As a spice, Sichuan pepper (hua jiao) was used in Chinese cuisine well before black or white pepper was introduced by way of the spice route. They give off a tingly, fizzy feeling on the tongue and when used sparingly, are incomparably delicious. And addictive. The peppercorns, which grow on trees, turn dark pink in color and split open to reveal black, shiny seeds.
The seeds themselves are tasteless; it's the fragrant pink husks of the peppercorn that are valuable. Like some other habit-forming items, Sichuan peppercorns are actually toxic when ingested in large quantities.
Although the uninitiated might find the taste of Sichuan pepper unpleasantly medicinal, the converts prize its unique taste and tongue-numbing sensation. It offers automatic complexity with minimal effort on your part.