Grains of Paradise

by Jeanne


Given it’s name for it’s high worth during the days of the spice trade Grains of Paradise carry a hint of citrus in the aroma and a strong taste of ginger and cardamom. The brown seeds are spicy and somewhat bitter. Paradise in this definition is the West Coast of Africa where locals use it as a flavoring and are known to chew on the nubby bits to keep themselves warm.

The reddish-brown seeds grow in large pods and when harvested are the same size and shape as its close cousin, cardamom.

Known as poivre de Guinee, Malguita Pepper and Alligator Pepper in France it has been around since the Middle Ages where it was used in a mulled wine known as hippocras flavored with ginger and cinnamon. Over time Grains of Paradise were replaced in Europe with black pepper. Too bad it’s so much more complex — sprinkled on potatoes or eggplant it shines.

Amanda Hesser in the New York Times recently gave a new dimension of life to this spice when she wrote,

“I put a few between my teeth and crunched. They cracked like coriander releasing a billowing aroma, and then a slowly intensifying heat, like pepper at the back of my mouth. The taste changes in a second. The heat lingered. But the spice flavor was pleasantly tempered, ripe with flavors reminiscent of jasmine, hazelnut, butter and citrus, and wit the kind of oiliness you get from nuts. They were entirely different from black peppercorns and in my mind, incomparably better.”

I don’t think I’ve had the same batch as her but I will say it’s a good substitute wherever you use black pepper. As you might guess it’s used widely in West African cooking. The grains are also a central components of raz el hanout, a Moroccan spice blend which is essential in the making of tagines.

Grains of Paradise & Rosemary Syrup

This simple use of this exotic spice is a recipe adapted from John Ash, at Fetzer Vineyards. It makes a great unexpected dessert served over ice cream or fruit.


3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup rosemary needles
1 tablespoon chopped fresh ginger
2 teaspoons grains of paradise, slightly crushed
2 tablespoons fine balsamic vinegar, or to taste.


In a small saucepan, mix together all the ingredients along with a 1/2 cup of water. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, and simmer partly covered, for about 10 minutes.

Cool the mixture cool and taste adjusting sweetness and acidity as necessary. If you desire a more intense flavor let it all steep a bit longer.

Strain through a fine-mesh strainer, and store in refrigerator until ready to use.

Sprinkle over fresh fruit, like mango, peaches or strawberries.

Yield: about 2 1/2 cups.