Numbing Spice: Am I Doing It Wrong?

five-spice-powderA few weeks ago I was talking with my brother and his fiance about their recent trip to Japan. I’m always curious about the food people eat when they travel, and they said they had tried some dishes involving sichuan, the numbing spice.

I’d never heard of the spice even though I’ve definitely eaten food with it (also in Japan). The spice makes your mouth feel abuzz, kind of like Novocain, but in a pleasurable kind of way. Apparently the spice can even change how your tongue perceives taste.

I didn’t know it was a spice, though–I just thought it was some inherent quality about the food. So when I learned that a spice was involved, I turned to the internet and bought it. I wanted to experience it again.

That’s where my sichuan story peters out, unfortunately. I’ve used the spice several times–both before and after cooking various dishes–and it has yet to numb my mouth at all. Where is the numbness?!

Have you ever eaten food with the numbing spice? Or, even better, have you cooked using the spice? If so, what am I doing wrong?