The Exotic, Forgotten Spice: Grains Of Paradise
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Melegueta pepper, more commonly known as Grains of Paradise, is a rare and uncommon spice to the majority of people. Grains of Paradise are eaten as an alternative to black pepper. But they're far more interesting and versatile than black pepper. This spice is also called alligator pepper. What a cool name!

Grains of Paradise are part of the Zingiberaceae family (the ginger family), as are cardamom, galangal, ginger, and turmeric. When ground, these pyramid-shaped seeds turn a dull gray color.

Grains of Paradise have long been used in Middle Eastern, North, and West African cuisines. This spice was used in European beer and winemaking until the 19th century.

History of Grains of Paradise

In the Natural History by Pliny the Elder (23–79 AD), the Roman author wrote that cinnamon, ginger, and grains of paradise are combined to make Hippocras, a flavorful wine. In the Middle Ages (400–1400 AD), grains of paradise were named after their high value. In religious terms, the "earthly paradise" referred to the Garden of Eden mentioned in the Holy Bible. The Hebrew word for "Eden" is used to describe this spice, "gargerigan ha-eden."

In 1469, King Afonso V of Portugal granted Ferno Gomes of Lisbon a monopoly of trade in the Gulf of Guinea. This gave Gomes control over the European market for Guinea pepper, which he sold as a less expensive substitute for black peppercorns from the east. This led to the Grains of Paradise trade becoming so popular that the coast in Africa was named after it.

But in 1498, when Vasco da Gama of Portugal pioneered a sea route from Europe to India around the Cape of Good Hope, the demand for grains of paradise diminished. The East became more accessible to black peppercorns and other spicy goods, and the market for Grains of Paradise essentially vanished. 

What do Grains of Paradise look like?

They're tiny, deep-brown to red-brown seeds that are similar to cardamom.

What is the aroma like?

When you smell grains of paradise, you will immediately be struck by a woody flavor. You will get a peppery burst of warmth that is not harsh when you bite down on one. After that, you get a citrusy taste and a taste of cardamom in your mouth. The spice burns for a long time in your mouth.

How do you eat these peppers?

Add a little Grains of Paradise to apple or fruit pies and salads before serving to bring out the subtle floral tones. You can also add them to soups, stews, curries, and more. Make sure to purchase the seeds whole and grind them just before use in order to maintain their full flavor and fragrance.

In which parts of the world are they commonly eaten?

Grains of Paradise are native to Africa, not Asia, and have the appearance of black pepper. Since the cost and difficulty of obtaining black pepper have decreased in recent decades, spice traders have sold grains of paradise as an alternative in Africa. However, in most parts of the world, black pepper is more readily accessible than ever before, and so grains of paradise have fallen out of favor. They now cost more than black pepper.

Ways to Use Grains of Paradise in various cuisines

Grains of paradise add a unique flavor that goes with almost anything, whether you use them during cooking or at the table to add spice. Because of their citrus flavors, they can be used to improve the flavor of salad dressings. Its subtle ‘herbiness’ is enhanced by rosemary, sage, and thyme. Curry and rich sauces benefit from their sweet warmth, as do gingerbread and spice cakes. Despite the spicy heat, they can be used in gingerbread and spice cake due to their peppery pungency. You can also use them in pure ground form, in a sauce, or as a spice rub. This spice adds intriguing flavors to fish covered in lemon juice, as well as shrimp and mussels. They also add rich flavor and texture, helping create exceptional roasted vegetables.

Where can I purchase Grains of Paradise?

You can buy Grains of Paradise from Ghana, Nigeria, or the US. You can also purchase them online from e-commerce sites like Amazon.

How much do they cost?

Grains of Paradise tend to be more expensive than most other spices we use. But you can buy a plant online for Rs 250, plant it in your home, and enjoy the spice.