing, improving blood circulation and grey hair prevention.

■As a natural health product 

Recently, due to antioxidant ability of pepper’s polyphenol and fat-burning effect of α-Sanshool, Sansho is used in diets. Due to its citrus aroma, grape Sansho can be used for stress reduction, relaxation, concentration improvement and aromatherapy.



Sansho - Japanese traditional condiment: Image Gallery


山本勝之助商店(かねいち) / Yamamoto-Katsunosuke shoten(kaneichi)

山本勝之助商店(かねいち) / Yamamoto-Katsunosuke shoten(kaneichi)

The trade name of the store is “Kaneichi”, it was established in 1880. Located in Kishu (Kainan, Wakayama Prefecture) it sells various medicines and products made from Sansho.
The founder of the store Yamamoto Katsunosuke dreamed about the store for common good since he was young. A lot of people wished him well on opening his business.
We want to uphold the values of Yamamoto Katsunosuke regardless of the change of times around us.


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