A West African spice, at one time more accessible and less expensive than pepper for spice-hungry Europe. As pepper became more available, Grains of Paradise had less demand and prices rose. Once again, Grains of Paradise are in vogue. |
Grains of Paradise, Aframomum melegueta, are a species in the ginger family and related to cardamom. Sometimes known as Guinea Pepper or Melegueta Pepper, this spice has been out of vogue for a long time. In the 14th and 15th centuries, production of the spice was so important that the Gulf of Guinea coast became known as the Melegueta Coast. The ease of access to Europe made this spice a popular substitute for pepper from far away Asia. Grains of Paradise are actually small reddish brown seeds that are found in 2 – 3 inch long pods, whereas pepper comes from the berries of the pepper plant. The little pyramidal shaped grains are separated from the bitter white pulp of the ripe fruit and allowed to dry. The Grains have long been used as a stand in for pepper and are known to be less irritating for the digestion. When tasting these Grains there is an inviting heat, but a gentler version than the harsher heat of pepper. There is an herbaceous and citrusy character with warm spicy undertones of cinnamon, cloves or cardamom, though the components that make up the flavor of cardamom are present only in traces. The pleasant heat lingers for a while on the finish.
Largely unknown these days in cooking outside of the West African Coast, some popular chefs have once again begun making Grains of Paradise a sought after spice. It is sometimes used in the spices flavoring Scandinavian Aquavit, as well as some popular beer. The intriguing flavors lend themselves to flavoring foods both sweet and savory. They are a great addition to something like a gingerbread or spice cake, with the gentle warmth. Grains of Paradise work well with other herbs such as rosemary and thyme, or lemon thyme to pick up the citrusy note. It can be used in most any place pepper is called for, though the flavor is not that of pepper. I believe they would be a perfect substitute for pepper in Pfeffernusse Cookies.
In the African countries where Grains of Paradise originate, they are used both for food and for folk medicines. The Grains are excellent in braised lamb dishes and with potatoes or eggplant. They are generally an addition to the Moroccan Spice mixture called Ras el Hanout, loosely meaning Best of the Shop. This spice mixture can have up to 30 ingredients. This is my own version of Ras el Hanout, and it is great used as a spice rub for pork, beef, lamb or chicken before grilling, and adding into Moroccan tagines or other long braised stews.
Ras el Hanout
1 tablespoon Grains of Paradise 1 tablespoon allspice berries 2 teaspoons black peppercorns 2 teaspoons cardamom seeds 1 teaspoon ajwain seeds 1 teaspoon black cumin, bunium persicum 2 six-inch sticks true cinnamon 6 cloves 3 whole nutmegs 1 tablespoon lavender flowers 1 tablespoon ground ginger 2 teaspoons ground galangal 10 rosebuds 1 teaspoon mace blades 1 teaspoon turmeric powder ½ teaspoon Spanish Saffron
In a hot, dry skillet, separately toss the first 8 ingredients, removing each to a spice grinder as they become fragrant. Crush the nutmegs ahead of time and add, along with the remaining ingredients and grind to a fine powder. Store in a sealed glass jar in a cool, dry place.
I have used cracked Grains of Paradise in my own version of Steak au Poivre in place of cracked pepper. Prior to grilling, I mixed about a tablespoon of the cracked Grains along with 4 cloves of smashed garlic, a teaspoon or more of minced fresh rosemary, some salt and olive oil to make a paste with my mortar and pestle. This is rubbed onto 4 large steaks and left for at least a half hour or more, if time permits, before grilling.
If you can find Grains of Paradise, they are a worthwhile addition to your spice shelf. Folk medicine claims these grains relieve flatulence and have diuretic and stimulant effects, in addition to the fact that they are easier on the digestion. New flavor dimensions are always fun to explore. Discover these sometime soon.
Thank you for taking the time to read my article. I hope it was informative and helped you along your own culinary journey. Visit my Web site A Harmony of Flavors my Blog at A Harmony of Flavors Blog my Marketplace A Harmony of Flavors Marketplace or Facebook page, A Harmony of Flavors. I hope to see you there soon.
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Spices, West African Spice, Ginger, Cardamom, Pepper, Aquavit, Rosemary, Thyme, Lemon Thyme, Recipes, Cooking, Baking, Grilling, Steak au Poivre,