Grains of Paradise are the seeds from the Aframomum melegueta plant, which is an herbaceous perennial plant found in West Africa, and is part of the ginger plant family. The seeds are produced in pods that are borne from the flowers of the plant. The seed from this plant is approximately the same size as cardamom seed, about one-eighth of an inch in diameter. Aframomum melegueta seeds have a peppery taste, and can be used in a variety of dishes.
Grains of Paradise, which goes by the common names of Melegueta pepper, alligator pepper, Guinea grains and Guinea pepper, has been in use since ancient times. In the fifteen and sixteen hundreds, the spice was used in Europe as a substitute for pepper. The name comes from the Middle Ages, when the spice was considered to have a high value.
Today Grains of Paradise spice is used for flavoring certain types of drinks, most notably some aquavit, beers and gins. It can also be used to flavor vinegar. You can grind the seeds in a mill as you would peppercorns, and it can be used in recipes much as cardamom is used. Some people like to include it for a piquant bite in a fruit pie, such as pear or apple. It can also be used in tagines, which is the name of a dish but is also the name of the pot with the cone-shaped lid in which the food is cooked, usually in an oven. It is a North African delicacy that is reminiscent of a stew, and includes meats such as lamb or chicken along with vegetables, and Grains of Paradise can be used as part of the seasoning for the dish.
Botanical Name: Aframomum melegueta
Common Names: Grains of Paradise, Melegueta pepper, alligator pepper, Guinea grains, and Guinea pepper
Origin: West Africa