The Sichuan Pepper Experience

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It’s something out of Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory.  A small, unassuming goody that challenges you to describe it in words as it transitions from one flavor to the next, and from one outrageous sensation to another.

It’s an open shell with the seed mysteriously missing.  Tiny sitting in the palm of your hand, but startling with its russet red, reptilian-like bumpy surface, with a resemblance to a Pac-Man mouth ready to bite down. 

You ignore the warning signs, and allow curiosity to surpass good sense.  “It’s only one”, you think as you pop one shell into your mouth, and nibble on it.  Refreshing, flowery, slightly sour and citrusy.  Lemon comes to mind.  Before you can pinpoint the flavor, juices begin to flow.  First from your familiar salivary glands, but then as if the dam broke, a torrent of juices are extracted from every part of your tongue and mouth.  You swallow to survive.

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You take a deep breath, not knowing what to expect next.  But the rush of air briefly dries your tongue, intensifying the experience, and elevating your taste buds.  It makes your tongue bumpy like the red shell you felt between your fingers just seconds ago and now grind between your teeth.  You’re in Willy Wonka’s factory, and you’re turning into what you ate. 

Bursts of lemon again and more juices.  You keep swallowing as a strange, numbing sensation creeps in.  Like chewing into a clove, but unsettling in the way it seems to take its time.  The moment the numbing feels as if it will leave you biting your tongue without a reaction, the bubbling and tingling begins.  It quickly becomes a Coke and Pop Rocks explosion in your mouth.  A party that you can’t control.  

It’s not over yet.  Like hundreds of tiny strings connected to every nerve ending on your tongue and on top of your mouth, you feel this pulling.  Each string getting tugged in unison, tickling nerves you didn’t know existed. 

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Only a minute has passed, and as you look up, hoping to see the concerned face of Mr. Wonka calling out to one of his little helpers, you instead see a glass of water.  You pick it up and it’s warm to the touch, but as you gulp it down, it feels cool in your mouth.  A breath mint effect. 

You’ve never tasted water like this before.  Your taste buds are on high alert now, excited to tell you a long story about whatever you wash over them.  So as the water swishes around in your mouth, you sense every earthy and metallic tone of the fluid.  Water never tasted so…strange. 

That’s the Sichuan Pepper Experience.