Improved logistics put pepper in the fast lane

China Daily | Updated: 2020-08-11 09:17
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Farmers harvest Sichuan peppers in Wudu district, Longnan, Gansu province. LI XIAO/XINHUA

LANZHOU-For decades, Kou Rui's father kept his family of seven afloat through the huajiao-Sichuan pepper-trade.

Now Kou, 38, has built his own fortune from the unique plant and helped spice up poor farmers' lives deep in the mountains of northwestern China.

Despite its name, Sichuan pepper, the dried, rust-colored berries of a type of spiky shrub native to parts of western China, is not actual pepper. Delivering a slightly numbing sensation and a lemony, peppery aroma, it is used extensively in Sichuan food to create its trademark flavor: numbing heat.

Many Chinese people adore Sichuan pepper, but its journey from farm to table used to be arduous.

Kou and his family live in Longnan, in northwestern China's Gansu province, which neighbors the provinces of Shaanxi and Sichuan. While the junction boasts a major Sichuan pepper-growing region, offering locals a potential lifeline, soaring mountains long stood in the way.

Among those to blaze a trail was Kou's father. Three decades ago, due to the technical know-how needed to grow and harvest Sichuan pepper, planting was scattered and limited in scale. So was the trade. Besides, the journey to the nearest market was quite a trek. The crop was in great demand in Sichuan, on the other side of the mountains, but to carry it there Kou's father had to spend over 20 hours on the road, transferring from bus to train.

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