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Once highly praised, but subsequently forgotten about, grains of paradise played an important role in the early spice trade. In the 13th century grains of paradise trekked on the spice route across the Sahara to Europe to be used as a substitute for pepper when it was too hard to get from India. It was a prized spice until Vasco da Gama replenished the European pepper supply.
Though it has lost its glory in Europe, it continues to be used in Middle Eastern and African cuisines. They are used to flavor stews, spirits, sauces, meats, and spice blends, providing a warm bite and woody aroma. You can add the grains whole our ground to dishes, but keep in mind that you might need quite a few grains if you want to mimic the effect of pepper.
Nowadays, with pepper easily accessible for most, grains of paradise are more novelty than necessity, but you'll find that they offer great flavor and aroma. The mild heat and herbaceous, cardamom notes pair well will meat and fruit. They have a woodsy aroma and light peppery heat.
Native to West Africa, cultivated in Ghana and Nigeria.
When the ginger-scented tropical plant flowers, it produces reddish-brown pods that contain seeds inside a pulpy gel. The pods are ready to harvest when they turn green to red (9 to 11 months). The pods are dried in the sun for a week after harvest.
1. Combine equal parts coarsely ground toasted grains of paradise, millet seeds, raisins, and dried cranberries for a sweet-and-savory trail mix.
2. Fold a handful of toasted grains of paradise into banana bread batter before baking.
3. Sprinkle toasted grains of paradise on orange segments and thinly sliced turnip for an interesting salad.
Okra stew • Snapper tartare • Sautéed English peas • Lamb curry • Apple crumble • Ras el hanout • Meat stews
Season thick-cut sweet potato wedges with this blend before roasting them. It also adds a deliciously woodsy flavor to grilled whole branzino.
Makes about 3 tablespoons or 24 grams
1 1/2 tablespoons (15 grams) grains of paradise, toasted
1 tablespoon (5 grams) cubeb berries, coarsely ground
1 teaspoon (2 grams) cloves, ground
Scant 3/4 teaspoon (2 grams) granulated dried orange peel