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What Does Szechuan Sauce Taste Like?

Maria Foster
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by Maria Foster

Within Asian cuisine, there are few sauces as popular and widely loved as szechuan sauce – offering something truly delicious and comforting to numerous dishes throughout the continent.

What Does Szechuan Sauce Taste Like?

But what exactly does szechuan sauce taste like, and does it taste good?

What Does Szechuan Sauce Taste Like?

While many dishes within Asian cuisine focus on using hot spice to create the flavor, szechuan sauce is considered more of a savory flavor – one that could be compared to the earthy taste of umami, thanks to the presence of soy sauce as a main ingredient.

It has also been compared to the nutty taste of sesame – another common ingredient within Chinese cuisine.

However, depending on the variety and the specific recipe, szechuan sauce can also be described as mildly spicy, sweet, garlicky, and vinegar-like in taste – all of which depends entirely on the specific recipe, and the ratios of the ingredients therein.

Does Szechuan Sauce Taste Good?

This is obviously a subjective question, and one that depends on the personal taste of the consumer, however it is considered one of the best loved and popular sauces within both Asian and world cuisines, which gives some indication as to whether or not it is good.

Where Does It Come From?

Szechuan sauce is actually a modern amalgamation of flavors associated with the Sichuan region of China, and is representative of the food that is popular throughout that region.

What is today considered ‘szechuan sauce’ is a sweet, spicy, garlicky condiment and marinade that can be used in all manner of different cuisines – giving them that Chinese-inspired flavor palette that people cannot get enough of.

What Is Szechuan Sauce Made From?

Generally speaking, szechuan sauce is made from:

  • Szechuan peppercorns
  • Spicy chili peppers
  • Garlic
  • Ginger
  • Soy sauce
  • Vinegar
  • Salt
  • Sugar

There are obviously numerous variations within both Asian and world cooking, and the beauty of the recipe is that it can be made as spicy or as savory as your tastes prefer.

What Is The Most Important Ingredient?

Of all of these ingredients, the most important element is widely considered to be szechuan peppercorns – a commonly used spice within Chinese, Nepali, Kashmiri, Tibetan, and Bhutanese cooking.

These are what give szechuan sauce the characteristic mixture of spice and citrus, and are most known for their ability to create a tingling numbness in the mouth during eating.

This is due to the presence of hydroxy-alpha sanshool – a molecule found within certain plants that is known for creating this strange numbing, tingling sensation.

This sensation is often compared to the feel of carbonated drinks and sodas in the mouth, or as if a mild electrical current was being passed through it.

It is thought that these sanshools activate nerves in the mouth that are usually non-sensitive, meaning that more accurately the sensation is probably most like a generalized sense of nerve confusion within the mouth – creating the strange yet oddly pleasant sensation.

How Is Szechuan Sauce Used?

What Does Szechuan Sauce Taste Like?

In modern cuisine, szechuan sauce is used in numerous different ways and dishes – however it is namely used as a dipping sauce, as a condiment, and as a marinade atop meat and fish.

However, one of the most common recipes that szechuan sauce is used within is szechuan chicken – which can also be called Kung Pao chicken.

This is perhaps the most famous western adaptation of Asian cuisine – however one other popular dish is Dan Dan noodles, which also utilize the szechuan flavoring.

Traditional Szechuan Vs McDonald’s Szechuan

While most people might commonly associate the word ‘szechuan’ with the sauce that was produced by McDonalds for the 1998 movie Mulan, this sauce couldn’t be more different from the flavors associated with traditional szechuan sauce.

While traditional szechuan is a combination of sweet, spicy, garlic, ginger, and pepper, the McDonalds variant tastes like a slightly sweetened Asian-inspired BBQ sauce – made more for general dipping, and to be paired with things like chicken and fries.

As such, it does not have anywhere near the complexity of the flavors associated with traditional szechuan cooking, and when compared comes across as an entirely different condiment.

Is Szechuan Sauce Sweet Or Spicy?

This is a tricky one, and the answer depends on how the specific sauce is made. However, traditional szechuan sauce is considered to be a milder spice, with sweetness and spiciness being perfectly balanced – thanks to the presence of the szechuan peppercorns.

How Does It Compare To Sichuan Cooking?

In comparison with other cuisine from the Sichuan region of China, westernized szechuan sauce is actually fairly mild and savory.

This is because of the various modifications the recipe has undergone as it headed west, and is in actual fact fairly different from many of the famous Sichuan dishes, which are actually more focused on heat and spice.

This historically comes from the fact that the Sichuan province is famously wet and humid – which encouraged the incorporation of red peppers within many of their dishes.

This led to the more robust flavor with a focus on complexity and heat, which helped to set itself apart from other cuisine within China and the surrounding regions.

Is Szechuan Nutritional?

While several of the ingredients have nutritional (and even health) benefits, the sauce relies on copious amounts of salt and sugar, which means that it is not considered healthy in the traditional sense.

The only way to ensure a healthier meal is to make your own sauce – using either low sugar ingredients, or by limiting the salt. However, some variations in flavor are to be expected.

Final Thoughts

It’s true that szechuan sauce is incredibly popular, especially amongst lovers of Asian cuisine, and there are many ways that it can be utilized to create and enhance dishes.

So if you are looking for a new sauce to try, then why not try szechuan? Something tells me you won’t be disappointed!

Frequently Asked Questions

Now that we know a little bit more about szechuan sauce, and what it actually tastes like, it is now time to answer some frequently asked questions that you might be interested in.

Is Szechuan Sauce Spicy?

While being popular within Asian cuisine, szechuan sauce does not possess a very spicy flavor palette, instead being more of a savory addition to meals.

Is Szechuan Hard To Make?

No. One of the benefits of szechuan sauce is that it is fairly simple to make yourself at home – something that has only helped to increase its widespread popularity.

About Maria Foster
Maria Foster
Maria Foster is a mother of 3 and she and her husband of 23 years share their home with 2 faithful dogs. Besides being CEO of the household and active in her community, Maria is the lead contributor to Food Champs and loves to try new food ideas and kitchen accessories to make easier and more delicious meals.
Maria Foster
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