Monday, March 23, 2009

Grains of Paradise

At a friend’s house for dinner last weekend, I spotted an odd little packet of pepper corn-sized seeds marked grandiosely, “Grains of Paradise.” ‘What are these?’ I asked. ‘Put three in your mouth and chew on them,’ my friend said. Wow. The first flavor is peppery, and then almost floral. Then it gets hot. They’re remarkable.

After a New York Times article singing their praises in 2000, my friend told me, the spice was all over the place -- at least for a while.

I went to Kalustyan’s on Lexington and 29th the next day and got a 2.75 oz bottle for around $8.99 the next day.

That makes them about $3+ an ounce. Compare that to Indian Tellicherry black peppercorns, which Penzey’s sells for about $2.50 an ounce, and that isn’t bad.

In the 2000 Times article , Amanda Hesser described their flavor as “dense fragrance underlined with heat." The spice -- also called guinea pepper, atare, alligator pepper or melegueta pepper -- is from West Africa and has been used in both cooking and religious ceremonies. It's not related to pepper, but it may be related to cardamom.

Ironically, was used during the Middle Ages as a black pepper substitute -- West Africa was closer than Asia. It was used in Belgian beers (and still is in some). Tonight, I am trying it on chicken.

Coincidentally, I had just last week started experimenting with my pepper grinder, adding whole coriander seeds to my black peppercorns. The result is a deliciously fresh and citrus-like pepper. My friends recommend using Grains of Paradise alone in the pepper grinder, and adding the spice to cooked foods, rather than pre-cooked foods.

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