Here’s a â€˜newâ€™ food ingredient that’s generating a lot of buzz lately, and we mean that almost literally. It’s called a Szechuan Button, sometimes referred to as a sansho button, or electric button.
A Szechuan button is a small yellow bud that looks kind of like a miniature strawberry. When you put it in your mouth, something rather wild happens. Interviewed on NPR, Keith Dusko, director of operations for the Haru restaurant chain, described the sensation as â€˜a little north of Pop Rocks, and south of putting a 9-volt battery in your mouth.â€™
The 9-volt battery comment is not an isolated one. Writing for his Midnight Sun column on the Baltimore Sun, Sam Sessa wrote about his Szechuan button tasting experience: â€˜Nothing happened at first, but after 10 seconds, my mouth started feeling pretty funny. It was like the time I touched my tongue to a 9-volt battery on a dare.â€™
One blogger described the taste reaction as being â€˜like your entire mouth was tingling and becoming electrified.â€™
And yet, most of these folks say they enjoyed the experience.
Dusko uses Szechuan buttons in two cocktails served at Haru. One is a martini-like drink garnished with a broken-up button rimmed around the edge of the glass.
A blogger called Stigg wrote that he was served a glass of champagne that featured strawberries on the rim of the glass which were sprinkled with powder from Szechuan buttons. The drink was served for the midnight toast on New Year’s Eve. After drinking the champagne and eating the strawberry, he said the button â€˜stimulated the bubbly…and felt absolutely insane.â€™
Rob Welland, the executive chef at Poste in Washington, D.C., is planning to debut an Alaskan halibut dish that integrates the button into a curry sauce.
To people in South America, Asia and North Africa, Szechuan buttons are nothing new, but they are not yet widely available in the U.S. You can find them in a few fancy grocery stores and from gourmet supplier Koppert Cress in New York.
But buyer beware. You may be in for a shock.
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