Sichuan Peppercorns, also spelled Szechwan and Szechuan, are back after a long absence.
Sichuan pepper (xanthoxylum peperitum) is native to the Sichuan province of China and is not related to black pepper (peper nigrum), which is native to India. Before Asian cultures were introduced to chile pepper, Sichuan pepper was used along with ginger to give heat to many dishes. The heat in modern Sichuan cooking comes instead from red chile pepper (capsicum annum), introduced to Asia in the 15th century. Sichuan pepper is still called for in many traditional Chinese recipes.
Until very recently there was a long-standing ban on the importation of this Chinese peppercorn. A couple of years ago the FDA banned the importation of Szechuan (Sichuan) Peppercorns because they were carrying a citrus canker bacterial disease. This bacterial disease could potentially harm the foliage of citrus crops in the U.S. It was never an issue of harm in human consumption. Recently the USDA and FDA have lifted the ban, provided the Szechuan peppercorns are heated to around 160 degrees Fahrenheit (which kills the canker bacteria) before importation.