What are grains of paradise? How do you use them? This guide will cover everything you need to know about cooking with the unique spice!
We like to think of grains of paradise as the more complex cousin of black pepper. You can use the spice almost anywhere you would use black peppercorns to add a spicy, peppery finish!
And if you recipe calls for grains of paradise, but you don’t have any on hand, make sure to check out our guide to grains of paradise substitutes.
What Are Grains Of Paradise?
Grains of paradise are dried seeds of a West African plant from the ginger family. The seeds are reddish-brown and shaped like pyramids. They have a peppery flavor with herbaceous and fruity notes.
In the Middle Ages, grains of paradise were actually quite popular in European cuisines. Because black pepper was much more difficult to obtain at the time, grains of paradise were used as a less expensive alternative!
Today, the spice isn’t often used in Western cuisines, but remains a relatively common ingredient in West and North African recipes, including meat stews, soups and spice blends.
Grains of paradise are also sometimes marketed as Guinea pepper, Melegueta pepper and ossame. The botanical name for Grains of Paradise is Aframomum melegueta.
Cooking With Grains Of Paradise
Grains of paradise are peppery, with both herbaceous and floral notes. The spice adds a peppery kick with a spicy zing reminiscent of ginger and an earthiness with hints of clove.
Releasing The Flavor
To release the flavor of grains of paradise, I recommend grinding the seeds just before using. You can use a pepper mill, mortar and pestle or other spice grinder. The inside of the seeds are white and the ground powder takes on a grayish color.
Ground grains of paradise are best used as a finishing spice. Add ground grains of paradise to a dish or recipe towards the end of the cooking process or just before serving to preserve and maximize the spice’s flavor and aroma.
Foods That Pair Well With Grains Of Paradise
You can use grains of paradise anywhere that you would use black pepper, but here are some of our favorite pairings:
- Meat and Poultry: Swap out black pepper for grains of paradise in your next pepper-crusted chicken recipe.
- Soups and Stews: Add crushed grains of paradise to hearty soups and stews for a flavor boost.
- Apples: The warm and spicy notes of grains of paradise complement the sweet and tart flavors of apple. Try it in Alton Brown’s apple pie recipe.
- Seafood: Sprinkle ground grains of paradise on salmon right before grilling.
- Beer: Grains of paradise have long been used as a botanical in brewing.
Buying And Storing Grains Of Paradise
Store whole grains of paradise in an airtight container, away from heat and direct sunlight. Whole grains of paradise can be stored for up to one year. We recommend grinding grains of paradise right before using for maximum flavor, but the ground spice can also be stored in an airtight container for 4-6 months.
Frequently Asked Questions
Grains of paradise is peppery with notes of citrus and hints of warmth and spice. It’s almost like black pepper with a hint of cardamom and citrus.
No, grains of paradise are dried seeds, while black pepper is actually a berry. Because of their similarities in flavor, black pepper can be used as a substitute for grains of paradise.
Grains of paradise are expensive due to their limited cultivation in West Africa, labor-intensive harvesting, and small yields per plant. Their unique flavor profile and relatively limited availability contribute to the higher price tag. Luckily, the spice is incredibly versatile and a little goes a long way so it’s definitely an investment worth making in our opinion!
Toasting grains of paradise isn’t necessary, but it can bring out more flavor. To toast, place whole grains of paradise in a dry skillet over medium heat. Toss occasionally and toast until fragrant (2-3 minutes). Be careful not to over-toast as they can become bitter.
And if you’re curious to learn about more spices, check out our guide to juniper berries!
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